The Baptism vows that my parents took for me when I was an infant were confirmed when I made my public declaration of faith when I was 13. They have been reconfirmed in me throughout my life as I have grown in my faith and understanding of God. They bind me to Christ and keep me focused on what is important in this life. The following questions are asked as part of our baptismal covenant:
On behalf of the whole Church, I ask you: Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?
Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?
Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the Church, which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?
When we respond to these examination questions, we affirm that we understand what God is doing in our lives. An infant cannot acknowledge these questions of faith, but the parents of that infant make these vows of faith until such a time when the child comes of age to profess the faith openly and faithfully. The key to the baptismal covenant is living into it so much that it orders our lives in holiness. Unfortunately, most people in our congregations ask, how much can I get away with and still go to heaven?” In that line of thinking, it cheapens the baptismal covenant that one makes for themselves or on behalf of an infant.
The act of putting water on a person or infant is not enough to get someone into heaven. If that were the case, I would have a dunk tank on the front lawn of the church on Sunday morning and sell tickets! It makes me think that the power is in the water and not in God’s work through the sacrament. Baptism is an outward sign of an inward grace that has been at work in us from the beginning. The power of the sacrament of Baptism is in what God does at that moment. Human hands and water are meaningless without the power of God. The sacrament of Baptism is a community event—just like the disciples being sent out two-by-two into the various communities; we do this together. It is not “I” but “WE.”
When we live out our baptismal covenant in the grace that God gives; is when Christ grows within us, through us, and despite us.
Living our baptismal covenant is a lifelong process of faith and grace. The first time I renewed my baptismal covenant in a formal sense of the matter was at the former Western New York Annual Conference in 2003. I had just received a license for pastoral ministry. Bishop Violet L. Fisher was the resident bishop at the time, and she preached a powerful sermon on Elijah’s ministry.
“But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” 5 And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” 6 And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. 7 And the angel of the Lord came again and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you." --1 Kings 19:4-7
She emphatically implored the members of the Conference to “get up and eat for the journey is too much for you.” These words seemed foreign to me. I had just entered the ministry the year prior and had no idea what would be asked of me physically, spiritually, and mentally. I was convinced I could do this alone; I was wrong.
In my 20 years of serving as a pastor, I have learned to dip deep into the well of friendships I have forged with clergy and friends on the road with me. I have had a deepening sense of call and prayer. I have experienced physical, mental, and spiritual transformation that leads me to believe in the power and capacity to change under the care of God. This is why I have faith that in the ashes and embers of the death of the institutional church, God can do amazing things. God can do resurrection things if we will get out of the way and let God remove the stone from the tomb.
The work of ministry cannot be done without nourishment of the sacraments. The food we need is physical and spiritual, which can only come from God. So don’t put your stock in the water or human hands, but in God’s divine measure of faith and the assurance of salvation in Jesus Christ. That, I believe, is what the apostle Paul was getting to when he said:
“Not that I have already attained all this, or have been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ JESUS took hold of me.”—Philippians 3:12
At the close of Bishop Fisher’s sermon, I approached the baptismal waters, touched my hand in the water, and placed it on my forehead; I heard the words from the freshly ordained clergy, “Remember your baptism and be thankful.” I am thankful for my Baptism and my life because of the covenant my parents made for me and guided me to profess the faith. You are blessed and beloved dear friends. Be thankful for the work that God is doing in your life. In John Wesley’s dying words, “The best of all is, God, is with us."