With all due respect to Sewanee’s The Rev. Dr. James Turrell, I don’ t think that Saint Paul’s is in the minority of parishes that hold baptisms whenever it is convenient for all involved. We can debate my growing thought: that the Church’s low expectations of her members have created much of the liturgical murkiness of the early 21st century; elsewhere. As luck, fate, and a dash of travel convenience would have it, we’ll have a baptism during our 9am service this weekend. Combine that with the fact that I consumed Turrell’s “Celebrating Rites of Initiation” in mass quantities this week, I’ve been paying particular attention to how Good Shepherd Sunday, especially the peculiar Gospel lesson choice for Year C, relate to the Sacrament of Baptism, and I’ve come to a realization.
Much of what is asked of the Candidates and, in the case of infants, their sponsors, in the liturgy of Baptism is impossible to accomplish on one’s own. The answer to those questions that are dependent upon the faithfulness and grace of God is always, “I will, with God’s help.”
- Will you be responsible for seeing that the child you present is brought up in the Christian faith and life?
- Will you by your prayers and witness help this child to grow into the full stature of Christ?
- Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
- Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
- Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
- Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
- Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
I will, with God’s help.
Yet, when it comes to the core of the service, that piece that was once called “the exorcism” the service’s prevailing notion of prevenient grace seems to fly right out the window.
- Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?
- Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
- Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?
- I renounce them.
- Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?
- Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?
- Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?
- I do.
Augustinian Theology, which having shaped both Roman Catholic scholars as well as the Reformers makes it impossible for an Episcopalian not to be influenced by, would argue that one cannot answer these questions without the Spirit already at work in your life. It seems that the answers to these important questions should be, “I renounce them, with God’s help,” and “I do, with God’s help.” This, however, isn’t the case. As I read the exorcism, then, my thoughts are taken to the Gospel lesson for Sunday and to the question inferred by Jesus, “Do you hear my voice?” If the answer is, “I do,” then all the rest will fall into place.
Sheep hear his voice and follow, but Jesus does the calling. Having heard his call, we are able then to renounce evil and turn to Jesus. As is the case for all my posts this week, I’m stumped on how to preach this, but it will no doubt inform where I head, especially at 9am.