Readings (NRSV) and Psalm (ELW):
Psalm 23 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. (Ps. 23:1)
1 Peter 2:19–25
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
The media reported last week that the governor of Texas was baptized in the same river where Sam Houston was baptized 160 years ago. Now the governor was raised in the Methodist Church which means that he was baptized originally as an infant. So what was the governor doing being baptized a second time?
Well, it comes as no surprise that the media interpreted this act as a political stunt, kind of a signal to the religious right that the governor is preparing for a long political campaign for the presidency.
But there was something different about this event. This was not like his previous start for the presidential campaign. Perhaps you remember that a call came out to gather in Houston in Reliant Stadium for a prayer meeting. It was a spectacular event. So it was no leap for the media to assume that Perry’s decision to be baptized again was meant as a political announcement.
What was different about the baptism was the Governor’s decision not to invite the media to Little Rocky Creek. Just family and a few friends gathered there. According to one political aid, “Baptism is a very personal expression of faith. He has a deep and abiding faith and it influences his view of the world and how he lives his life, but not every expression of faith is meant to be a public ceremony.” (http://www.texastribune.org/2014/04/29/perry-baptized-anew-historic-creek/)
What should interest us in our community of faith is the complete lack of understanding of baptism that exists not only in the media and the public at large, but within the churches.
First, we are certainly meant to use the gift of baptism as it was granted to us by Christ as the foundation by which we understand and live our lives. Baptism certainly is not meant to be used for getting out the vote. Many an Emperor, prince, or tribal chieftain has used baptism to bring about some political advantage. Even if the governor did not use this second baptism as a public tool, he certainly was using it as a private tool to ready himself for the political days ahead.
But the media having little understanding of baptism never once questioned whether two baptisms in one’s lifetime is the church’s way of life. In the churches of the Latin west, to which the Lutheran Church clearly belongs, there is only one baptism. That is because baptism is not understood as a human act. Baptism is understood as a divine act by which God lays claim on the Creator’s beloved world. Baptism in the hands of the church is simply the proclamation of a living reality. God has identified with all of humanity through the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This life, death, and resurrection are granted to all who have gone through the transforming waters of baptism.
The one who has been baptized has a lifetime of discovering the meaning of that baptism. Getting baptized again is of no use, if one does not know what to do with the baptism that has already been given.
Secondly, in spite of our society’s desire to make religion a private thing, baptism is understood in the scriptures not as an individual, private act initiated by the one being baptized. Baptism is the public announcement by the church that the individual has been claimed by God. That accounts for the fact that we baptize our children at an early age, long before they are able to understand cognitively the meaning of baptism.
The problem in the mainline Protestant churches is that for generations we have failed to raise up our children to understand what to do with the baptism that has already been given.
As Lutheran Christians we know that we are somehow misfits in the religious culture that surrounds us today. That culture is the “born-again” culture that has read the Bible in such a way to lead people to believe that baptism is my decision, my act, to which God brings God’s approval and favor for my having made the right decision. Baptism then becomes my declaration that I have put myself in the right camp.
But the gospel of Jesus Christ is the proclamation that God has made the decision embodied in Jesus Christ to move beyond the camp. God in Jesus Christ is moving by the Spirit of the risen Christ to claim all that God has made.
Baptism then is a one-time gift to be used by the baptized as a means to returning to a solid foundation on which all our decisions are but the result of our realization that no decision on our part can put us right with God. In fact, to persist in the idea that we can put ourselves right with God is to put ourselves against the living God who would have us know through the gospel that we together—baptized and non-baptized—are loved by God.
Dear brothers and sisters, today we celebrate a rite of confirmation. This rite is offered of necessity to these our children who are coming of age. Today we confirm that we, as a community of faith, have done the best we can to help our children
to live among God’s faithful people,
to bring them to the word of God and the holy supper,
to teach them the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments,
to place in their hands the holy scriptures, and nurture them in faith and prayer,
so that they may learn to trust God,
proclaim Christ through word and deed,
care for others and the world God made,
and work for justice and peace.
We now invite these young people to affirm the baptism that we, in obedience to Jesus’ command, have given them. They may renounce all that stands in the way of their relationship to God. They may confess the creed for themselves. They may go forth to live out the calling which is theirs in Christ Jesus.
So, dear confirmands, dear families, dear assembly, gathered here today, you do not need to get baptized a second or third time, especially if you still do not know how to use the first and only baptism that was given to you. You have been born anew in the living and enduring word of God (1 Peter 1:23) delivered to you at baptism and renewed on every Lord’s Day gathered together at the font, at the table, and at the pulpit. Amen.