The Common Good

Sarah Palin and the Beauty of Baptism

Oh, Sarah Palin.

So you’ve most likely heard Sarah Palin used baptism as a metaphor for waterboarding terrorists. (I mean I heard and I’m in Australia!) I found out when fellow neo-Anabaptist Tyler Tully sent me his reflections. Many are blogging thoughtful responses. But more and more this is my conviction: the best critique of the bad is the practice of the beautiful. So I want to testify to the beauty of the baptisms I was a part of on Sunday.

I do so knowing that the despondence and darkness I feel when baptism is equated with the diabolical is driven out in the joy of the mystery of what happen when we say yes to the Holy Spirit by wading in the water. Our new sister Natha, brother Ky, and I met separately in the End Poverty movement. Both of them, in quiet different ways, found themselves being found by God while looking for a better world. And in Jesus they found the world they were looking for has started! Without a dry eye in the community that surrounded them on Sunday, they shared their wanderings in the wilderness before following Jesus through the waters.

Ky spoke of being so moved by a God whose power is weakness. Natha spoke of coming to know that God looks like Jesus and wanting to honor her Catholic christening and schooling that had helped lead her to this point. In the water with my wife, Teresa, we shared what was in our hearts in this litany:

Teresa and I : Do you give your life to the Holy Trinity to be a witness to the kingdom, God’s dream for creation?

Person saying yes to God’s grace: I give my life as a living sacrifice.

Teresa and I : Do you give your life to the Mystery of God the Father, almighty, creator of all reality?

Person saying yes to God’s grace: I give my life as a living sacrifice.

Teresa and I : Do you give your life to God’s Messiah Jesus, our Lord, who reveals the Mystery of God to be Love; was born of the Virgin Mary, proclaimed God’s Kingdom had started; by eating with sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes, driving out evil and liberating captives, healing on the Sabbath and forgiving sins, boldly including those that were excluded, teaching us to love God with everything we are and to love our neighbour as we love ourselves, insisted that our enemies our neighbours, and at Calvary loved us even though we have been enemies of God’s good purposes by overcome all evil with good. Was crucified under Pontius Pilate, died forgiving our sins, was buried, harrowed hell trampling down death through death, was Resurrected on the third day conquering all sin, evil, injustice, violence and oppression and is reigning now at the heart of reality till that Day when all of creation will be filled with the Love he revealed, as the waters cover the seas?

Person saying yes to God’s grace: I give my life as a living sacrifice.

Teresa and I : Do you give your life to be filled with the Holy Spirit of God’s future, to receive the gifts of the Spirit for the building up of God’s church, in communion with believers past and present, believing with them in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life eternal which starts now by following Jesus?

Person saying yes to God’s grace: I give my life as a living sacrifice.

With this Confession of faith we baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Over loud cheers and applause, the miraculous was made their own … NEW CREATION! Then saturated hugs, indistinguishable tears, and laughter were heard as they were surrounded and loved on. While being embraced, the church made this commitment to Natha and Ky:

“With you we give our lives to the Holy Trinity again.

Together we recommit ourselves to baptism as the pattern of our lives.

We give our lives to dying; to sin, to our old-self and all sinful Systems.

We give our lives to rising with Christ; loving in Resurrection power — like death can’t hold us back.

We give our lives to teaching you, and learning from you, what it is to love one another as Christ has loved us.

We do so in imitation of our Lord’s Calvary-shaped love, to the glory of the Father and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Then two sisters and two brothers invited Natha and Ky to have their feet washed as their first act out of the water; learning to walk in the Resurrection means gritty goodness, like washing feet. In the water, Natha and Ky had rejected the sword. Now out of the water they were then shown how they are to conquer; with a towel, humbly washing the feet of others. They in turn washed the feet of those who had washed theirs as we sung:

The Godhead three in one; Father, Spirit, Son,

The Lion IS the Lamb!

The Lion IS the Lamb!

While still dripping wet, Natha proceeded to take advantage of her new status as part of a “royal priesthood” and lead us in round the Lord’s Table in celebrating the Eucharist.

