In the midst of racism, remember your baptism
Like many pastors this weekend, I scrambled to adapt/change/rewrite my sermon to make at least some attempt to address the events in Charlottesville. It’s not as poetic or as polished as I would like it to be, but here it is in audio and written form.
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Today kicks off a series on the sacraments. There’s two Sundays on Baptism and two Sundays on the Lord’s supper. As I was getting ready to talk about baptism I immersed (pun intended) in images of baptism, books about baptism, I even reached out on Facebook and asked people to share tv and movie scenes of baptism. I wanted to think about baptism and what it means for us and I had this great sermon crafted about “Water in the Middle” and how baptism is at the center of our faith and how everything really revolves around it and how baptism is not an ending, a one and done marking us as people of the faith, but actually a beginning, of our devotion to Christ and a life in faith.
And it was a really good sermon. And then I had a Martin Neimoller moment. You may not know the name, but you know the quote. ***below is the correct quote, not the paraphrase I used in my sermon
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
I got home Friday night from an event honoring Chris McRae, who founded Solar Under the Sun—and organization that uses solar power to bring water and light to people who would otherwise be without it. He has literally brought light to the world, and he has saved lives, and we were celebrating his life.
I came home, and I saw through social media that at a gathering of a church, St. Paul’s Church near the University of Virginia–a church that looks very much like ours, in terms of what they believe, in terms of activities they are involved in, in terms of the causes they champion. They were surrounded by men wielding torches and couldn’t get out of the church. And I was being asked to pray for them as they were surrounded and waiting on the police to arrive.
So this is a “they came for us” moment. They’ve come for some of us before, but this time they—the haters, the purveyors of racism—they came for people who look and behave just like us.
And I was going to come and talk about how we remember our baptism.
Suddenly, that felt very ineffective. At a time when racism has decided it can take off its mask and no longer be afraid. Remember your baptism?
Make no mistake about it. There are not two sides to this. Racism is not an opinion or a point of view. It is an evil hateful thing, and it has no place in our world.
And as we face that as a people, standing behind this glass bowl and talking about how remembering our baptism is going to help the situation just does not seem adequate at all. But then I remembered something. I remembered back when I was immersing myself in all those images of baptism, I remembered one of a water bottle. And if you’ve ever had a water bottle that didn’t come as part of a big, shrink wrapped pack, you’ve seen the label that adheres to the rules of the FDA to print nutritional info on the water. And there’s not a think in water. Zero calories. Zero vitamins. Zero minerals. There is absolutely nothing in water if you look at the label ….except that we can’t live without it.
Something that looks like nothing is something we have to have to survive. All of a sudden, my call for us to remember our baptism didn’t seem so insignificant anymore. Because in baptism, we have this visible reminder of an invisible truth. That we are claimed by God. We are claimed by the God who created this earth. We are claimed by a God who loves us enough to become one of us and save us. We are claimed by a God who has such a hold on us that it can never be broken.
Of course, there are still problems with talking about baptism today. One Lord. One Baptism. One Faith. Think about that for a minute and realize that many of the very people who were wielding torches, and in some cases assault weapons, are part of that one faith and that one baptism. That is painful.
And if we have to think about that, then we may also have to struggle with the idea that our often lukewarm commitment to the practice the sharing of “our brand” of Christianity has paved the way for those who are fully committed and totally on fire for a brand of Christianity that spreads hate and hurt.
Remember your baptism.
If we remember our baptism, that may mean that we may have to live in to some things that we will have to struggle with. But that’s okay, because in our baptism we remember that we are claimed by God. The God who gives us strength. The God who gives us courage. The God who gives us wisdom. So we can do that. We can DO that.
When we get to those times in our lives when we think we are so tired of talking about racism and we have to realize that it is our very privilege that allows us to have the choice about whether we talk about it or not. Remember your baptism and find the strength to live in to that discomfort.
When you get to the point where every fiber of your being is screaming at you to return hate for hate. Remember your baptism and how much you are loved and how you are called to share that love.
And when you think that you can’t go on, that the world is just to evil a place, remember the words that you shared when you joined this church. You pledged a belief in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. You promised to be an active and engaged church member, and you renounced evil and its power in the world. Remember your baptism. Remember the promises that you made.
Remember that there is no one and nothing in this world that is beyond redemption. Minds can be changed. Hard hearts can be softened. Lives can be transformed. But it will take people like us refusing the remain silent. We must remember our baptism. That we belong to a loving, gracious and powerful God who will give us what we need to transform the people who would spread that hate and to help work towards the kingdom God has planned for us all.