Sunday, February 5, 2017

No Ordinary Community: In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit

I remember that day very well. I was in the 7th grade. My family was living on Padre Island in south Texas. There are worse places to live as a junior high boy who loves to fish. Our backyard was the inter-coastal waterway that led to the Gulf of Mexico. It was November, and winter was approaching. Which meant, in Corpus Christi, that the temperature had plunged to the low 80s. I was sitting on our deck, near the boat dock in the backyard. My mom came out from inside the house, and it was just the two of us. Make no bones about it: my mother was the spiritual leader in our home. She had “converted” my father years earlier, before I was born. In fact, I’m quite certain his conversion was a prerequisite for their relationship!

On this particular afternoon, mom came to have an important spiritual conversation with me—her oldest (and not yet baptized) son. I was 12 years old and it was time. Twelve, as you know, is the universally accepted “age of accountability.” I was there, and it was time for the discussion. She asked me very pointedly: “Have you been thinking about getting baptized?” I said, “Yes,” because I had been thinking about it. As a child raised in my household, it was natural to begin thinking about baptism at age 12. Our conversation continued, and by sheer gravitational force, we were at the church building three hours later.

It was a Tuesday evening. No crowds. Not a lot of people. My family was there. Our preacher and his wife were there. And my youth minister was there, Paul O’Rear. He is still doing ministry today in Waxahachie, Texas. Paul baptized me that Tuesday evening. What a special moment that was! I vividly remember the feelings of that evening. I was nervous. The water was warm. I put on a white dress—at least that is what it looked like to me as a 12-year-old boy. I didn’t want to put the dress on, but I did. Paul asked me that question: “Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He came to earth to die for your sins?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Then, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit so that your sins may be forgiven and that you might receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” He dunked me under the water and I emerged as a new person.

I’ve thought a lot over the years about that special, pivotal moment in my life. Specifically, I’ve come back to this one question. What really happened in that moment? I knew the basics even then: My sins were forgiven and God’s Spirit, somehow, took hold of my life. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve continued to think about that moment. What really happened in that moment?

Many of you have your own stories. Some of you were dunked at camp! Others made that long, courageous walk down the aisle at the conclusion of a Sunday morning worship service. Wherever you were, whenever it was, I want to invite you to return to that moment. And I want you to consider this important question: What really happened in that moment?

There is a phrase that was used during my baptism that is so important. But it isn’t the phrase that we talk about very much. It wasn’t, “So that your sins might be forgiven…” or even, “So that you can receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The phrase I’m talking about—that is so important—was this: “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” From the very beginning of the church, those specific words have been used at baptism. And believe it or not, that phrase is more than just a formulaic add-on to the words of baptism. These words came from Jesus Himself during the so-called “Great Commission.” Just before He ascended to the Father, there was a crowd gathered around Him. Do you remember what He told them?
Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit… (Matthew 28:19 CEB)
Why do you suppose it was so important to Jesus that these particular words be associated with our baptism? I will tell you: When we were baptized into the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, we made a commitment to live our lives as a reflection of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Jesus connected our baptism to the image and relationship of God because Jesus knew that is exactly what our world has always needed the most.

So, what is so special about the relationship between Father, Son, and Spirit? I know we do not use the word “Trinity” much in our tradition. But it is not a bad word. It is a word that surfaced very early in the church’s history as they tried to understand the relationship between Father, Son, and Spirit. Let’s be honest: it is a difficult relationship to try and understand! We read about three “entities” in the Bible, and they all refer to God! But we do not believe there are three separate gods. The Bible is clear on that point! So, in an effort to articulate this very difficult to understand concept, the church began to use this word, “Trinity.” And at its core, it describes a relationship that is so close that it is almost impossible to decide where one ends and the other begins. Now that is a close relationship! And Jesus said, when you are baptized, make sure you are baptized into the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit. When you are baptized, make sure you understand that you are embodying the very image of the three-in-one God! When you are baptized, make absolutely sure that you understand this: Your life must be a reflection of that deep connectedness. Your life must be a reflection of perfect unity.

You see, when Jesus connected our baptism to Trinity, Jesus connected our baptism to the very mission of God. The mission of God has always been to create a world that mirrors His image. And when we are baptized, we join God in that mission. So, in a sense, Jesus says, “When you are baptized, remember that you are making a commitment to join Me in my mission. Remember that you are making a commitment to heal the divisions of the world, to bring the world back to perfect unity. Ephesians 1 says it this way:
This is what God planned for the climax of all times: to bring all things together in Christ, the things in heaven along with the things on earth. (Ephesians 1:10 CEB)
This mission of God was actually talked about among the Jews, even before Jesus was born. For centuries, the Jews talked about bringing the “Shalom of God” into the world. We typically connect our word “peace” with this Jewish concept of “Shalom.” That is a good translation, but our connotation of peace does not go far enough. The Jewish word Shalom meant more than simply the absence of conflict, which is what many of us typically think of when we think of peace. The word “Shalom” means “the place where everything is as it should be,” the world as God envisioned at Creation. And the people of God, even before Jesus was born, were talking about the coming Shalom into the world.
“One day God will come to set things right,” they would say.
“One day all of the pain and suffering and conflict will go away.”
“One day God’s Shalom will enter this mess and make things right.”
Brothers and sisters, Jesus came to bring Shalom into the world. Jesus came to create the place where everything is as it should be. Jesus set that plan in motion. But, it is not yet complete. Paul says in I Corinthians 13:
Now we see a reflection in a mirror; then we will see face-to-face.
The Shalom-centered world is not yet complete, but it will be. But even now, because of what Jesus did, the world is able to see glimpses of that “world as it should be.” And where can the world go to find those glimpses? The church. The church is an ever-increasing community of ever increasing Shalom in the world. Because our identity as baptized believers is tied up in God’s image of Father, Son, and Spirit. When the world sees us, it should be as if they are looking into the face of God. We are the image bearers of God in a fallen and broken world.

Our world is one dominated by fear. But not so for those baptized in the name of Father, Son, and Spirit. We proclaim that true love casts out all fear, because God’s Shalom has come into the world, and it is still coming. Our world is one where sickness and death seem to always have the last word. But not so for those baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Our proclamation to the world is that death has been defeated already, because Shalom has come into the world, and it is still coming. Our world is one where mistrust and name-calling and gossip and hate are all around us. But not so for those baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Our proclamation to the world is that the Truth will set us free, because Shalom has come into the world, and it is still coming.

I know this world is a tough place to live sometimes. It is so easy to get discouraged and it is so easy to fall into the ways of the world, to be dominated by fear, to be depressed by death, to be discouraged by hate. In those moments, remember the words of the One in whose name we were baptized:
Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too. You know the way to the place I’m going. (John 14:1-4 CEB)
What really happened when I was baptized? In that moment, I joined Christ in His victory. In that moment, I was given the courage, even in a world like ours, to stand up again—and so were you.

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