by Denise Rector—
I grew up in the denomination named for baptism, with altar calls and baptismal pools. I was baptized when I was old enough to contemplate the outward manifestations of the ritual, which will sound familiar to most Christians. The ritual included dressing in all white and being examined for my understanding of the faith. (Adults are merciful here and usually ask children to recite a Bible verse; John 3:16 was the verse I had to have at the ready, not just at baptism but whenever I saw Rev. Smith.) The ritual of baptism was a public event with witnesses, and finally, the congregation’s applause and joy.
You may or may not remember your baptism. Maybe you were an infant in a traditional, even heirloom gown. Perhaps you were baptized as an adult at a font or a shoreline or a water trough or even during a trip to the Holy Land. I have seen people transported through these and other diverse portals into the body of Christ and the mission we share.
Even as we love—and yes, project our dreams and hopes upon—those being baptized, those of us witnessing this divine portal are making promises related to God’s mission in the world. When you and I attend a baptism and follow along with the liturgy, we both celebrate and make commitments. We state our responsibility to God, ourselves and each other, as well as to our new sibling in Christ.
This mission we share is the work of bringing God’s reconciliation into the world. And this mission does not just belong to the pastors and deacons. It belongs to every member of God’s church. We, as the baptized, are called to use our vocation (or calling) toward the realizing of God’s reconciliation. The play on words of “call/vocation” is intentional.
God’s reconciliation does not just happen on Sunday morning or at the church’s next outreach project. It can happen everywhere there is a baptized person. You and I, as the baptized, do the work of God in our daily lives: interacting with family members, grocery shopping, paying for gas, ordering a pizza. All these seemingly mundane daily activities are a chance to model Christ to another person through listening, accompaniment and service.
After all, we do not have one identity in the church building and another identity outside. We have one baptismal identity that we can live out with each breath and every action.
These actions become the church’s prayerful, Spirit-guided work that heals the world. Referring to the Sermon on the Mount (Jesus’ first sermon in the book of Matthew), Jesus (the relational God) tells us that mission glorifies God, and that we are meant for mission:
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. (emphasis added) —Matthew 5:13-16
It is significant that this is one of Jesus’ first messages to humanity after the revelation of the relational Triune God at Jesus’s baptism (the voice of God and the descent of the Spirit). The other thing Jesus says early in his ministry is “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Along with relational mission, we are drawn to the promise of the Kingdom, the Great Banquet that is foreshadowed in the Eucharist—yet another divine celebration!
Denise Rector, a PhD candidate at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, serves as a program assistant for ELCA Justice for Women. She has an MDiv from Wartburg Theological Seminary, and enjoys poetry, education and baseball.