Sermon: “So What Will You Do with YOUR Baptism?” (January 11, 2015)

Pink bulletins, aka, pink slips.  Yes, it’s that time of year—time to get fired!  This is probably the only time we actually look forward to hearing those fateful words… Because they mean that we’re all released from our volunteer jobs at church (except for Council.  Sorry, guys!).  I’ve been remiss the past couple of years.  I haven’t fired anyone.  So, let me say with a little extra gusto:  “You’re fired!”

“You’re fired!”  Sounds good doesn’t it?  “You are fired!”  Look at the smiles on your faces!  Do you know what’s going to sound even better come January 25?  “You’re hired!”  January 25th is the day when everyone will be commissioned to your new areas of service for 2015.  Oh, what a great day that will be!

Why go through this firing-rehiring business every so often?  Is it just a gimmick to wrangle more volunteers?  Well, of course, it is!  But it’s so much more than a gimmick.  Taking a break from our “jobs” gives us the chance to reflect on our gifts of time and talent to the community and to see whether giving those gifts is still nurturing us and the community.

Did you know that volunteering in the church is supposed to be nurturing?  No, really.  Don’t laugh.  I mean it.  Technically, if doing your volunteer job in church is a drudgery, you shouldn’t be doing it.  Scary words to say from the pulpit!  Because, let’s face it.  Some jobs in the church aren’t fun.  Some things just have to be done, right?  And sometimes even the sort-of-fun jobs have an element of drudge to them.  But still, if you read the Bible, if you look at Christian communities that are working well, you see that the ideal of Christian service is to have everyone doing jobs they want to do and are cut out to do.

Which brings us to the question of deciding which gifts of time and talent to offer the community.  How do you decide what to do?  How do you decide which blanks to fill out on the Time and Talent Survey?  What’s that?  You don’t have a Time and Talent Survey?  Let me see that you get one!  (Pass out Time and Talent Surveys.)

Go ahead.  Take a look.  It lists the needs of the community and opportunities of service to meet those needs.  Yeah, it’s long.  And thorough.  What’s going to happen is you’ll fill these out and hand them in now through January 25.  The responses will be compiled and given to committee chairs so that they, in turn, can contact you and ask you to serve.  Then you’ll serve!

But how to decide?  Now that you see the needs and opportunities before you, how do you decide which boxes to check?  How do you decide what sacred service to offer to the community in 2015?

The best response to many “fire-ings” is a good dousing of water, isn’t it?  The same is true for today’s fire-ings. The motivation for all our service in the church—sacred service, we call it—the motivation for all our sacred service can be found in our baptismal vows. When we are baptized, or when we confirm, affirm, or renew our baptismal vows, we make certain commitments to God and to the faith community of which we are a part.

I invite you to look at p.46 in your hymnal. When you join Pilgrimage, you do so by affirming your baptismal vows. Let’s read the first sentence of the Address together. “By your baptism you were made one with us in the body of Christ, the church.”

Baptism is the ritual that joins all Christians together. It’s an outward sign of an inward experience of seeing God in Jesus. Our baptism doesn’t make us Christian, but it does signal our membership in the body of Christ. And, by virtue of our membership in the larger body of Christ, we are welcomed into this small part of Christ’s body here at Pilgrimage.

But being a member of the body of Christ doesn’t give us a free pass, not at all. With membership in the body of Christ comes the important work of building it up. Read the “Question about Participation” with me.

Do you promise to participate in the life and mission of this family of God’s people, sharing regularly in the worship of God and enlisting in the work of this local church as it serves this community and the world?           

There’s our motivation for serving others. We serve others because it is a commitment we make at our baptism. As part of the body of Christ, we offer our service to others because we want to do whatever we can to contribute to the well-being and growth of the body of Christ.

But we don’t give our service to others willy nilly… The church needs this service? Okay, I’ll do it. No, we give service only after considering our gifts and praying about how to use them in the community. In a minute, in a Litany of Release, we will be reminded that there are many gifts, but one Spirit. Each of us has our own array of talents, our own skill set. We have been given those gifts for a reason—to build up the body of Christ. As the Apostle Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” If you have been given a gift, you have a responsibility to use it for the good of the community. By the same token, the community has the responsibility to give you the opportunity to use your gifts.

The New Testament word for community is Koinonia. When he started an interracial Christian farming community in south Georgia in 1942, Clarence Jordan called it Koinonia. The members of Koinonia responded to their baptismal calls by trying to live the Christian ideal of having all things in common and working for social, racial, and economic justice.

Reading The Cotton Patch Evidence, a history of Koinonia, I learned that, while Koinonia did some amazing things, ultimately, it wasn’t a great success as a Christian community. Author Dallas Lee had a keen insight into why that was the case.

It had to do with how Clarence used his gifts in the community. Clarence was a gifted religious leader…but because the community strove to have everyone participate as equals—an idea that Clarence bought in to—Clarence downplayed his gifts as a spiritual leader. He focused instead on being an administrative leader…an area in which he wasn’t as gifted. Lee suspects that had Koinonia more readily allowed Jordan to exercise his gifts as a spiritual leader, the community might have been more stable. You never know, but it does make you wonder.

One of my favorite stories about church members doing jobs in the church that fit with their gifts happened right here at Pilgrimage. A few years back, two people served on Council, one as Treasurer, the other as Chair of Communications. Neither was happy in their position. In fact, the Treasurer came to me one day and said, “You’re going to have to get another treasurer. If I do this job much longer, I’m going to start hating the church.”

In the end, this person and the person who was chairing Communications swapped positions. Both people flourished in their new jobs and because they were flourishing—using their God-given gifts in service to the church—the church also flourished. Cool, huh?

As people of Christian faith, baptism connects us to each other. How does that happen? The first way is by acknowledging that all of us, every last one of us, is a beloved child of God. Just look at today’s Scripture story. What happens as Jesus emerges from the water after his baptism? The Holy Spirit descends on him like a dove and a voice from heaven says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” The same thing happens with each of us when we’re baptized. In baptism, we acknowledge and receive the one fact that remains and does not change: that God has loved us, loves us now, and will always love us. And the best part? This gift of God’s love comes as pure grace—God doesn’t love us because of what we have or haven’t done. God loves us because we are. Period.

The question comes, though, what will we do in response to that love? Because the love comes as a completely free gift, we don’t have to do anything in response to it. But do we want to hoard God’s love? Do we want to ignore its impact on our lives? Or do we want to share it? Christian ethicist Beverly Harrison’s definition of love is really apt as we think about how to respond to God’s love for us. She says that “Love is the power to act each other into well-being.” Yeah, we can bask in the warm glow of God’s love for us…really we can. But what might happen if we share that love? What might happen if we use our gifts, our talent, time, and effort to act others into well-being?

In the next few minutes, we will have the opportunity to reflect on our own baptisms, our own belovedness in God’s eyes, our own “power to act others into well-being.” First, we’ll renew our baptismal vows by reading together pp.45-6 in the hymnal. Then, you may come forward to touch the waters of baptism and remember or affirm your baptism. Then, you may come to me or Rochelle for a baptismal blessing. Then, you may return to your seat and prayerfully consider how you might use your time, talent, and effort to act this community into well-being in the coming year.

Please see all these activities as invitations only. Each one truly is voluntary! Now, let’s turn to p.45 and, for those who will, affirm our baptismal vows.

Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2015 (with parts from 2011 and 2012)

About reallifepastor

I'm a pastor who's working out her faith...just like everyone else.
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