Kissed by God
Please pray with me: Holy One, we come to you today preparing our hearts for the means of grace that you offer to us through bread, wine, and water. I pray that you would help us understand this grace better through these words of mine. Where these words are in error, I pray that no harm would be done. Amen.
"This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."
We hear the words of scripture echo the words of God and our hearts long to hear God’s voice say the same to each of us. "This is my Child, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."
Jesus went down to the river to pray, to wade in the water, to be baptised by his cousin John who knew he was baptising the one who should baptise him. We hear John protest: “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” I wonder if and when it was reversed. When did John get his longed for baptism by God’s Holy One? Do you, like John, long for that Holy Kiss? That holy affirmation of who we are and whose we are? I know that I do.
Sometimes we need God with flesh on. I remember hearing that line for the first time several years ago and knowing how real it was for me. It is good to pray and to listen for God’s words back to us, we ought do this every day. But sometimes we need a hug from God or a kiss or to be held in God’s loving arms as we weep and mourn the losses and pains of life. Sometimes we need God with flesh on. I believe that sometimes God sends us an angel in the disguise of a beloved community member. That person may have no idea the need that we have in that moment, but God puts them right where we need them - for a hug or a shoulder to cry upon. Sometimes we are “God with flesh on” for one of our neighbors here on earth.
Communion and Baptism are rituals that offer us an enfleshed divinity that we can touch and taste. John Wesley called them our “means of grace.” These are ways that God can touch us and transform us with such simple mundane everyday things like bread, juice, and water. Just like God’s hug for us through one of our community angels, God’s love for us in these rituals offers us an opportunity to experience God through all of our senses. We see God in the elements, we hear God in the words of institution and the sounds of pouring water and tearing bread, we taste and smell God in the taking of communion and feel God’s kiss upon our skin in the waters of baptism. The divinity pervades our everyday world and we have rituals such as these to remind us that God is present in all things.
Although some faith communities have more sacraments, as Methodists, we recognize two sacraments only, baptism and communion, and we think of them as “means of grace.” Today we will participate in both. We are only baptised once, and Methodists recognize baptism from any church, but we have ceremonies where we reaffirm our baptism. One of these is confirmation, when a child has grown old enough to confirm their own faith and assume responsibility for their own baptismal vows. That is not the only time, however, for us to celebrate baptism. We remember our baptism every time we baptise an infant, or any person, in our community. We also sometimes have special liturgies when we specifically renew our baptismal vows.
Today is one of those moments. Infact, we will combine our two sacraments today such that you will be invited to come forward for communion as well as renewal of baptism.
Communion is a discipline that we are encouraged to participate in on a weekly basis that functions as the ritualized nexus of our spiritual lives. It fully encompasses John Wesley’s theology of sanctifying grace. We might consider it the weekly medicine for our therapeutic journey back toward being the divine creatures that God meant for us to be.
We see baptism in a similar light. It is a one time means of grace, a welcome into God’s family, the community of faith. As infants, our parents affirm our baptismal vows on our behalf. Through confirmation programs or membership classes, we learn what these vows mean, and then take them for ourselves - but we are not re-baptised. We have already, once, been taken into God’s family and do not need to do it again. We have already been claimed by God. But, like a renewal of marriage vows, we can reaffirm these statements.
I remember hearing the words of the baptism liturgy from my childhood and it echoes in my mind today as I think on these things: “In baptism, God puts a sign on you that you belong to Him.” In a remembering of baptism, we remember who we are and whose we are, we remember that we are named and called by the God of the Universe. "This is my Child, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."
The baptismal vows can be found in the red hymnal in the pews. It is on page 50 where the Baptismal Covenant 4 is located. This is a liturgy for the reaffirmation of baptismal vows. We will use some of this liturgy today. But for a moment, I want us to look at the words of these questions:
Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?
What are the spiritual forces of wickedness? What are the evil powers at work in our world? What sins do you need to repent of today? Take a moment to reflect on these things. Perhaps write them out on your bulletin if that is helpful.
Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?
Every member of my family has a t-shirt that has the words from this question on it in rainbow colors. These t-shirts were created last year by a Methodist who wanted to remind us that sometimes evil, injustice, and oppression happen inside of our own beloved Church. In a year fraught with division over the full humanity of the LGBTQ community in our denomination, these words remind us that it is our calling, since baptism, to resist such injustice.
What freedom and power has God given you to create the kingdom of God in the world? Where are evil, injustice, and oppression presenting themselves in our world?
Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?
What does it mean to you to confess Jesus as you Savior? Do you trust in God’s grace? Do you really promise to serve God with all that you are? Are you committed to serving alongside, and with honor and respect, all the kinds of people who are part of the Church?
According to the grace given to you, will you remain faithful members of Christ's holy Church and serve as Christ's representatives in the world?
Are you fully functioning as one of Christ’s representatives in the world? At home? At work? At play?
These are not easy questions to wrestle with. And they are well worth pondering.
In a few moments, I will invite you forward to participate in these rituals, these means of grace that God works on us through. Open your hearts to the mystery of faith and the love of God. Amen.