I wrote a three part article a few years ago entitles “So I’m a Christian … now what??!” addressing just that question. The truth is, the world isn’t going to change but if you take your baptismal vows seriously, you will change … and when you change, the world can change. My premise is that if we take our baptismal vows seriously, three major changes occur. First, we become Ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s right – each and every one of us becomes a Minister of the Gospel. Sometimes people think I’m the only minister here because I was ordained and wear a black shirt and a plastic collar, but that’s not true. When I was ordained a deacon, my mother gave me a card and in it was a linen cloth with the words “Clairemont Lutheran Church” embroidered on it. It was the towel that wiped my head at baptism. She told me, “I want you to remember your first ordination!” We are ordained as Ministers of the Gospel because we are baptized. That means, when you go out those doors and you reach out to people in need, it isn’t because you are a volunteer anymore – you are a Minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I’ve been working to strike the “V-word” … you know, “volunteer” from our vocabulary at Grace Church because you are not volunteers. When we volunteer, the locus of decision making is on us. Volunteering is also optional – we can do it … or not. And remember, even atheists can volunteer! But, when we are baptized, our reaching out to others is part of our ministry. Once baptized it isn’t a question of whether or not you will be a minister, it is “where and how will I exercise my ministry?” and “what ministry is God calling me to do?”
The second thing that happens when you take your baptismal vows seriously is you become an Evangelist. Now I know that word gets a bad reputation from guys wearing Nehru jackets and who carry floppy Bibles on TV, but that’s not what evangelism is. The word evangelist come from the Greek word meaning “one who tells good news.” And what is that good news? It’s the good news of God’s love for absolutely everyone as we know it in the life, ministry, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And that’s radical stuff! Because what it means is that nobody gets left out of God’s love. We live in a world where there are winners and losers and at some point, every one of us will find ourselves in the “loser” category. To quote Norm Peterson from the old TV show Cheers, “It’s a dog eat dog world out there and I’m wearing MilkBone underwear.” Maybe it’s because we aren’t good at sports, or we’re clumsy, or we have a disability, or we’re different and others pick on us … there are a lot of reasons. But the good news of God’s love is that it doesn’t matter if you’re a geek, nerd, dork, dweeb, hodad, or poser … you are never excluded from the love of God. St. Columba of Iona said it this way: “The nature of God is a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.” And that’s the good news you get to tell!
Finally, the third thing that happens when we take our baptismal vows seriously is we become a Steward of God’s creation instead of consumers. That’s another shift in how we think. We live in a consumer culture – one driven through buying more and more stuff … even when we don’t need it. Stewards, on the other hand, recognize that all things come from God and that we have a responsibility to care for the earth and all that is in it for the benefit of all God’s creatures, not just to satisfy our own selfish whims. That has wide reaching ramifications! It impacts decisions on what I buy and how I can do with less to have a lighter footprint on the planet. Being a steward means I will also recognize that my own physical body is on loan and that I have a responsibility to take care of it by eating the right foods, exercising, and getting medical treatments I need (like that flu shot). That’s all stewardship and our baptismal vows teach us this by calling us to place God first and at the center of all of these decisions.
So when we take these vows you make today seriously, you will be called to change and we are not always people who like change. Sometimes, people will tell me, “Jesus loves me and meets me right where I am.” Well, that is true – Christ loves us enough to meet us right where we are just as he did with tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers and a whole host of other people who were outcasts. But just because he met them where they were and just because he meets us where we are, it doesn’t mean he is content to leave us there! Not at all! Christ calls us into a lifetime of transformational change so that we can become more and more like him. It’s a great adventure and today we have five people beginning that journey. Christ is calling each of you to change the world by becoming Ministers of the Gospel, Evangelists and Stewards … this is big stuff and thankfully, we don’t do it alone. We have this whole congregation at Grace Church and our sisters and brothers who belong to other traditions and congregations with whom we can work to change the world. So keep your heart open and listen for where Christ is calling you to live out your baptism!