Many Waters, One God

Baptism of Christ, 1481-1483 - Pietro Perugino

Baptism of Christ, 1481-1483 – Pietro Perugino

Today’s readings:
Psalms 5; 145, Isaiah 40:12-24, Ephesians 1:1-14, Mark 1:1-13

The baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist is present in all four Gospels as the beginning of Christ’s ministry. Scriptures don’t tell us conclusively whether Jesus himself baptized anyone, but his disciples certainly did. Baptism in water – and later in the Spirit – is an essential element of the Christian tradition.

Yet somehow it’s one more thing Christians can’t agree on. Many denominations practice infant baptism. Others practice a believer’s baptism only for people who are of age and confess to salvation in Christ. Both find Biblical support for their position. Some others, particularly among Evangelical and non-denominational churches, don’t require it. Methods vary from sprinkling to total immersion. Beliefs about baptism range from an absolute necessity for salvation to a symbolic act of publicly acknowledging one’s faith. Beliefs about re-baptism are all over the map.

This devotional isn’t about convincing anyone about the meaning of baptism … but perhaps we can use it as a model to examine how we might reframe contentious conversations. Some people try to convince us their understanding of baptism is correct because they just have to be right, but many – particularly on the side of baptism as an absolute necessity – are actually adamant about their position because of love. If you believed you could save someone from death or suffering by pointing out the speeding train, wouldn’t you? And if you believed the train someone pointed out was a false alarm, would you be angry at them for being wrong or would you appreciate their concern?

No one wants someone else’s beliefs forced on them, but is it possible we can become so eager to take offense and to assume intent that we perceive every expression of a different opinion as a point to be argued?

Whether we choose to hear “your soul is important to me” or “you’re going to hell” is often a decision (sometimes unconscious) that makes a difference in how we respond. We can say “I disagree” instead of “you’re wrong!” We can listen. And if we believe it’s a matter of life or death, our most convincing evidence may be how we love.

Comfort: Disagreement without disrespect can be real…

Challenge: … but we might have to be less defensive for it to happen.

Prayer: God of Love, where this is discord, may I sow peace. Amen.

Discussion: When has changing your attitude changed a conversation?

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The More Things Change…

seeing red

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 89:1-18; 147:1-11, Judges 13:15-24, Acts 6:1-15, John 4:1-26

Famed novelist and relapsed Catholic Anne Rice once made a splash with a series of Facebook posts declaring she was “leaving Christianity” but not Christ. Her reasons aren’t exactly groundbreaking. She found Christianity (but not Christ) intolerant, quarrelsome and disputatious. Well… yes. Gandhi supposedly said: “Your Christians are so unlike your Christ” as though that was news to us. We embark on the journey to become more Christ-like specifically because we fall short. We especially need to support each other in the journey when we can’t stand each other. Christianity as a concept or a faith cannot exist outside community.

My former pastor, who worked for years to promote fairness for the LGBT community in our city, engaged the very people Ms. Rice “quit” when she endorsed an employment fairness bill. In the name of Christ, these people demanded the council deny this bill. One council member marveled that all his hate mail all seemed to be from Christians. Also in the name of Christ, many people, including my pastor, spoke in favor of it. The following Sunday she spoke to us about the hard but necessary work of loving those who oppose us. No matter which side of an issue one falls on, praying for one’s enemies is the Christ-like response.

We barely get into the sixth chapter of Acts before the squabbling begins. When Greek Christians felt Hebrew Christians were not treating the Greek widows fairly, the Greeks didn’t pack up and quit. The Hebrews got a little indignant, but the community reached a solution. Nowhere does scripture claim Christians are without quarrels. Without quarrels, Paul’s letters might never have been written! What the gospels and epistles do provide is instruction in how to live together in covenant despite differences.

People haven’t changed much in two thousand years. Some are liberal and some are conservative. Some are traditionalists and some are experimental. Etc., etc. Most of us usually think we’re right. Christianity has never been a monolith of thought and belief. It has always been about loving our enemies – even the ones sitting next to us on Sunday.

Comfort: God made us capable of thoughtful action and reaction.

Challenge: Fact check even the claims you are inclined to agree with.

Prayer: Glorious Creator, thank you for the gift of discernment. Amen.

Discussion: How have you resolved differences with your fellow Christians?

For further reading on today’s passage from John 4, see Worship Well.

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!