I will, with God’s help…Advent 2013 Day 13

Friday the 13th.  The 13th day of Advent.  And the 4th anniversary of my baptism into the community of the Calvary Baptist Church and what appears to be a totally new direction in life (or is just an awareness of a direction that was always there, but unseen?).

There will be a lot of the prophet Isaiah in my life today, so it seems fitting that the reading on our advent calendar should also come from the words of that prophet:

Isaiah 43:18-21

Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.

What a wonderful text for this season, and in particular for me on this day when I remember my baptism.  There is something interesting to note about the Hebrew in this passage (because I can’t help myself) — the first word, zakar, or remember, takes on a different meaning when in the negative.  Do not remember means more than just forget;  it is an instruction that something, whatever is “being remembered”, must no longer exist.

And that, to me, was the experience of baptism.  Much that went before that public statement of faith no longer exists.  Much that was desperately important to me matters no longer.  And many baptism1experiences since that day have only served to teach me the value of embracing the way that Isaiah uses the word zakar — some things simply no longer exist.  This is not easy, because sometimes the things or the people that fall away were so important, or at least I thought they were important and necessary.

One of the great advantages of studying at a seminary that is not in your own church tradition is that you get to sample different worship and liturgical rituals.  Some you will like, some will make you uncomfortable, and some you will simply find not useful.

One of the most beautiful liturgical moments I have experienced is the Episcopal use of the Baptismal Covenant (BCP 304).  My favorite words in the covenant come at the end:

Celebrant     Will you proclaim by word and example the Good
News of God in Christ?

People          I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant      Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving
your neighbor as yourself?

People          I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant      Will you strive for justice and peace among all
people, and respect the dignity of every human

People          I will, with God’s help.

The response “I will, with God’s help”, is to me, the most faith-filled and vulnerable response possible.  And the only response possible, particularly when you embrace Isaiah’s words in today’s reading, words that remind me always of the immense possibilities in surrendering our lives to a life in discipleship.

I invite you to take a moment today and remember your own baptism if you can.  And if you can’t (and that is perfectly alright), maybe you will take a moment and consider the words of the baptismal covenant that may have been spoken on your behalf.  And everything, else, well, just “do not remember” it.

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