I am picking up here where I left off in the “Infant Baptism and the Bible” series. For the first part, see this. Or for more, just click on the “baptism” tag on the right hand side of the page.

When Carrie and I lived in Wilmore, there was one Sunday morning that I turned on the TV and watched the first few minutes of a sermon given by a preacher in Lexington that was broadcast on a local channel. In a sermon on baptism, the preacher opined a great deal about how infants “don’t know what’s going on in a baptism like those who are able to make a conscious decision are” and how wrong infant baptism is. He even suggested that infant baptism had pagan roots and declared that it is a “heathen practice.” And as if his lack of doing serious homework about the history and tradition of infant baptism wasn’t enough, I suppose he hadn’t considered that what he was about to say next went directly against the logic that he was spewing. In the very next sentence he began to make a connection between the practices of circumcision in the Old Testament and baptism in the New. He said, “just as circumcision was the outward sign of an inward change in the old covenant, so was baptism the sign of the same in the new covenant,” drawing on the connection Paul makes between the two practices in Colossians 2:11-12. (Ummmmm…Maybe he didn’t know about the practice of infant circumcision?)

Of course, opponents of infant baptism typically do not appeal to such a strong connection between these two practices, but the analogy between them is worth exploring and is part of the reasons why United Methodists baptize infants (see more in this official document of the UMC). The connecting point between them is that they are the distinguishing signs, or seals, of the covenant(s) God makes with God’s people. In making covenant, God initiates the relationship and agreement, through giving grace and making promises that would be unattainable through mere human effort or merit. Nonetheless, there are expectations of the covenant people to maintain their end of the covenant, which involves obedience to divine commands, living holy and loving lives in response to God’s gracious actions in claiming and redeeming the lost or enslaved people.

When God established covenant with Abram in Genesis 17 (and therein changes his name to Abraham), God says that circumcision will be the sign of the covenant between God and Abraham/his descendants. The commandment given to Abraham was that every male offspring from his line should be circumcised on the eighth day of his life. The covenant seal was to be given to males born in the lineage. Were the infants aware of the expectations they would be expected to meet when they were circumcised? Of course not. But they were taught from the beginning of their lives that they were an already graced and redeemed people in the midst of a dark and broken world. And that there were expectations of being the people of God for those who had been given this grace: expectations including continually turning to God and the ways of God, offering sacrifices for the ways in which they failed to live into their expectations of the covenant, as well as being a “light to the Gentiles.” For Abraham and Ishmael and for the uncircumcised Israelite men about to enter into Canaan (Joshua 5), the ritual signifying and sealing this was done (much to their pain) when they were adults or older youth, as they were about to embark upon the fulfilling of the promise. For every other male born into the lineage, the rite was to be done in infancy.

When God established the new covenant through the death and resurrection of God’s Son Jesus with those who identify as followers of the Christ, the sign and seal of the covenant is baptism. Baptism is the liturgical language used to describe Jesus’ death and resurrection (Romans 6:1-14, Mark 10:38-39 to name a couple). At the birth of the church (i.e., Pentecost), Peter urged the crowds to repent and be baptized that they might receive forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. His very next statement is that this promise is for the people who respond and for their children. By this, I see already the seeds of where the practice of infant baptism is congruent with this new covenant established by God in Christ. In baptism, we are washed in water and born of the Spirit and this, I read, is not just for adults but for children too. And much of what could be said above re: circumcision can be applied to this new covenant, sealed in baptism. That they (and we) are taught from the very beginning that we are an already graced and redeemed people in the midst of a dark and broken world. And there are expectations of being the people of God for us who have been given this grace in Christ: to live a life of continually turning to God and God’s ways through repentance and confirming or professing one’s faith to the community; receiving the grace of reconciliation and renewal offered through the body and blood of the Lord by partaking in the meal that celebrates the new covenant; and being the “light of the world” that stands in need of this grace.

There are a couple of differences worth mentioning, too. 1.) This sign of the covenant makes no distinction between ethnic distinction. When entering into the waters of baptism, there is no need to attempt to change your appearance, skin color, or ethnic identity. The good news is for all peoples. 2.) This sign of the covenant makes no distinction between genders. Whereas circumcision was a rite only done to males, baptism is for male and female, for in Christ there is no distinction (Galatians 3:28).

