We all live according to a script that we believe will take us where we want to go. Some believe that hard work and clean living should lead to success. Some believe that acquiring as much as they can will bring them the good life. Others believe the opposite—that it is in self-denial that the good life comes. Some believe that there is no place like home, while others cannot wait to fly the coop.
We all have scripts—narratives that guide our lives. For many who are in worship today, that script includes the stories of the Bible and how those stories can shape our lives. But here’s the issue: what do we do when the stories we learn from the Christian faith run into conflict with the other stories we try to live by? For example, maybe you have a neighbor or a co-worker who just drives you crazy. That person annoys you, and they know it. They don’t mind at all that you are aggravated by them. But the Bible tells us that we are to love our neighbor. There are no exceptions like, “love your neighbor, but if your neighbor is just terrible feel free to write them off.” That’s not how it works.
The scripts or stories by which we live don’t always get us where we want to go, and they can be in conflict with each other. But hear this, the story that should be first in the life of the Christian is the story of our identity found in Jesus Christ. That is the claim that happens in baptism. That is what we say whether we, as parents, stake that claim over our children at this baptismal font or whether we, as consenting adults, come for baptism.
Baptism is the guiding reality for the Christian. Over and above all other scripts, it is baptism that tells our story. Martin Luther said that, “In baptism…every Christian has enough to study and practice all his or her life.” The simple act of sprinkling water or of submerging someone in the baptismal waters has a lifetime’s worth of theological weight and storytelling. It’s death and resurrection. It’s cleansing from sin. It’s freedom from sin. It’s incorporation into the Body of Christ. It’s a sign of God’s reign claiming the life of all who pass through the waters. It connects to creation, where the Spirit hovered over the deep. It connects to the flood of Noah, to the cleansing of Naaman the Syrian, to the Hebrews passing through the Red Sea as they fled Egypt, and to the river that flows from the throne of God in Revelation.
And as though the numerous biblical connections weren’t enough, the act of baptism has deep meaning for the individual and the community. I’ve witnessed tears stream down the face of someone who encountered Jesus later in life and realized that this new script was going to make all the difference. That moment was the beginning of new life. I’ve also witnessed the joy of new parents and their church family when a precious child comes to this font. They did the good and necessary work of getting a nursery ready for their child. They read the books that could help them adjust to being parents. They’ve shared their joy with their birth announcements. But the moment of baptism? There’s something deeper and more real there. And those who take their baptismal vows seriously—as I hope everyone does!—know that they have the joy and responsibility of raising this child to know and love Jesus, to know that he is the guiding reality for this life. From that point on, they are living their lives under water—defined by the waters of baptism. This is their script above all others.
There’s a danger inherent in how we treat baptism, however. This danger is present both for adults and for parents presenting their children. The baptismal event is so fraught with meaning that it can feel like the climax of life rather than its beginning. Treating baptism as the end is a huge mistake. That would be like showing up at the starting line to run your first marathon, taking a few selfies with the runners around you, then heading back home without bothering to run the race. You don’t complete the race by showing up. That’s only step one! One of the great sadnesses I have in ministry is when people treat baptism like it’s just one more thing to check off on the “Good Parent” list. It’s an end for them, rather than a beginning, which gives the church little chance to live up to its baptismal vows.
Baptism is so much more. It “initiates Christians into an alternate story offering an inherited identity, a sense of belonging, and a set of lenses through which to see God at work.”
I think that’s why Jesus started his ministry by getting baptized. We know he didn’t need to do this for the forgiveness of sin, so what was the point? Well, at least two things are stake here. First, Jesus is leading by example. He is showing us that this is the way his followers will signify that they are serious about entering the Jesus way of life. John protests that Jesus doesn’t need baptism, but Jesus answers, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Baptism reveals who Jesus is, which is so clear in this story with God ripping the sky open and the Spirit descending on Jesus like a dove.
Second, through Jesus’ example, we are getting into the same flow of the same river of grace that Jesus did with John. It’s the same story from the beginning of creation to the moment of Jesus’ baptism. It’s the same story from that moment all the way to each and every baptism today. It’s the initiation into this life under water. And we do it in community so that we can proclaim, “We are on this journey. This is our story, and it is now your story as well, and if you stick with us, we will help you live that story with us.”
The purpose of the church is to help all who would come get into that same river. It is to help us learn and live that story. It is to be a constant reminder that we live according to a different script. We live under the waters of baptism. Just as our identity was not fully formed when we were baptized, we should expect that we keep maturing into who we are becoming as baptized followers of Jesus.
In this church we do this through so many ways. Our faith is formed in worship. Our children are formed in Children in Worship. Our youth are formed at Youth Group and in confirmation. Our adults grow in PW Circles, small groups, and classes. But never in any of those places have we arrived. We never “graduate” from the church. Confirmation is important, but it’s a beginning. Knowing Jesus through a good study is helpful but it’s simply another step along the way. Each moment helps us grow and deepen in our identity as Christians. From our first cry to our final breath, our work is to remain with Jesus in the flow of this story of redemption. It’s in Christ alone that we truly come to know who we are.
We are a people living under water. From the moment of your baptism, your life shifted to a new script. Sure, throughout life, we’ll wander back to old scripts that tell us we have to achieve to be someone or that tell us we’re not good enough for God’s love or that tell us that there are so many hypocrites in the church maybe this whole thing isn’t worth it. In baptism God is restoring us. In baptism, God is re-storying us. If you haven’t been baptized, what are you waiting for? God loves you and calls you even today to a new, better way of life. So, let’s talk and get you into the flow of this new life, initiated in baptism.
But the re-storying continues. Today we gather around a second sacrament—the Lord’s Table. It tells us the story of God’s love for the whole world, a love so great that it offered its very life for you and me. A life so strong that even death could not hold it. So, come. Remember. Remember who you are. Remember whose you are.
We have so many stories we live by, but let’s have our central, guiding story be that of God’s love shown to us through Jesus. We live our lives under water. These waters of baptism define who we are. These elements of communion remind us of who we are. These are our stories. This is our script.