Saturday, January 09, 2010

Sealed and Marked

"You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ's own forever."

These words are those that I and other Episcopal priests use as we mark a cross with holy oil on the forehead of a person just baptized. It is a powerful statement! The newly baptized person has essentially been branded (or tattooed?) with the sign of the cross, a sign that while physically invisible is also permanent. We believe that we are "Christ's own forever" by virtue of that baptism and sealing.

I'm thinking a lot about baptism because I am preaching tomorrow on the baptism of Jesus (the feast day of the "Baptism of Our Lord", to be specific) and thinking about what it means to be baptized. Much as no one remembers the day they were born (which is probably fortunate...), those of us who were baptized as infants don't remember what might be regarded as our "second birth." So our identity does not proceed from a remembered event but from an emotional affirmation of an affirmed theological and spiritual reality. What, then, does it mean to be baptized and, more personally, what does it mean for me that I am baptized?

I think it means at least three things, both theologically and personally, for me. First, it means that I am inexorably linked with God--I am "marked as Christ's own forever." The covenant of God is not one that can be voided, it is eternal. So even in the midst of the trails and tribulations of this mortal life, I can know that I am linked with God as a beloved child of God. That identity is a precious thing it a world that seeks to define us in a host of lessor ways. We are classified by our public roles as constituents, consumers, and taxpayers. We are evaluated by "what we do" in our jobs as doctors, lawyers, priests, salespeople, cashiers, managers, students, etc... We are evaluated by our family roles as parents of our children, children of our parents, and sometimes even parents of our parents in their old age. We can even by typecast by surface things such as race, body type, clothing choices, or even hairstyle. None of these ways of categorizing or judging ourselves and others reveals our most important, most lasting, but most hidden identity as baptized children of God.

Second, it means that I am linked to a worldwide community of faith that is currently locally manifested in the various people in the pews of my local congregation at St. Edward's. Perhaps the most powerful call to ordination for me was the call to form and facilitate such local faith communities, parts of the Body of Christ. I have been both supported and challenged in various ways by them--from youth groups to college groups to the church family at my home church (Christ Church, Los Altos) to classmates at the seminary I attended (VTS) to the various parishes I have served--all have served to teach me what it is to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and support me in that effort. In a world of both increasing personal isolation and yet more and more ways of connecting to one another across thousands of miles via email, Twitter, Facebook, etc... such personal relationships are more and more tenuous and yet more and more critical.

Third, it means to that I am empowered and enabled to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit living in and through me. This is perhaps the most difficult of things to articulate. It is comparatively easy to claim my identity as a child of God and a part of the church, but how does one put into words something so ethereal and yet so central to my own life and ministry. I suppose the answer to that is that I cannot put it into words but only put it into actions. How I function as a Christian, how I care for myself and others, and how I exercise my gifts and talents in service to God in the world perhaps embody more than anything else the often unseen work of the Spirit within me. Hopefully my own human failings don't get in the way of the Spirit's work too often!

So, that is a bit of what I'm likely to reflect upon in my sermon tomorrow--being a child of God, a member of the Christian community called the church, and an agent of the Spirit. Come on by and join us!

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