Sunday, January 9, 2011

Baptism of Jesus Sunday: Basta!


Today we moved our baptism basin back from SPSA and placed it again in the font. We took it as one of our historical liturgical pieces to connect us with “home” while we were sojourning down the street. The font itself has remained here these last three years. Too big and heavy to move, a classic Tiffany Art Nouveau treasure with a bowl filled with stones from the Holy Land. Or at least places for stones from the Holy Land, some having been lifted during the crack epidemic of the eighties.

Before the people arrive, there’s work to be done. Sweeping the steps, taking down the Kings, removing the crowns from the pews and putting the Advent wreath and candles away. The tall Christ candle will remain. The congregation will complete the “undecking of the halls” following the service.

As people arrive, what’s most on their minds is the Arizona shooting yesterday of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords at a shopping mall in Tucson. Nineteen were shot, six died including a nine year old girl. Interestingly, I first learned about the tragedy from my city council member Gale Brewer’s Facebook post. Clearly any legislator would feel touched by such violence. The alleged shooter is a twenty-two year old with extreme political views and a history of mental instability. Congresswoman Gifford’s house had earlier been vandalized in response to political stands she had taken.

So that’s where we begin today, this day when we commemorate the Baptism of Jesus. I grew up in a time when I was taught, “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.” Not so true anymore. Words can and do become the occasion for real violence. They create the atmosphere where violence is given license by words and when words become translated into actions. Those in the political arena who use words like “second Amendment solution” have to be held accountable when someone actually does it. And a politician like Sarah Palin has to reflect on what putting up a posting with gun-site targets over elected officials’ places on the map might mean to someone who takes her words literally.

There needs to be accountability here, just like there needs to be accountability in conservative “profamily” churches for giving cover to domestic violence and how even our “decent and orderly” mainline denominations through our exclusion of gays and lesbians gives encouragement to those who bully. The church has more than its share of culpability.

Jesus had to get baptized as a way to be in solidarity with us. If this is supposed to be about incarnation, god/word made flesh, then he’s got to go there, enter the water just like us. When I think about the prophetic passages in Isaiah, the emphasis is never on who so much as what, what God’s servant does. I’m convinced, a few Bible verses notwithstanding, that Jesus was much more concerned with our following him than believing in him. ( Although I suppose the only true sign of belief is following.) It’s a path, not a doctrine, a way, not a theological proposition. Jesus is in the crowd with the wounded in the mall, not the sloganeers; the abused woman, not the self-justified male authority figure; the bullied gay not the smug preacher who “hates the sin but not the sinner.”

We also talk about how the Church is not a voluntary organization, but an organization of called people. Each of us received our own call at our baptism. That is the source of our respective ministries, not any subsequent ordinations. Of course the church is ultimately a human organization, subject to all the usual human issues. It’s only when we can own that, not believe we’re special or exempt just because we’re a church, that we can have the grace to move beyond that to what we can be. As we begin to act in ways that make our meaning, our content clear.

I pour water into the old basin. Tell the history of water from creation, through the flood, the Red Sea crossing, Jesus at the Jordan. I call on the members to remember their own baptism. Then each comes forward for the laying on of hands, a prayer for any special need. Then we gather in a circle around the font, lift up our prayers of the people, then sing together “Take me to the Water.” We hold hands for the blessing, The service ends. Even in a church without water, the ever flowing stream flows on.

A box is found to gather the pieces of the creche and put them away. The wreaths are taken off the doors. P____is kneeling by the Christ candle in prayer. Her case comes up this week. Ana opens her thermos of steaming hot sweet and strong cafe con leche.

I’m thinking about the cold. About politicians’ promises. About Arizona. And irresponsible political rhetoric. The arrogance of a dying church reality. And more. I have taken off the New Mexico silver Pueblo bracelet I’ve worn for years. I’m wearing a Guatemalan pulsera with the word BASTA! embroidered on it. Enough! it says, Enough.

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