War And Baptism

Today we baptize three beautiful children. We enact the ancient rites and rituals of the church that we have practiced for thousands of years.

Their parents are entrusting them to this community to baptize them.

But a question remains. We baptize them–into what?

What do they become by being baptized that is different from who they are now?

Baptism induces a permanent and irrevocable change of state.

They were created in the image of God, but today they are baptized into a community, an identity, and a calling.

In a very real sense they are being ordained to do a job.

They, and you, are in the priesthood of all believers. Baptism marks the transition into this work.

As we read in 2 Peter, “You are…a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

So what does the work of the priesthood of all believers look like?

We get an important part of our commission in Peter’s sermon in Acts today.

Peter says, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ…”

“Every nation,” Peter says.

“Peace by Jesus Christ,” he says.

This text struck me to the heart as I read it this week as day after day we seemed to be marching toward a war with Iran.

Was I the only one this week afraid to see the news in the morning because it seemed like one disaster after another was escalating so quickly toward armed conflict?

We seem to have backed off from the brink of war, but notice how fast we approached it—it was less than a week before we were talking seriously about war.

It was an unholy speed.

What terrified me most was how war seemed to be the default option.

It was treated by most newscasters and pundits I listened to as an “of course.” It seemed the obvious path.

How did this happen?

Our nation has been at war so long it has been completely normalized.

Twenty years of war, and we were ready to add another war on top of the ones we’re already fighting.

And so when I read, ““I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ…” I knew I needed to think differently.

I need, we need, a way to escape the echo chamber of militarism that is the very air we breathe in this country.

A day when we baptize is a great time to do exactly that.

What was Jesus baptized into?

We would assume he was baptized into his ministry.

The dove descends upon him, we hear the voice from heaven, and immediately he is anointed to go out and heal and teach and preach.

But that’s not what happens.

As soon as he comes out of the water, he is driven by the Spirit out into the wilderness.

And he goes to war.

He goes to war with the Devil—but that didn’t mean war with others, it meant war with himself and his own worst impulses.

We won’t read about it until we get to Lent, but you remember—he fights pride and greed and the longing for power that the Devil tempts him with in the desert.

And we walk in his footsteps.

We are called to fight the Devil, which is an ancient and anthropomorphic way of concretizing fighting our own darkness.

We are always trying to externalize the battle—witness our escalation this week with Iran.

Or think about your view of the political party opposite to your own.

Or think about your struggles with people in your workplace or in this congregation or in your family.

It’s always much easier to go to war with someone else than it is to face the battle for grace and truth within.

In Acts, Peter speaks of our charge as the baptized. “He commanded us to preach to the people,” Peter says. “You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ.”

We are anointing these children to preach peace by Jesus Christ in this baptism today.

How do we do that? Especially in a culture hellbent on war in a thousand different ways?

What does peace mean?

It starts with knowing who you are, and that is what we are trying to communicate to these children today.

Who are you?

You are God’s child, the chosen, with whom God is well pleased.

That is what God chooses to communicate at Jesus’ baptism.

Not “this is Jesus who is going to heal and preach and teach.”

Not “this is Jesus who is going to save people from their sins.”

Not “this is Jesus who is going to be unjustly executed by the state.”

The words are to him as much as they are about him.

“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

God is not telling him what he is going to do, but who he is.

And Jesus knowing his identity is what gives him the strength to go to war with the Devil and preach peace to all people.

The same is true for these children, and the same is true for you.

If you seriously expect to face the very real darkness in your own heart, you have to know to your bones how loved and cherished you are by God.

God does not love you grudgingly.

God does not love you because God is obligated to love you.

God loves you because God can’t help it.

You are the reason God gets up in the morning.

You are God’s treasure and God’s joy.

You are the Beloved, with whom God is well pleased.

And it is this very identity as the Beloved of God that equips you to be a peacemaker.

Being a peacemaker is not the same thing as being nice. And Biblical peacemaking is not about peace at all costs.

Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel warn us of making peace under false pretenses, to paper over real problems and conflicts.

In Jeremiah 6 we read, “For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, ‘Peace, peace’, when there is no peace.”

Biblical peacemaking includes the hard work of speaking the truth in love, binding up the brokenhearted, doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God.

Where else can we catch the vision of peace in the Bible?

“The Peaceable Kingdom” in Isaiah, which describes the wolf lying down with the lamb, is accomplished because “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

That process begins today for these children—they enter the waters of baptism to begin the lifelong pursuit of the knowledge of the Lord.

Their vocation of peacemaker begins here and how.

Ours began with our baptism, which may be so many years back now that we don’t remember it.

But with every new baptism, ours is renewed, and so too is our work of making peace.

The world of the people of the Bible was a world of war, a world of war that the writers and listeners of these texts experienced personally and viscerally, much more so than we do today.

War remains comfortably distant for most of us, even when it creeps uncomfortably close as it did this week in the news from Iran.

But the people who lived through the events of the Bible, soldiers and civilians alike, knew war literally and physically in a way most of us can’t imagine.

And still they had the spiritual imagination to dream of a world without war, a world of peace, governed by justice and mercy.

Today we are brave enough to baptize these children into that dream.

We trust them to be the peacemakers that could change the world, and they trust us enough to do the work of peacemaking in our own time that will one day allow them to walk in our footsteps.

Baptism as an act of faith is about imagination, about believing in an end to war—in our hearts, in our congregation, in our society, across the world.

This week we approached the brink of war.

What would it be like if we committed this week, and every week, to dedicate every ounce of our effort into approaching the brink of peace?

Isaiah imagined it in perhaps the most concrete terms: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

Jesus told us that the call to preach peace, to find peace, to work for peace, to live peace would be the very mark of our beloved identity.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

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