Of Baptism and Vocation

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The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church met last week in Fairbanks Alaska. Unlike the House of Deputies, the other governing body of the Episcopal Church, the bishops meet once a year. At this meeting a statement was issued to which some one hundred and thirty bishops signed their names. The statement expressed strong opposition to the Trump Administration’s rejection of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order issued by president Obama. This was the order providing a pathway to citizenship for children of immigrants brought to the United States by their parents, but do not as yet have documentation for permanent residency. Our bishop, Russell Kendrick signed the document. I wrote him to thank him for signing it; to thank him for what I consider a witness to the Gospel of Christ. His reply to me was this: “I had to sign it, because I lead congregations in our Baptismal Covenant every single week.” A bishop in the neighboring diocese to our north refrained from signing the statement. When I called the diocesan office to express my dismay, I was told by a staffer that the bishop didn’t want to meddle in politics. Seriously?!

There are two things happening in our Rite of Baptism. The first is that we renounce the evil of our world, an exorcism in effect, and promise to nurture the initiate within the community of faith; to nurture the good in this “new” life in the face of the evil that infects our world. The second thing is that we promise as the Baptized several practices as members of the Jesus community. We promise to participate in the ritual practice and disciplines of the church and all that that implies; we promise to resist evil, and to own up to our falling short; we promise to proclaim the vision of salvation, that is, well being and dignity for all, in word and deed; we promise to serve Christ in our neighbor in a spirit of profound empathy; we promise to work for justice and the peace that comes with it; and last, we promise to respect the dignity of every human being.

These are our marching orders, as it were. These are the marks of our vocation that make our faith a public faith. Ours is a faith that exists, not for our own good, but for the good of the world. That is why I say Sunday after Sunday that our faith is at its heart social, economic, and political. Anything that has to do with the dignity and well being of our neighbor is our business. That is because dignity and well being is Jesus’ business; and we all, by virtue of our Baptisms, have been initiated into the Jesus Movement. We have not been called to a life of self-help therapy. We have been called into activism for the marginalized of our world. When Jesus bids us to take up our cross, he is inviting us to challenge the powers that be in our world that oppress and alienate… to resist evil through the power of Love.

For the church to be relevant in this nihilistic world of post-modernity, courage is needed. Courage to take a stand; courage to call out things that aren’t right; courage to be proximate to the hurt of our world. In your prayers pray for the courage to be who God made you and called you to be … pray for the courage to be useful to God’s purposes of Love in the world… that is our sole vocation; everything else is just wasting valuable time.

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