"The Magi, certainly neither Jews nor Christians, read God’s presence in the night sky. Today some would dismiss them as New Agers, yet look where their wonder led them.
'Wondering' is a word connoting at least three things:
- Standing in disbelief,
- Standing in the question itself,
- Standing in awe before something.
When Scholastic philosophy was at its best (in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries), the development of an idea proceeded by what the great teachers called the questio (Latin, “to seek”). Our English word “quest” comes from that same understanding. The systematic asking of questions opened up wonder and encouraged spiritual curiosity, refining the question itself instead of just looking for the perfect answer. I am sure the Magi’s questions changed before, during, and after their epiphany."
January 6th was the Feast of the Epiphany. This word "epiphany" means to come to a new understanding about something. We might call it an "a-ha!" moment where suddenly we receive a new insight we had never experienced before.
Today we observe the Baptism of Jesus and hear Mark's rather sparse account of this event - which has an "a-ha" element. Last Tuesday, we began our Coffee Talk Bible Study and looked at this very passage. What we discovered is the text left us with some uncomfortable questions.
- If John's baptism was about confession of sin and repentance, why did Jesus (the sinless one) participate in it?
- Why did Jesus seek out John in the first place?
- Did Jesus need to repent? If so, of what?
And this is something we share with Jesus because our baptism changes us too. Many of us cannot remember our baptisms. Those who were baptized as older children or adults do remember it and it is a powerful memory. But whether we remember or not, we are changed.
I wrote a three part article a few years back about what baptism does for us. In religious "technical terms" it was about the ontology of baptism. Ontology is one of those "hundred dollar theological terms" which really just means the essence of your being - your core identity. I believe three things happen to your core identity, your ontology, at baptism.
First, you become a Minister of the Church. You are not a volunteer - you are a Minister. If you turn to page 855 in your Book of Common Prayer, you'll find a section of the Catechism about the Ministers of the Church: "The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons." Notice the order! Lay persons are the first and largest order of ministry in the Church - this happens at your baptism. When I was ordained a deacon, my mother gave me a card an in it was the linen cloth which was used to dry my forehead on March 14, 1965 when I was baptized at Clairemont Lutheran Church in San Diego California. She wrote in the card, "I want you to remember your first ordination." Baptism makes you a Minister of the Church! So the questions you ask are not whether or not you will minister - you are a minister. Instead you ask, "What ministry is God calling me to do?" "Where will I do this ministry?" "How will I do this ministry?"
Second, you become a Steward of God's good creation instead of a consumer of resources. When we are baptized, our focus changes from consuming goods and services to thinking more broadly about how we relate to the whole of creation. Just because I can buy a "gas guzzler" truck, does it mean I should? What will be my total investment? What is the carbon footprint? Will this vehicle help us conserve non-renewable resources? You see the questions change as we become aware of what our needs are and what our wants are. I have a degree in Marketing and let me tell you I can take any want you have and turn it into a need ... at least a perceived need. Our consumerist culture is really good at that! But as Stewards, we are called to ask deeper questions about how we care for God's creation in responsible ways.
Third, you become an Evangelist to tells good news. I know, the "E" word can be a little unnerving. I think this is mainly because the word has been hijacked by those who would prepend it with "tel" - as in "televangelist." Many of these kinds of evangelists have a style of preaching which sounds very accusatory: "Have YOU been saved?" "Do YOU know Jesus as your personal savior?" "When did YOU give your life to Christ?" Do you see how all those statements are focused on YOU? It can feel like a finger pointing at you and it puts us on the defensive. I'm sorry, but that isn't good news! I think the more effective way of telling good news is first being the Good News: Are you loving towards all? Do you readily forgive others and conversely ask for forgiveness of others? Loving and forgiving are the hallmarks of the Christian faith an the Good News. Being authentic in your faith is another hallmark - not trying to force it on another but being inviting of others. We have a saying in Cursillo that before you talk to your friend about Christ, talk to Christ about your friend. That is so important! Your best witness may be one of prayer and presence over quoting Scriptures and trying to force your faith on another. Baptism makes us Evangelists - and we tell the Good News by our deeds and our words.
Our Lord's baptism changed him and our baptism changes us. We are called to be ministers, stewards and evangelists ... and to wrestle with what that means. It appears our Lord wrestled with these identity questions ... and I think we can too.