Baptism of Christ Sunday After the Riots

I lit a candle this afternoon when I didn’t know what else to do. A colleague and friend texted moments before to tell me that the prayers I had curated for the sermon series she had hoped to begin this Sunday may have to wait.

Like the rest of the nation, I nervously refreshed my feed. Hoping. Praying. Disbelieving. Cursing. I was in awe of the brilliant artists that offered words where I could not find any. Maren Tirabassi wrote this Poem for Epiphany Evening as the sun set. Joanna Harader shared this keen insight on Storming the Capital on Epiphany and while these might help in the moment when it is Epiphany, I know that many of you, dear pastors, are wondering how to speak to this on Sunday. You may have planned to record tomorrow or Thursday so that now you are left staring at a blinking cursor.

Somewhere in the midst of my confusion and fury this afternoon, I got to thinking about a story that was shared in worship weeks ago in the days before the election. It is an old story that does not exist anywhere on the internet though it appeared in a 1978 issue of Reformed Journal which appears to now exist as a blog. Then, it was in print. I emailed my pastor, Anna Kreisle Humble, for a copy of the article. I wish I could also figure out how to share the video she created for worship that Sunday using this story but I cannot. Instead, I share with you a snippet of this essay that might speak to your preaching for this Sunday. Before he muses that some Christians will wonder if the church should be engaged in politics, like race relations, “as if these are still options for the Christian community,” Robert Mouw shares in his essay Baptismal Politics this story about Darryl.

Darryl was brought by his mother to the front of the church to be baptized.. At a certain point in the ceremony, the minister asked these questions of the congregation: “Do you, the people of the Lord, promise to receive this child in love, pray for him, help care for his instruction in the faith, and encourage and sustain him in the fellowship of believers?” And we all answered: “We do, God helping us.”

Darryl is black. And so the congregation’s response had significant and far-reaching implications. For a predominately white congregation to promise to receive Darryl in love, to pray for him, to watch over his instruction in the faith, to sustain him in Christian fellowship, was a profound commitment on his behalf— with important implications not only for this congregation, but also for the traditionally Dutch-ethnic denomination of which it is a part, and for the entire church of Jesus Christ.

To love Darryl will require that we try to look at the world from his point of view, to make his hopes and fears our very own. To assume an obligation for his Christian instruction and nurture is to commit ourselves to attempting to understand what the gospel means for him, with his tradition and history. It means that from here on in we will have to keep Darryl in mind when we plan our sermons, write our liturgies, plot out our educational programs. All of this will involve us in change, in patterns of “contextualization” that are different from those which have characterized our lives in the past.

We are also going to have to pay close attention to what others are saying to and about Darryl. If American society tries to treat him like a second-class citizen, we will have to protest on his behalf, since he is our brother in a holy nation of kings and priests. If he is ever the object of a cruel joke or a vicious slur, we will have to consider this to be an affront to the very Body of Christ. If someone ever complains that he is not “one of our own kind,” we will have to respond with the insistence that, through the blood of Jesus, we are Darryl’s “kind.”

While it might not be worth leading the Pandemic Prayers for Baptism of Christ after the riots today, I think it is worth remembering those questions that we ask of candidates for baptism. It is not just the question that is asked of the congregation to offer support that matters but the witness that we must each wrestle with every day as people of faith.

While our denominations all phrase these questions differently, it is our collective call to resist the powers of evil. It is our job to discern what evil looks like right here and right now and we must decide if we truly believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior or if we will choose to put our faith in some other god. The rioters chose one way. I hope and pray that our baptismal faith leads us another way.

May you find such courage, dear pastor. May the Spirit move you with the power of words for the living of these days. I will be praying for you.

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