He’s in his mid-twenties; she’s around the same age. He’s from an upper-class family, accustomed to everything money can buy (which he believes is about everything), reared with conservative values, Harvard-educated, and now a lawyer in a prestigious firm. His name is Greg.
She’s from a vastly different background. Her parents, while they have a long-time relationship, never married. They made a conscious effort never to do anything simply because their parents did it or because it was a convention of society. They never saw a tradition that they didn’t break and they never heard a new-age idea they didn’t embrace. They were your original flower children, and she was thoroughly immersed in their value system. Her name is Dharma.
Dharma and Greg are married. Their life together is a constant meeting and clashing of value systems. Both sets of parents are thoroughly involved in their children’s lives, which further complicates the picture. It’s the stuff of which situation comedies are made. In fact, it was a situation comedy 20 years ago or so entitled “Dharma and Greg.”
In one episode they’ve adopted a baby and everybody’s making plans. Greg feels the baby should be baptized — in the church in which he had been baptized. Dharma, open to all ideas, said, “Fine, where’s the church?” Greg said he didn’t know street names, but he could drive to it. So they drove around and around, but couldn’t find the church. Dharma suggested that perhaps she could drive and Greg could get in the back seat, since he would have been sitting in the back seat of his parents’ car the last time he went to church, which it turns out was when he was around seven years old. They never found the church. Later, in discussing the situation with Greg’s parents, his mother said, “Oh yes. That was the Presbyterian Church.” His father corrected her, “No, dear, the Episcopal Church.”
They did end up having the baby baptized. They also had him circumcised by a rabbi and blessed by an Indian shaman. Then they had a reception in which Dharma was heard to say, “We want our son to be brought up knowing all religions and ideas so he can choose for himself.” The rabbi said to the priest, “That’s going to be one mixed up kid!”
Dharma and Greg represent a large number of people today. The Church isn’t a “given” entity in people’s lives. And those who have church backgrounds often were so poorly indoctrinated in the faith that it’s easy to move to an entirely different religion without being bothered by the difficulty of changing to a completely different belief system.
Greg had been baptized. Is he a Christian? Yes. The seed of baptism has been planted. He’s a member of the Body of Christ, and marked as Christ’s own forever. I believe it was St. Augustine who said that the marks of baptism are distinguishable even in hell.
But if we mean by Christian, “Is he leading a Christian life?’ the answer is no, for to be able to be a part of a worshiping body of believers, and to be able to receive the Sacrament, yet to choose not to do so, is to choose not to lead a Christian life. Worship isn’t the only response called for in the Christian life, but it’s essential.
Another problem in Greg’s Christian understanding is in his and Dharma’s decision to allow their son to choose what he’ll believe. Christian parents, when they present a child for baptism, vow to do the opposite. They vow to nurture that seed that’s planted in baptism, so that as the child matures, she’ll be thoroughly indoctrinated in the Christian faith and life. She may choose not to be faithful, but it shouldn’t be because the parents were “hands off” regarding religion.
We must do everything in our power to stay healthy members of the Body of Christ. We do that by being in as close communion as possible with our Lord Jesus and by following his example. The purpose of his life and the way he lived his earthly life can be seen in his baptism. When Jesus went to the river Jordan to be baptized by John, John asked the question that many today ask. Why was one who was perfect baptized? When John protested, saying that Jesus should baptize him, Jesus responded, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
Jesus was beginning his ministry. That ministry was to suffer and die for the sins of the whole world. He begins his ministry by identifying with us so completely as to submit to baptism for the repentance of sin. Then, in going down into the water his death was prefigured and coming out of the water so was his resurrection.
The seed of baptism has been planted within most of us here today. Like Jesus at his baptism, we’ve been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. Our whole being has been changed, for we’re members of Christ’s Body, enabled to meet the challenges and possibilities of life with the strength of Christ. The old nature is still a part of us, for we still tend to be self-centered, and so we must continually strive, by the grace of God, to die to self that Christ might have full reign in our lives.
It’s never been easy to live a Christian life. Now, more than at any other time in the history of our nation, Christianity is at odds with the culture, as Dharma and Greg illustrate beautifully. And so it’s all the more important for us to immerse ourselves in the things of faith, that we may know God’s will to the best of our ability and have the strength and courage to do his will.
Sermon preached by the Rev. Fredrick A. Robinson
Church of the Redeemer
1st Sunday after the Epiphany
12 January 2020