"Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers?" BCP pg. 304 The apostles' teaching The phrase comes from the beginning of the book of Acts. The newest believers came together to learn what it meant to follow Jesus. The apostles taught what they had learned. They repeated the stories that Jesus had told, the healing they had witnessed. They testified to Jesus' death and resurrection. The apostles gave to those who were hungry to hear all that they had been given, and they gave them more. They gave them the understanding that they now possessed, the insight that had been given them by the Holy Spirit. For us, the apostles' teaching is written down in the New Testament. The stories of Jesus in the Gospels, and the apostles' instructions to the struggling churches in the epistles (letters) have been preserved and the Holy Spirit continues to act, to inform, to enlighten us through the apostles' teaching. Read the letter to the Ephesians. If you don't have a modern language Bible (I like Eugene Peterson's, The Message), consider buying one.
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The Baptismal Covenant At each baptism the entire congregation joins in saying the Baptismal Covenant. We proclaim our belief in God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit using the words of the creeds. But we continue on. We pledge ourselves to take the actions that that faith involves. In five statements, we undertake to live our lives in and through our reliance on Jesus and in the light of God's love. Take time today to read through the Baptismal Covenant (Book of Common Prayer pg. 304-5).
"Do you promise to follow and obey Him as your Lord?" Service of Baptism, BCP pg. 303 Lord In our democratic society we have a hard time with the concept of an absolute ruler. The idea of someone "lording" it over us has such negative connotations. The idea of honoring Jesus as "Lord" seems so foreign. We have a hard time acknowledging that anyone or anything has power over us. To proclaim Jesus as Lord is to recognize that we have to make a choice. We have to choose what and who we will allow to have influence over our decisions and actions. There are many things competing for our allegiance: institutions and movements and expectations and our own desire to control our lives. Who and what is worthy of your devotion? Who or what holds sway in your life? What do you give your time, attention, money, and passion to? Look at a recent decision in your life. What helped you make that decision? Did it reflect Jesus as Lord?
"Do you promise to follow and obey Him as your Lord?" Service of Baptism, BCP pg. 303 Obey Obey is a difficult word and a difficult concept. We are independent and autonomous individuals; "obey" is not really in our vocabulary. Obeying God brings up all kinds of negative baggage, rules and regulations and commandments that are impossible to meet. To take directions from anyone entails an amount of trust. We need to be able to trust that that person is seeking the best for us, is looking out for us. To obey also involves correctly hearing the directions, always a tricky thing as we seek to discern what God is asking of us. Discerning what God is asking of us is best done in a community of faith, with people around us who can help us hear the voice of God and help us trust that God seeks only what is the best for us and is most life-affirming for the people around us. Plan to spend time with others in your life who seek to love and serve God.
"Do you promise to follow and obey Him as your Lord?" Service of Baptism, BCP pg. 303 Follow If you have ever been around small children, you know how they will mimic the adults around them. They watch every move and listen to every word and before you know it you will hear your words coming out of the mouth of a three year old. It can be funny and terrifying. I notice that I do something like that as well with the people I spend time with. I start to see the world as they see it. I hear their words and phrases coming out of my mouth. For better or worse we reflect the ones we spend our time around. We pick up the thoughts and viewpoints of those around us. Following Jesus enables us to begin to pick up his perspective on things. Following Jesus enables us to become more like him. Read the Gospel of Mark (the shortest one). What do you hear Jesus saying? What is he doing? How does this affect you?
"Do you put your whole trust in God's grace and love?" Service of Baptism, BCP pg. 302 God's grace One definition of grace is "the one who shows up," and Jesus is certainly the one who shows up. Paul says, "I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:39). It's a fairly comprehensive list. Perhaps we need to create a list of all those things that we fear will cut us off from God's love, all the bad choices, the broken promises, the failed relationship, and on . . . and on. . . .. We can take all of that and evoke Paul's words: none of these, not one, nothing in our past, or present, or future can cut us off from the love of God. Make a list of those things that you fear will drive God away, and imagine Christ with you in each situation and emotion.
"Do you put your whole trust in God's grace and love?" Service of Baptism BCP pg. 302 God's Grace One summer when I was home from college, I fell into a conversation with my father. I was struggling with whether I was able to make it through college. It had been a rough year and I was uncertain if I could manage another one. My dad told me I didn't have to. I could come back home at any time. Somehow that was a huge weight off of me. My dad reminded me that I was loved and welcome no matter what had happened. God's grace surrounds us if we make "A's" or flunk out or just can cope. The door is open for us to come back home, all we have to do is walk through the door. Walk through the door and into God's presence today, and bring your successes, failures, and everything with you.
"Do you put your whole trust in God's grace and love?" Service of Baptism, BCP pg. 302 Trust Trust is a fragile thing. I know that at times my trust in someone has been damaged; it has been a difficult and painful time. I'm wary for a long time afterward. Trusting God is not easy. It takes time, it takes practice, it is two steps forward and one back. I need constant reminders that God is trustworthy. The Psalms help; they constantly remind me of God's "steadfast loving kindness". The stories of the faithful help: God's persistent love and care for Israel, for the disciples, for the early church, for all God's people in every time and place, no matter what they are like or what they have done. Reading those stories reminds me that God will not leave. Looking at my own life helps; I can look back and see that even in the most difficult times God was present with "steadfast loving kindness". Write down ways that you have witnessed God's steadfast love.
"Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?" Service of Baptism, BCP pg. 302 Savior Salvation and grace go hand in hand. To open ourselves to Christ as our Savior is to accept with gratitude the love of God that comes before anything I have ever done, before I even was. I need to remember that "whatever relationship exists with God had a lot more to do with God than with me" (John Buchanan). We need to see salvation not as merely the judicial nullification of our sins, but as the welcome home of a loving God. How do you accept Christ as your savior?
"Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?" Service of Baptism BCP pg. 302 Accepting There is a 19th century painting that graces many a church basement. It shows Jesus knocking at a door. It represents the door of our hearts. The door has no handle and can only be opened from the inside. As much as I have come to dislike the painting it does remind me that God is a gentleman, that as persistent as God is in pursuing us, the ultimate action is ours. Only we can open the door of our hearts and invite God in. Invite God into an area of your life that you have hesitated to in the past.