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Saturday, January 12, 2019

Making Pickles

First Sunday after Epiphany
  • Isaiah 43:1-7
  • Acts 8:14-17
  • Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
  • Psalm 29
This Sunday, we commemorate the baptism of Jesus, and, as usual, any discussion of baptism raises more questions than it answers. Gallons of ink and blood have been spilled on this one.
  • Was Jesus dipped, sprinkled, or what?
  • If Jesus was sinless and John was preaching a baptism of repentance, why did Jesus need to be baptized?
  • Was Jesus' baptism the same as the baptism in our church today?
  • And, by the way, does one need to be baptized in an Episcopal church to take Communion?
  • And, by the way, can a person be saved without being baptized?
  • And, by the way, what's all this "sacraments" thing about?
That's a lot of questions. One of my early Christian teachers said that we study Scripture the same way we eat a lobster. Big stuff (the meat in the tail) first, then smaller stuff if we have the time and interest.

But first, let's make some pickles.

The Language Problem
That word "baptize" doesn't show up very often in secular writing, and in Christian writing it's sort of undefined. They assume everyone knows what it means to baptize someone. Thus, thousands of years later, we get into all those arguments about dipping and sprinkling and so forth. Oddly, one of the best sources for defining the word is a recipe book from about 200 BC, which discusses making pickles. I just ran into this one at The New Testament Greek Lexicon page from Bible Study Tools. The author of this page, James Montgomery Boice, claims that in pickle-making there are two different kinds of baptism. First, you plunk the cucumber into boiling water (βαπτο = bapto), then you soak it in a vinegar solution (βαπτιζο = baptizo). It's that second soaking that turns the vegetable into a pickle.

Interestingly enough, it's the second word (βαπτιζο = baptizo) that often gets used in the New Testament. When Mark 16:16 says we need to get "baptized" into Christ Jesus, Mark isn't just talking about a quick dip; he's talking about a permanent change. Mark wants us to get pickled.

There is More
OK, so Jesus didn't need a baptism of repentance. John even objected when Jesus asked to be baptized, but when Jesus was baptized, something new happened. Nobody had previously had the Holy Spirit descend like a dove. In a sense, the baptism of Jesus was the first Christian baptism, and ever after, we have looked for a real change in a person as a result of baptism. John's baptism was sort of ceremonial, like receiving the key to the city; Christian baptism actually confers power. It's like using the key to start the engine of the race car. And when the priest (or someone else) baptises the person, you can see the water, but another change is taking place, one you can't see.

And, of course, the Episcopalian thing
The quick question is whether you need to be baptized in an Episcopal church to receive Communion here. The quick, official, theological answer is "Nope." And does Christian baptism by someone else "work"? The quick, official, theological answer is "Yup."

So welcome to the altar rail, all you baptized friends. And if you haven't yet gone through the visible event, any priest would love to talk to you about it, so the visible event will show that you are one of Christ's people.

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