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Monday, December 29, 2008

Remembering My Baptism

I don't remember my first baptism. I was about five months old (January 1959) and it is likely that it was a simple affair in St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Elyria, Ohio. I've reconstructed the scene in my own mind many times over the years:

I was the first grandchild on both sides. My mother's mother was very ill and Mom's dad, Grandpa Charlie, took care of her. My father's parents were staunch members of St. Andrew's. My godparents are George and Linda Dellinger, family friends. With my parents and Fr. Russell Hargate, the ten of us participated in a quiet, simple ceremony in the Nave, using the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.

I do remember my 'second' baptism. I was an adult (19 years old) and had a religious experience in college. I felt compelled to be baptised again, partly due to the theology of the Church I was attending at the time. It taught full-immersion adult believer's baptism. The pastor was Moses Vegh, a charismatic Hungaro-Canadian who served as pastor of what was then the largest Protestant Church in Findlay, Ohio, where I lived.

"If you don't remember your first baptism," Moses Vegh told me, "it probably didn't mean anything to you." So I suited up in the white robe provided me by the Church and went into the tank. Moses didn't actually put me under, an anonymous elder of the congregation did. Coming out of the water, I was anointed with oil after which I was expected to speak in tongues (which I didn't).

I'm 50 years past my first baptism and 30 years past my second one. I've come to the conclusion now that I don't understand either one.

Baptism isn't something to be done for a level of understanding. Baptism is an action of the Church to imprint on us the image of Christ. Understanding has very little to do with it: Faith has everything to do with it.

When I was an infant, the faith of my parents, grandparents, and godparents was that I would be "received into Christ's Church and made a living member of the same."

When I was a young adult, it was an act of my own personal faith, the fruit of a re-discovery and religious epiphany in my college years.

Now as a pastor I perform the rite of baptism with the faith that God knows the one being baptized far better than I do, and far better than they know themselves. I've adopted the phraseology of the Orthodox Church in the ritual because it better expresses this point of view: "You are baptised in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Not an action of the pastor, not an action of the water, but rather an action of faith. "You are baptised..."

It has nothing to do with me as the baptizer or the person in the water. It has everything to do with God and what He does through the miracle in the water. It is God Who draws the soul to baptism, God Who makes the waters holy, God who does the baptizing and I am His unworthy servant.

As we approach Theophany and the commemoration of Christ's baptism (Jan. 6), I remember my own experience of Baptism and I pray that your baptism may be fresh again to you and that you will again see the image of Christ that you bear in your own soul.

(Pictured above is Seven Pillars, the site of many of our Peoria Church baptisms.)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Barack Obama and Holy Innocents

Today, December 28, Christians remember the tragic slaughter of the innocent children of Bethlehem (Matthew 2:13-18). They are certainly the first martyrs of the faith, whose commemoration follows the day after we remember the first martyr of the Church, St. Stephen.

The innocent children of Bethlehem did nothing against wicked King Herod. Their mothers had done nothing. Their fathers did nothing.

Yet, for the pursuit of his own vainglory and self promotion, Herod massacred them all, in an attempt to eradicate Bethlehem (and his realm) of the true King of Kings Who had just been born there.

It is interesting to me that the newly elected president, Barack Obama, has promised to renew the slaughter of innocents as one of his first actions as president. He has promised to release federal tax monies to fund abortions. He has promised to fund research using stem cells that will cease lives of unborn children. He has pledged to make abortion safe and legal, for the sake convenience against an 'untimely' pregnancy.

He has even said of his own daughters that he wouldn't want to "punish" them with a baby, were they to become pregnant at a time inconvenient to them.

It seems that King Herod is arising once more to the throne.

We are reminded again in the Old and New Testaments, in the writings of the early Church, and in the consistent centuries-old witness of the Church, that the life of a human being begins with the miracle of conception.

And we are reminded again on this day marking the innocent death of the children of Bethlehem, that rulers can be ruthless in their self-promotion, sparing no one, even the souls of the most defenseless.

In the Communion Liturgy we pray for the president, no matter what his politics, that God will give him the ability to lead justly and fairly. Our prayer for Barack Obama should be the same, and that he will see the injustice of abortion and keep the lives of the innocent unborn protected.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Memorial Day

Yea, though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death
I will fear no evil
for Thou art with me
Thy road and Thy staff, they comfort me.
Psalm 23:4

I never had to enter a military recruiting office.

Actually, I have never even been in one, whether I had to or not. But if I had, I think it would be like walking into the 'valley of the shadow of death'.

When I was in high school and college, there was no registration for the draft. President Ford (a Republican) had dismantled the draft after the end of the Vietnam War. By the time registration for the draft was re-instated by President Carter (a Democrat) I was too old to do it.

I have often wondered what it would be like to be one of those men (or women) who took that step - either of their own free will or by government compunction - to enter the armed forces.

I have often wondered what goes through their minds as they talk with the recruiters about 'seeing the world' and 'vocational training' and 'educational benefits'.

I've often wondered how many of them think, "Some day I'm going to put my life on the line for some obscure, middle-aged, overweight pastor, so that he has the freedom to preach the Gospel or write his books or post to his blog."

I also wonder if I would do the same.

I tell myself I would. I would lay down my life for the Lord any day (or so I tell myself). I would definitely lay down my life for Karen and the kids . . . again, so I think. I have friends and family, Church members and good causes I would go to the death for. Probably.

But I've never actually had to do it.

That's what makes Memorial Day so stunning to me. It's a day to honor men and women who have actually laid down their lives for me. I'm an unknown to them, yet they put on a uniform and enter harm's way - for me. They put their lives on hold for me. They surrender their dreams, their families, their relationships, some for a few years, some for a lifetime, for me. Sadly, too many surrender their lives, also.

A week ago, our Sunday School children placed flags on the graves of veterans in the Peoria Cemetery. As we walked up and down the rows of tombstones it re-occured to me that soldiers have been doing this for a long time. The Civil War soldiers couldn't have known that 150 years from their conflict, Sunday School children would still be worshiping the Lord near their final resting place. The Spanish-American War vets, the 'Doughboys', the veterans of WWII, Korea, and VietNam all stood their ground in a way that I can only wonder about.

So this Memorial Day weekend, as I hang the flag from our front porch, I join a grateful nation, thanking the men and women who have laid down their lives for our country. And I am grateful for those who stand to day, in the valley of the shadow of death. May God protect them until they come home.

Especially, thanks to the men from the Peoria Church family serving today:
Craig Berkhiser (grandson of Marge Johnson)
Mark Hults (son of Shirley Mills, grandson of Gene and Marcille Ranstead)
Christian Ensign (grandson of Jeanette Ensign)
Russell Marschand (son of Debbie Marschand, grandson of Jeanette Ensign)
Steve Shiholt (son of Pauline Shinholt)
Chad Troyer (son of Dale and Carla Troyer, grandson of Clara Bowman)