Discipleship Next

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Today is all about baptism.
As you’ll recall,
we had a baptism just last week
when Jemma Patrick was baptized
as part of our festive
Epiphany Sunday celebration.
But today is also about baptism
because this is the day each year
on which we always hear
about the baptism of our Lord.
During Advent we were waiting
for the coming of Jesus.
On Christmas we celebrated his birth.
Last week the wise men
found him under the star of Bethlehem.
But this week,
we fast forward 30 years
to the beginning of his ministry,
beginning with his baptism by John
in the river Jordan.
Today is all about baptism.

One of things
you’ve often heard me say
when it comes to baptism is that
God is the primary agent.
God is the mover and shaker.
Whatever happens when we are baptized,
the one making it happen is God.

This just is how it is,
and it goes all the way back to God and Israel
long before anyone had even thought of baptism.

Look at that passage we heard today from Isaiah:

“Thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
‘Do not fear, for have redeemed you;
have called you by name,
you. . . are. . . mine.”

Notice what God does not say.

He does not say,
“Fear not, O Israel,
rejoice, O Jacob:
for you finally figured it out;
you finally got your act together!”

Nothing could be further from the truth.
They were lost and afraid,
and by no merit of their own,
God looked on them and said,
“Listen, I am your God.
You are precious in my sight,
and honored,
and I love you.”

The more we’ve come to know God since then,
the more we’ve come to realize that
there is nothing we can do
to earn God’s love.
All we can do
is respond to the fact of it.

Let me say that again:
There is nothing we can do
to earn God’s love.
All we can do
is respond to the fact of it.

Even if Jemma Patrick,
whom we baptized last week,
were to grow up never to do a single good thing in her life
(don’t worry . . . she’ll do plenty good),
the fact would remain
that she is sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism
and marked as Christ’s own forever.
God loves her,
and nothing can ever take that away.

But oh the joy we will all have
in helping to raise her
to live a life
of joyful curiosity,
spiritual hunger,
and selfless devotion
in response to that love!

There’s a word for living that way.
What’s it called?
It is called “discipleship.”

Discipleship is the life we live
in response to our baptism
and the love God has poured into our lives.

So let’s talk a minute about St. Anne’s
and how we’re living our discipleship.
Here we are,
a baptized people
living in the sure and certain love
of the living God.
We don’t get it right all of the time,
but it has always seemed to me
that God has his hand on this place.
He has told us that we are his,
he has poured out his love, healing, forgiveness, and grace,
and—by and large—we keep coming back
because we believe all of that to be true
and wish to have our lives transformed by it.
How, then, are we living, responding,
and being disciples?
Well in just a couple weeks,
we as a congregation
are going to do something
to help us scratch the surface of that question . . .
to go a little deeper . . .
to help us take a snapshot
of how we’re living into our baptism
as disciples of a loving God.
It’s a special project called Renewal Works,
and it all starts with (get excited!) a parish-wide survey.
Now anybody who knows me well
knows I don’t really like surveys—
partially because they’re often about
questions that don’t really matter
and partially because organizations
rarely do anything with the responses—
which is why I rarely ever ask y’all to do them.
But the Renewal Works survey is different.
It’s actually more of a “spiritual life inventory”
than a survey of opinions.
The idea is that every person in the congregation
answers a series of questions—
privately and anonymously—
about their spiritual life and discipleship:
What do you hunger for?
What do you not hunger for?
What are the things that fill you up as a child of God?
What are the things that run you dry?
No one will see your responses,
but in the end, Renewal Works will send us
an aggregate snapshot
of where we are
and what we most deeply desire next
in our life of joyful response
to the love that God has given us.
And while I know that taking a survey
is no one’s idea of a great time,
I believe we are in an important moment at St. Anne’s.
I believe we are stable.
I believe we are poised.
I believe we are ready for the next thing.
And above all, I believe we are hungry. . .
hungry to go deeper in the life of our faith.
Whether you are a brand new Christian
just now exploring a life with God . . .
or whether you are the lifelong disciple
seeking to put God more fully at the center . . .
or whether you’re somewhere in between
just trying to find your way
as you or your loved ones struggle through
the challenges of life . . .
I believe we are hungry and ready
to draw closer to God.
Renewal Works will be a mighty fine way
to help us learn how to do that next.
The Renewal Works survey—
or “Spiritual Life Inventory” as it’s called—
will be open online January 27 – February 17.
To learn more, read this FAQ.

Meanwhile, here is the good news for you today.
Here’s the grace you can count on.
Today is all about baptism,
partially because of the baptism of our Lord,
but also because of yours,
which means, really,
that every day is about baptism.
So with that said, thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O St. Anne’s,
he who formed you, O blessed people:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
You are precious in my sight,
and honored,
and I love you.”
Thus says the Lord.
Count on it.