Civic and Christian Duty: Dr King and Reaffirmation of Baptism
The other day I picked up one of the boys from school and he said, “Oh, I am so glad I have a three day weekend!” Right, like they hadn’t just been away from school for two and half weeks for winter break! I guess even one week of school can be stressful. But the occasion of Dr King’s birth is more than a free day from work or school. It should be a day to reflect on the meaning of freedom, to explore the roots of racism, and to make a path forward to ensure that all people have equal access to justice, as guaranteed by our Constitution. Many years ago Christy and I were invited to a parishioner’s home for an evening of conversation with people from many different backgrounds. They were mostly people we didn’t know-- they were not associated with our church in any way. But they desired to intentionally build relationships across boundaries as an intentional way of observing the holiday honoring Dr King.
For me personally, the witness of Martin Luther King Jr is more than a civic observance. Dr King, his life, words, and death are part of my Christian understanding. I don’t know how many times I have read Dr King’s Why We Can’t Wait, the book explaining the thinking and actions of Dr King and others, built around his revelatory Letters from a Birmingham Jail. As a Christian, I am called to live out my faith in a way that ends injustice. I am called to oppose racism, war, violence, poverty, discrimination, and any words or actions that undermine human dignity. As a pastor, I am called to prophetically proclaim, as Dr King did, the “Word of the Lord,” witnessing to the teachings of Christian faith in the face of that which is contrary to the ways of Christ.
So yeah, MLK Day is more than a three day weekend.
The other day we learned of some disparaging words from the White House to describe certain nations, Haiti specifically and also unspecified African nations. I won’t repeat them in consecrated space, nor anywhere else. These racist remarks were made with other leaders in the context of negotiations around our country’s immigration policy. They undermined our country’s moral authority as a safe place for people fleeing from violence or desperate situations.
More than that, how we see and treat those who are foreign or who are seeking a better opportunity directly correlates to our Christian witness. Scripture teaches us that each person, regardless of where they were born, what language they speak, or the value of their country’s Gross National Product, is a woman or man made in the image of God. As Christians, we would hope that our leaders modeled what they profess to believe; but as the Family of God, we cannot look the other way when human dignity is challenged. Here at Grace, our congregation has supported hospitals and vital ministries in many of these countries for years and years. Just the other day I saw our end of year connectional giving statement. In addition to the connectional monies we and every United Methodist Church contributes to our denomination, Grace supported Maua Methodist Hospital in Kenya and Grace Children’s Hospital in Haiti. For many, many years, we have sent teams and individuals to those places to witness to the Christian faith and represent all of us in sharing the love and presence of Jesus Christ.
(You can read similar statements from United Methodist bishops here and our own Bishop McKee here).
At first glance, the pairing of readings from the creation story of Genesis and Jesus’ baptism seems strange. But they have some powerful themes in common, involving the Spirit of God. The Spirit, Genesis says, hovered over the waters of Creation, as God brought a rhythm of life from the primordial chaos. The Spirit of God descended upon Jesus at his baptism, coming down on him like a dove. Both accounts feature the voice of God. In Genesis, God says, “Let there be light,” and so light appeared. As Jesus came up out of the water, a voice from heaven speaks. Unlike Matthew’s account, where God speaks to everyone present: “This is my Son, the Beloved…” Mark’s version is intensely personal. God whispers to Jesus, one to one: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love, in you I find happiness.”
You are my son. You are my daughter.
At our baptism, whether that was when we were infants or adults, whether it was in a church or a swimming pool or hot tub (I’ve done baptisms in both places!), whether we were submerged under water or sprinkled, those words were whispered to each of us. You are my son. You are my daughter. And this morning we will reaffirm our baptisms. You may have noticed the baptismal font is placed at the entrance of the Celebration Center today. Many Christian worship spaces across the millenia have their baptismal fonts at the entry of the worship area. It’s there to symbolize that baptism is our beginning point in our lives with Christ. In a few moments each of us will have an opportunity to walk past the water, touch it, and be reminded that we are baptized.
And if baptized, called. And if called, sent out.
The Spirit of God hovered over the waters of Creation, stirring things up. What does the Spirit do after it alights upon the Son of God at his baptism? “At once the Spirit forced Jesus out into the wilderness,” where he was tempted by Satan. It was the beginning of his ministry. Remember that you are baptized. Remember that you are called. Remember that you are sent.
But baptized, called, and sent to what? To where?
As I said earlier, the enduring witness of Dr King is of the baptized Christian called to confront injustice and stand for those who are oppressed. So as part of our observance of recommitment to live out our baptismal commitment, let us pray together.
We remember the conviction of Martin Luther King, Jr, that “freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” Therefore, let us pray for courage and determination by those who are oppressed…
We remember Martin’s warning that “a negative peace which is the absence of tension” is less than “a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” Therefore, let us pray that those who work for peace in our world may first cry out for justice…
We remember Martin’s insight that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” Therefore, let us pray that we may see nothing in isolation, but may know ourselves bound to one another and to all people under heaven…
We remember Martin’s lament that “the contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is often the arch-supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the Church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the Church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are.” Therefore, let us pray that neither this nor any congregation of Christ’s people may be silent in the face of wrong, but that we may be disturbers of the status quo when that is God’s call to us…
We remember Martin’s “hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities and in some not too-distant tomorrow the radiant stars of brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.”
Therefore, in faith, let us commend ourselves and our work for justice to the goodness of almighty God.
Brothers and sisters in Christ:
Through the Sacrament of Baptism
we are initiated into Christ's holy Church.
We are incorporated into God's mighty acts of salvation
and given new birth through water and the Spirit.
All this is God's gift, offered to us without price.
Through the reaffirmation of our faith
we renew the covenant declared at our baptism,
acknowledge what God is doing for us,
and affirm our commitment to Christ's holy Church.
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?
According to the grace given to you,
will you remain faithful members of Christ's holy Church
and serve as Christ's representatives in the world?
THANKSGIVING OVER THE WATER
Let us pray.
When nothing existed but chaos,
you swept across the dark waters
and brought forth light.
In the days of Noah
you saved those on the ark through water.
After the flood you set in the clouds a rainbow.
When you saw your people as slaves in Egypt,
you led them to freedom through the sea.
Their children you brought through the Jordan
to the land which you promised.
In the fullness of time you sent Jesus,
nurtured in the water of a womb.
He was baptized by John and anointed by your Spirit.
He called his disciples
to share in the baptism of his death and resurrection
and to make disciples of all nations.
Pour out your Holy Spirit,
and by this gift of water call to our remembrance
the grace declared to us in our baptism.
For you have washed away our sins,
and you clothe us with righteousness throughout our lives,
that dying and rising with Christ
we may share in his final victory.
REAFFIRMATION OF FAITH
Remember your baptism and be thankful. Amen.
Let us rejoice in the faithfulness of our covenant God.
We give thanks for all that God has already given us.
As members of the body of Christ
and in this congregation of The United Methodist Church,
we will faithfully participate in the ministries of the Church
by our prayers, our presence, our gifts,
our service and our witness
that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.
The God of all grace,
who has called us to eternal glory in Christ,
establish and strengthen you
by the power of the Holy Spirit,
that you may live in grace and peace.