Do you remember your baptism? I don't remember mine. I was an infant in September, 1984 whenI was baptized in the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA) by Rev. B.K. Dludla. My baptism certificate and photos hang in my office just as you enter beside my Masters and ordination certificates. And yet, the certificate of my baptism is by far more important than the other two.
In her book "Searching for Sunday," theologian Rachel Held Evans writes: Baptism reminds us there's no ladder to holiness to climb, no self-improvement plan to follow. It's just death and resurrection, over and over again, day after day, as God reaches down into our deepest graves and with the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, wrests us from our pride, our apathy, our fear, our prejudice, our anger, our hurt, and our despair.
In each of the gospel stories, baptism happens right at the beginning of Jesus' ministry. God's words: "This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased" come before Jesus has even done any of his ministry!
The Rev. Nadia Bolz Weber puts it this way: [In] your own baptisms, God proclaims that in you his beloved children, God is also well pleased. In the waters of your baptism, God claimed and named you as God’s own. Whether it was as an infant or a youth or an adult. Whether your baptism happened in a church you can’t even remember, or in a river at Summer Camp or in a church you love or one that no longer allows you to take communion, your baptism, not matter the circumstance, was most certainly an act of God upon you. Not an act of faith that you or someone else was giving to God. Baptism, is God’s act of Gospel Love.
You and I are beloved and claimed and named by God already and always. More than reminders of my achievement and hard work (my Masters diploma), more than reminders of my promises to serve God, I need the reminder that God has claimed me and named me beloved.
This Sunday, we will hear Mark's telling of Jesus' baptism (Mark 1:9-15). In Mark's gospel, Jesus goes immediately from the blessing of baptism to the trials of wilderness temptation. And this, too, is powerful. Beloved is where we begin, but it doesn't protect us from trial, from wilderness, from temptation and suffering. It does change what it is like for us to navigate that wilderness..... It is part of what shapes us as vessels.
This Lent, I invite you to spend some time reflecting on what it means to you to be God's beloved. How has that shaped you? Have you allowed that truth to sink into your bones and to mold you?
With much love,
As a side note, if you have not been baptized, this is a ritual available to you any time. There are no tests of faith, no requirements, simply an invitation to receive this ritual blessing, this outward sign of the belovedness that has always been yours. Just reach out to me, and we'll do it! In church. In your back yard. Over Zoom. The gifts and promises of baptism are here for you.