Baptism: God’s Gift of a New Family- Ephesians 4:1-16
We've seen those kinds of stories before...instances of unexpected new families. Maybe they don't always happen like they did with this Sally and Jason...inheriting four children, due to the death of a friend, but it could happen. It could happen with the unexpected death of a family member. It could happen with a marriage. That is how it happened for me. I married Anita and instantly, with Natalie and Ben, we became a family of four as the minister said, "I now pronounce you husband and wife." There was no slow development into a family of four (but slowly, after two years to a family of five after Davey was born), the preacher and we said the words, and ‘boom’ instant family.
Last week we began talking about Baptism as God’s gift to us, or actually, we began talking about baptism as the recognition of God’s gift of grace. We came to understand baptism as the fact that God’s grace began working in us before we were even aware of it…remember that John Wesley called this type of grace, prevenient grace. We use the water as a physical sign of what God is already doing.
I also shared, last week, that with baptism comes many more gifts from God, other than simply us recognizing God’s grace. This week, we examine the first of those gifts, the gift of a new family.
In our baptismal ritual, there are several reminders of this gift, of baptism drawing us into a new family---the family of Christ:
We begin the ritual acknowledging, “…Through the Sacrament of Baptism, we are initiated into Christ’s holy church.” Yes, that says, “Christ’s holy church,” and not anything about Christ’s family. However, later in the service, once the individual has received the waters of baptism, the individual is presented to the congregation, “Now it is our joy to welcome our new sisters and/or brothers in Christ”; then the congregation responds, “Through baptism you are incorporated by the Holy Spirit into God’s new creation and made to share In Christ’s royal priesthood. We are all one in Christ Jesus. With joy and thanksgiving we welcome you as members of the family of Christ.”
The understanding has to come from more than our ritual though…because then our understanding would be based upon nothing more than man-made words. It has to come from more. It does…more than man’s words, it comes from God’s Word.
Jesus, through the Gospels, says, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”[i]
Paul continues this thinking repeatedly, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God… you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ…”[ii] Paul continues on, “For those whom [God] foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that [His Son] might be the firstborn within a large family.”[iii]
More than our ritual, God’s Word makes it clear that we are not a bunch of individual strangers sitting here, but we are brothers and sisters Christ…one family. Today’s reading makes it even clearer that it is our baptism that binds us: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.”[iv]
In our one baptism, the baptism that joins us to Christ and to one another through the power of the Holy Spirit, we have received a gift from God…a gift of family that answers the quandary that God spoke at Creation that “it is not good that man should be alone.”[v] Just as God created the gift of family at Creation by bringing Eve into being and joining her to Adam, so to God brings us out of the loneliness of our existence and binds us to one another, not as husband and wife, but as brothers and sisters through Christ.
Unfortunately, for some of us, though, family carries with it negative connotations. Some of our earthly families have caused deep scars in our understanding of family. Instances of abuse and neglect, infidelity and abandonment, arguments and silence cause us to tremble, cry, or even revolt when we hear the word family. When it does not call us to react in that way, it may make us think that those things, the abuse, neglect, infidelity, abandonment, arguments, and silence are normal, and if they happen in our earthly families, then they are part of the way we should act within our church family. We find times in our church family where we argue and bicker, fuss and fight, where we may even abuse or neglect one another, or where we may even simply abandon our church family all together, either because something we think is better comes along, or because things do not go the way we want.
When that happens, my brothers and sisters, we have it backward, we are letting the world inform our understanding of what God’s family should look like. The way it should work, though, is for God’s idea of family to shape and direct how our earthly family relates.
So how does God expect His family to relate to one another? Paul’s words to the Ephesians offers us a clear picture: “…lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”[vi]
Paul makes it clear that what it means to live as the family of that God calls us into is one filled with humility…the act of places others above our one wants and desires. God’s family life is one filled with gentleness, making the effort to treat one another in such a way that they are not harmed. That means that there may be times where we offer correction to one another, but it is offered in such a way that we do not hurt or destroy one another. This life together is to be marked with patience, bearing with one another in love. God continues to be patient with us when we fail or disappoint Him, and God expects us to do the same with our brothers and sisters in this family. We are not to get fed up and walk off, we are to be patient and stick it out. We are also to make every effort to live in peace with one another, every effort to maintain unity in our family. That means that we seek to try and live together in harmony…we do not use what someone does or does not do, says or does not say, as an excuse for us to act ugly…but that we are to make the extra effort to maintain the peace of the family.
Paul goes on to tell us that God’s Spirit pours gifts into our lives and reminds us that those gifts are not for building up ourselves…not for seeing how much fame, fortune, or power we can attain for ourselves, but that God has given us those gifts “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” Living in God’s family is living for the sake of others…living for the sake of building up and strengthening one another to be able to live our lives as God calls us to live. It is about helping the family “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ….” It is about doing everything to “promote the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” All that we do as a family should be reflective of the love that Christ has shown us by bringing us into His family and causing us to love one another which Christ-like passion.
My friends, maybe we came here today like Jason and Sally showing up at that office. We came because someone told us we needed to be here…or they wanted us to be here. Maybe we came because something beyond us urged you to be here. Maybe we do not know why we came.
The important thing is that we showed up.
Maybe we came today and felt alone or isolated. Maybe we came today having been part of one of those families who made us feel anything but loved.
God does not intend for us to feel that way. He offers us a gift. He offers us this water. He reminds us that we are to be part of a family far greater than this world. He reminds some of us that we are already part of that family and are called to live like our older brother, His only begotten Son, Jesus. For some of us, He is calling us and welcoming us, back into the family, because we have traveled to a far off country, like the prodigal son. He is saying, “welcome home, you are still family.” For others of us, He is saying, “Come, be part of this family, I have brought you here, be part of My family.”
It is the gift of an instant family…not due to marriage vows, but a baptismal promise…not due to the death of a friend or family member, but due to the death and resurrection of our Savior. Whichever the case may be for us, the invitation is there…will we accept the gift of family that Baptism brings?In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[i] Mark 3:35
[ii] Romans 8:14-17
[iii] Romans 8:29
[iv] Ephesians 4:4-6
[v] Genesis 2:18
[vi] Ephesians 4:1-3