For the crowds gathered at Pentecost and for the world who was about to hear about the gospel of Jesus for the first time, the ritual signifying and sealing this was done (without the pain of circumcision) when they were adults as they were to receive the promised Spirit. For every other person born into a family of this faith, the rite could very well be done in infancy. “The promise is for you, and for your children…”

"All ages, nations, and races..." (photocredit: christiantheology.wordpress.com)

“…people of all ages, nations, and races…” (photocredit: christiantheology.wordpress.com)

Thanks for tuning in. More to come as we’ll look more at the book of Acts next time…but don’t let that stop you from commenting or or raising questions in the mean time! 🙂

Although it often invites moments of being teased, one of my favorite things to do with family around Christmas is looking through old family photo albums to recall the precious, though sometimes embarrassing, memories from my childhood. When examining afresh the pictures from yesteryear, as a family we get to relive, in a sense, our past and remember and be thankful for God’s faithfulness in bringing us to this moment of our shared lives, even as we anticipate greater days to come. This is what I mean in this post’s title as ‘the art of remembrance.’ That remembrance is more than just recalling stories and ‘memories’ of old, but is an affirmation that when we tell these stories, we are being mysteriously transported into the past and experience it anew. It is our way of living into the story that began before we could grasp it all or before we were even aware there was a story.

Practicing the art of remembrance is more than this...

Practicing the art of remembrance is more than this…

On two different occasions, God’s family was given what we now call the Ten Commandments, and they are recorded in Exodus 20 & Deuteronomy 5. The commandment that should strike a chord as we think about ‘remembrance’ is the 4th one: “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.” But did you know that in the two renderings of the commandment, there is a difference in the reason given as to why to remember the sabbath? Read them anew…

Exodus 20:8-11 – “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God…For in six days the Lord created heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.”

Deuteronomy 5:12-15 – “Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God…Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.

Did you catch the difference? In Exodus they were called to remember the sabbath for its connection to the story of creation. In Deuteronomy they were called to remember the sabbath for its connection to the story of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Think about that: in Egypt they slaved seven days a week; God commanded them to remember they’re not enslaved anymore and to do so by taking a day off. (If there were ever a day when that message is needed, it would be now.) Remembering the sabbath was their (and our) way of living into the stories of God’s creation and redemption. Even as generations would come and go, remembrance was their way of looking back in gratitude because of God’s loving faithfulness in freely creating the heavens and the earth and in freely rescuing them from bondage.

Remembering is at the heart of who we are as Christians too: when we welcome new members into God’s family and renew our own covenant made in the past to God and the church; when we sit at meals and tell stories of the recent or distant past, recalling how God has got us through times of light and darkness; when we gather to grieve the loss of one of our own, yet remaining hopeful in the resurrection as we recall God’s faithfulness in the lives of those who have gone before us; and of course, when we break bread together and share the cup at the Lord’s Supper. When Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me,” I believe he meant more than just “retell this story and recall to mind my sacrifice for you.” It’s more than that, for again, remembrance is more than recollection. Remembrance, in the sacramental sense, is a mysterious act in which we commune with the saints, and Christ is mysteriously but really present in our meal.

When we eat the bread and drink from the cup, our act of remembrance is our way of living into the story of Christ’s redeeming the world through his becoming human in being conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, remaining faithful to his Father, being betrayed, suffering, dying, and being resurrected. Each time we partake of the meal and we remember Christ, we relive our redemption and give thanks (Eucharist = give thanks) for God’s loving faithfulness in rescuing us from bondage to sin and death. I’ve seen it put this way before: “The Christian is one who remembers!” And as St. Paul reminds us, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

Sunday was my first go at leading Post Oak & Liberty in the sacrament of Holy Communion. It was really enjoyable to be able to guide the congregations in confessing sin and repenting, declaring the good news of forgiveness in the name of Christ, and expressing tokens of reconciliation as Christ would be present in the meal we shared together.

As I am in the midst of a series on “New Beginnings,” I read the Scriptural text of Luke 24:13-35, where the story of the walk on the road to Emmaus is recounted. Jesus joined two disciples who were walking along still puzzled by the events that had taken place, primarily of the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus and the alleged report that he was alive again. The new beginning for these disciples was that Christ led them out of confusion into clarity of the identity and mission of the Messiah, who had to suffer before entering into victory (24:26).

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But even as their eyes were beginning to open and their hearts were burning within them, they still were unable to fully recognize Jesus until they had invited him to share the evening with them and after he took bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to them.

This Scripture passage leads quite well into the liturgy of the Service of Word and Table found in the United Methodist Hymnal & Book of Worship. The liturgy begins: “Christ our Lord invites…”

This notion of invitation is central to this passage of Scripture as well as the liturgy of Holy Communion. When we hear and read the story in Luke’s Gospel, our ears and eyes are alerted to the fact that the disciples urgently invited Jesus to stay with them in Emmaus and have fellowship rather than continuing on the road without them (24:28-29). But while the text speaks of their invitation, in reality and underneath the surface we can read that Jesus was inviting them all along. He met them on their road of confusion, disbelief, and despair, and opened the Scriptures (and their minds) to the reality of the suffering Messiah who would conquer death by death in order to bring the hope and promise of the resurrected life. That long walk down the road when Jesus revealed to them the nature of his Messianic role of rescuing us from the grip of sin & death was preparing their hearts, minds, and eyes for what they would behold later that day in the breaking of bread.