I’m tempted to edit and not include all of what she shared making it more blog friendly. But stuff it. On the off chance that Sarah Palin might read this, I’m going to leave these reflections from this new disciple unedited and maybe like our community, you’ll find yourself in tears as well:

On Tuesday night I attended a youth conference. It was incredible to see hundreds of young people so eager to express (and perhaps even deepen) their faith in God. This was the first night of the conference, and I was curious to hear what the speaker had to say.

We were told the Old Testament story of Elijah and Elisha – I wasn’t familiar, but basically Elisha was a young man who was ‘ploughing with twelve yoke of oxen’ in the fields when Elijah came to him, ‘casting his cloak upon him’ and therefore inviting Elisha to assist him in his work. Elisha followed, after kissing his parents goodbye and sacrificing the oxen (his livelihood). The preacher spoke about there being no Plan-B when it comes to Jesus – that Jesus is our Plan-A. So like Elisha, we must be ready to drop what we’re doing and follow, to do Jesus’ work, sacrificing our own plans and surrendering to God’s will.

At this point, however, the [Australian] speaker diverged and told us a story of a friend of his who is in the U.S. Air Force – this friend is trained to drop nuclear bombs and must be ready to go to war at any time. He likened his friend’s readiness to go to war to Elisha’s readiness to serve God. What a dangerous analogy – the American government in the place of God, and war in the place of Christ’s nonviolent love.

If I have learned anything recently, it is that God looks like Jesus. When our picture of God doesn’t look like Jesus, then our understanding of Scripture is in need of reinterpretation.

Jesus taught us to love our enemies, and to pray for those who persecute us. Surely this means not dropping bombs on anyone – ‘as you did it to one of the least of these my sisters and brothers, you did it to me.’

Thursday morning at First Home Project , I was teaching English to some young people from Afghanistan. They asked me about Friday’s public holiday and what it was about. I explained that it was a holiday to honour men and women who have served in wars. I didn’t say any more than this, but all I could think about was what this must mean to them as refugees who’ve fled their home country, which has been devastated by a war that Australians have supported, fought in and are still fighting in. What does the celebration of this holiday say to our Afghan brothers and sisters?

So, how do we look at ANZAC Day with Easter eyes? How do I take seriously that Jesus has turned the other cheek to us on the cross and in baptism empowers us to do likewise? Last weekend we celebrated our Lord’s triumph over the horror of violence on the cross, exposing all the ugliness and brokenness that is us, and all the grace, love, and forgiveness that is our God. This weekend, lest we forget the horrors of war. Unfortunately, many instead will forget the horrors so many experienced in war and instead celebrate nationalism. What does war bring us? What does war expose in us? Christ gave us an alternative to war – love. God gave us love. And in that, God gave us strength. God did not command us to be doormats but to be peacemakers – to turn the other cheek in total defiance of systems than exploit and oppress, allowing us to overcome this exploitation and oppression not with violence but with love. In baptism, like Elisha, I have laid down my whole life. But this side of Easter, we can see that the God we surrender to conquers not with the sword of war but with the towel of service. So this ANZAC weekend, now as someone seeking to live out my baptism, not only do I pray for those whose lives have been and are being devastated by war, but I pray for those who are at war and who support wars, that they may see that God has shown us the most excellent way, through the love and compassion and grace shown at Calvary. I pray that this will indeed open our eyes to the brokenness and ugliness that we perpetrate when we are violent towards one another.

In this meal Jesus shows us what the apostle Paul calls the most excellent way. On the night that he was betrayed Jesus took the bread saying, ‘This is my body, broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup saying, ‘this is the blood of the new covenant in my blood, do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’

I need your help church, to let this baptism, and this meal, be the way I live in the world. The way I love in the world. As we together witness to the grace that means no more blood needs to be shed.

God, thank you for your body given for us, as we take may we be filled with your love to live that love for others. Amen

That is the beauty of baptism; Christ’s beauty that by grace we are immersed in. And it is our prayer that Christ’s beauty would be seen by and all those that cheer for the waterboarding of their enemies. Including our mislead sister, Sarah Palin.

Jarrod McKenna is amazed by grace. A peace award winning nonviolence trainer and activist, Jarrod is now World Vision Australia’s National Advisor on Faith & Activism and a teaching Pastor at Westcity Church. Jarrod with his amazing wife and son Teresa and Tyson, are three of 20 people living at First Home Project ; an innovative community welcoming, housing and empowering refugees. Follow him on twitter here.

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