Thursday, January 8, 2009

Meditation on this Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, January 11, 2009:

First Reading: Genesis 1:1-5

Psalm: Psalm 29

Second Reading: Acts 19:1-7

Gospel: Mark 1:4-11

Today we celebrate the baptism of Jesus, and it's a good time to remember our own baptisms. We might spend some time talking about what baptism meant to our families. We might think about what it means to us. When I read this Sunday's Gospel, I focus on the last verse: "Thou art my beloved son; with thee I am well pleased." The good news that Jesus brings us is that God feels the same way about each of us.

Do we have to be baptized for God to feel this way about us? Christian traditions vary, but happily Lutherans, for the most part, believe that God feels this way, whether we are baptized or not. So, why bother?

We could have a long discussion about the idea of a sacrament, and what that means. I begin my thoughts about sacraments the same way I begin a discussion of symbolism with my Poetry class: a symbol takes an object that exists in the physical world, and drenches it with larger meaning (so, if I return home to a bouquet of red roses, I have one response; if someone intentionally sends me a bouquet of dead roses, I have a different response, and a potted plant will trigger yet a different response). However, a sacrament is more than a symbol, although in many religious traditions, that symbolism is vital. A sacrament is a way that God makes grace visible to us. Some religious traditions would say that the sacrament itself is the route of grace; according to this way of thought, we are more endowed with grace if we participate in Holy Communion once a week (or daily) than we would be if we went to a church that only offered Communion at Easter and Christmas.

I've simplified the idea of sacraments here--some would say I've dangerously simplified it. So, let's return to the symbolism and what that might mean for our post-baptized life. We might look at the baptismal service in our hymnals, and think about what it is that we promise when we baptize.

Hopefully, if we were baptized as children, we had adults in our lives who took those vows seriously. As we grow up, we're expected to do these things for ourselves. Do we get to church regularly? Do we read the Scriptures? Do we surround ourselves with people who will honor those commitments we've made and help us on our journeys?

As we participate in the church's rites and practices, we are reminded again and again of God's love for us. We are given much in the way of symbolic language that helps us understand. Baptism is one of those rituals. We bathe on a regular basis, and wash our dishes and our clothes and our children, so the idea of water washing us clean is not unfamiliar to us.

We might use water to remind us of the gift of God's grace. We could take a cue from Martin Luther, and remember our baptism each time we take a shower. If we're caught in the rain, we could lift our faces to the rain drops and thank God for all the gifts that we rarely appreciate fully. As we water the yard and the garden, we could think how lucky we are to have water that comes out of hoses and faucets on command.

We could think about how few people have that luck in our world, and we could resolve to do something about it. How would we perceive the sacrament of baptism if we lived in a country or a continent where there was no clean water? We might decide it's time to redirect some of our resources towards the poor (ready to donate? go here).

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