It Matters

Without a doubt, today marks the most important day in my life. No, I’m not being hyperbolic. While there are days of extreme significance like my wedding day, the birth of my children, and so many others including my birthday, November 3rd eclipses them all. On that day, in 1985, God the Father claimed me as his own as I was drowned in the waters of baptism and brought to new life. On that day, now thirty-five years ago, the Spirit called me, sanctified me, and gathered me into the faith through the forgiveness of sins and promise of life everlasting. On that day, when I was but an infant, Christ’s redemptive work, his life, death, and resurrection, indeed his very righteousness, was given to me. I did nothing and have done to deserve it. It was all a gift, given to me through water connected to the word. 

It isn’t lost on me that today is important in the United States for a very different reason. Today is the day citizens of all races, creeds, colors, and perspectives cast their vote, not just for the president, but for leaders and ballot initiatives. Today is the day “we the people” give our consent to be governed by specific individuals in specific ways. Frederick Douglass believed the right to cast a vote was sacred and I’m inclined, in some ways, to agree. 

The question for me is: how does my baptismal identity shape my place in society? There are some Christians who argue that we should stay out of societal concerns, that we shouldn’t vote, that we shouldn’t get involved. Rather, they advocate that we should withdraw into our own enclaves, safe from the stain of the world. As you might expect there are also those who veer off in a different direction. Some Christians are so convinced that only Christians and only Christian ideals, if those actually exist, should govern society. We are the only ones with truth, they say, and so we should be the ones in power. Personally I find both the withdraw from society and the push to obtain power equally problematic. In saying that I’m not trying to play the “bothsiderism” game. I really do find those pulls problematic but that is not because I’m trying to hold some ideal middle ground. Instead, I find them problematic precisely because I’ve been baptized and my new life in Christ does not allow me the opportunity to withdraw from the world or to seek unrestrained power. 

To be baptized is to be brought into the life of Christ, it is to receive his gifts of forgiveness and righteousness, and it is a call to live the life he has given. Or, as the great theological poet Martin Franzmann once put it, “Thy strong word bespeaks us righteous; Bright with Thine own holiness, Glorious now, we press toward glory, And our lives our hopes confess.”[1] In my baptism I was bespoken righteous. That is to say, God took what Christ earned and credited it to me without any merit or worthiness in me. I am bright with Christ’s own holiness. But this means something, it means that the hope I have in Christ should be confessed with my life. Franzmann didn’t think that idea up all by himself. The scriptures are rife with references about how we are to live out the identity given to us. Perhaps most famously is in the Sermon on the Mount where, after hearing the promised beatitudes, we hear Christ calls his disciples salt and light and then tells them to act like it. 

In remembering my baptism every morning, not just on November 3rd each year, I am reminded of both the gift and the call–the gift of my identity in Christ and the call to live it out. Indeed I will fail at that second part, but that is no excuse not to try. This is apparent even on days when we are not consenting to be governed. But, as I said, the question for me is: how does my baptismal identity shape my place in society? In the first place, my baptismal identity reminds me that I am already cared for, secured, made righteous and given a future all on account of Christ and guaranteed by him. That means that my work in the world is not about working toward being righteous, it is actually the opposite, it is working from it. If I am secure, if I am redeemed, if my future is guaranteed, then I am freed from worrying about myself and freed to focus my efforts on others. Sometimes those others look and think like me and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes those others come from the same socioeconomic background as me and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes those others believe in the same God as me and sometimes they do not. I’m not freed only to love those I like, I’m freed to love my neighbor as myself, no matter who my neighbor is. 

I have heard it said many times this election cycle, and in others before it, that no matter who wins Jesus is still Lord. Fair enough, but that does not mean this election is inconsequential. It actually does matter, perhaps not for me, but for my neighbor. It matters for the neighbor who is sick and can’t afford medical care. It matters for the neighbor who is underemployed or unemployed and cannot care for himself or those he loves. It matters for the neighbor who is dehumanized because of the color of their skin, because of the country in which they were born, because of the language they speak, or because of the person they marry. It matters for the neighbor who is yet to be born as much as it does for the neighbor who was born yesterday. It matters for the neighbor today and the neighbor tomorrow. In saying that, do not mishear me. I’m not advocating for a political agenda, I’m advocating for my neighbor, a neighbor I may disagree with, a neighbor I might not like, but a neighbor nonetheless. 

November 3rd is indeed the most important day in my life because on that day I was freed from myself and my neighbor was given back to me. I don’t have to fear getting dirty by casting a vote because my status before God is guaranteed by Christ. I don’t have to maneuver for power because my future is secured. Rather, I’ve been freed to serve my neighbor. It is true that Christ came and preached repentance and the forgiveness of sins and indeed that is the gospel I know and love. But let us not forget he also healed the sick, restored people to communities, and fed the hungry. Everything Christ did ushered in the rule and reign of God ahead of time. It prefigured his return when all things will be made right. But, some of that work was provisional, and that is ok. People he once healed eventually died. Those he fed eventually became hungry again. That didn’t mean his efforts were worthless. As I think about life in the world, especially today when it comes to engaging in the political process, I know that my work will be provisional. But that doesn’t mean the work is worthless. It matters, maybe not to me and my future, but it matters for my neighbor.

[1] Martin H. Franzmann, “Thy Strong Word,” in Lutheran Service Book (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006), 578.

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