This is a great example of what John Wesley was speaking about when he wrote of prevenient (or preventing) grace. That is, God’s grace goes before any response or action we take in inviting Christ into our lives and living out his mission in the world. We love because he first loved us. We invite because he first invited us. “Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him, who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another…”

Some of you read the title of this post and thought, “A lot depends on the size of your bite.” This is true! Some people can handle chewing & swallowing a bigger bite than others. I have eosinophilic esophagitis (EE), so my bites usually have to be smaller than what most adults can handle. Now I could tell you about the details of how my gastroenterologists/GI specialists came to that conclusion, but that’s another story for another day. Suffice it to say that nine years ago, when I had a chunk of steak lodged in my esophagus, I didn’t know about this syndrome (as many of you reading this have never heard of it), much less that I would one day be diagnosed with it.

It was Thursday and was premium night at the Asbury College cafeteria. That meant that instead of the usual array of “meh” choices for your entree, they offered a more elegant selection, which included grilled steak on one particular evening. As fate would allow it, this particular premium night was the night before Senior Chapel, where I had been asked to share a testimony about my life and/or my time at Asbury as my class was getting prepared to graduate. Being the night before Senior Chapel, those involved in the service the next day were to go to rehearsal in Hughes Auditorium, where chapel is held. Because of the unfortunate circumstance that occurred in the cafeteria that evening, I was unable to make it to rehearsal. Instead I spent most of the rest of the evening in the ER at a hospital in Lexington.

I tried to swallow the bite of steak after not chewing enough. The food met resistance. I grabbed my glass of coke and tried to wash it down with liquid. The trouble with a food impaction is, if the liquid you try to force it down with doesn’t do the job, that liquid comes back up. So my tray started getting fizzy from the coke. I wasn’t choking, the food was just stuck on its way to my stomach. So although the cafeteria manager knew the Heimlich maneuver, that wasn’t going to help and in fact may have caused worse damage had he tried to do so. He sent me to the Health Clinic. They didn’t have the necessary means of assisting me, so they gave me strict instructions not to lay down but to go to the Emergency Room. Carrie (we were engaged at the time) took me to the ER. We waited in the waiting room…waited…waited…waited… After about an hour and a half (on top of the hour it had taken to go to the Health Clinic, see what they could/couldn’t do and then drive to the ER), I finally said to the folks at the front desk, “It is really hard having food stuck in your esophagus for over 2 hours, not being able to swallow any sort of liquid, including my own saliva. Can I please be seen soon?” They called me back a couple of minutes later.

Then I had to prove I was having this problem. They gave me 3 cups of water to attempt to drink. And the same thing happened with that that had happened in the cafeteria with my coke. The water came back up. So they paged the GI doc to come in and do a scope to push the food down through an endoscopy. At that point, the doctor at the ER told me to lay down. “Are you sure, because my Health Clinic said not to.” “Yes, I’m sure.” So I laid down, and within a minute I felt the food go down. [Note: this activity did not do the trick the next couple of times I had food impactions…that’s when I knew there was an underlying problem that needed to be addressed.] I told him I felt that. Being skeptical of this, he asked me to attempt to swallow three more glasses of water, which I did effortlessly. So they called the GI doc to return home since there was no need to perform the scope.

A few minutes later, the nurse came back with specific written instructions on how best to proceed, especially when consuming food. On the sheet in bold print were these words: “When eating, cut your food, especially meats, up into SMALL pieces and CHEW THOROUGHLY before attempting to swallow.

When God called Abram (Gen. 12), God said, “Go…to a land I will show you.”  In the creation account in Genesis 1, God had paused at the end of each day to enjoy & celebrate the work that had been done. “God saw how good it was”(CEB) – Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31. At the beginning of his venture in following God’s call, Abram stopped at various times, celebrated and worshiped the God who had revealed himself to Abram by building an altar unto the Lord (Gen. 12:7, 8; 13:4, 18). If eating a meal is anything like walking a journey, then we ought to take time to enjoy each of the courses and not rush through them. Trying to eat a steak in one bite will not only land you in the ER, it will also rob you of the joy of enjoying each savory bite.

Some speak of biting off more than one can chew. I had bitten off more than I could swallow. The same principle applies. But as grace would have it, I got to go back to campus that evening with no scars and only an embarrassing story to share. Ever since, I’ve tried not to eat the whole steak at once (literally & metaphorically). I must confess that I have failed a time or two though.

Oh and I did get to speak in chapel the next day. I guess they trusted that I wasn’t really going to choke. ;^)