This Is What I Am: Baptism as Ordination of All Believers
Making Sense of Our Baptism
It is renewal time. It is time to pick up centering tools of grace for our onward journey. Baptism is one such means.
Imagine yourself at the baptism of a family member's child. A fellow guest who is not familiar with this Christian practice asks you, "What is baptism?"
What is your personal understanding of baptism? Can you quickly explain it in a sentence or two?
At a glance, as a Christian, which of the following do you think is the right answer?
- Identifying with the image of God in us.
- A sign of new life through Christ.
- Being rooted in Christ by dying and rising with him.
- A Christian calling to be followers of Christ.
- An ordination of all believers.
- A sacrament.
For a fuller understanding of baptism, we invite you to read and use the Bible study on baptism by Glory E. Dharmaraj titled "This Is What I Am,"available for download below.
In this New Year, let us take time to celebrate the Baptism of our Lord.
This Is What I Am:
Baptism as Ordination of All Believers—A Bible Study
by Glory E. Dharmaraj
I was there.
Me in place and the place in me.
—Seamus Heaney, "A Herbal."
- The Bible in different versions.
- A bowl of water.
- "Spirit of the Living God,"The United Methodist Hymnal #393, or any hymn or song that can be sung from memory.
- Copies of this Bible study. At least three persons should be able to share one copy.
Note: all of the answers offered for what baptism is are correct.
Gather into groups of three. Listen carefully as one member of the group presents the following two scenarios.
A reindeer herder in Siberia discovered a frozen baby mammoth in the year 2007. The female mammoth was neatly preserved in the ice, and she was estimated to be 40,000 years old. She was named Lyuba. Imagine the dilemma such a discovery causes:
- Should Lyuba be kept frozen, inaccessible to most of us?
- Should she be kept frozen in a laboratory so that generations of people can view her as she has always been, thus sacrificing further knowledge about mammoths?
- Should she be brought slowly to the ambient temperature so that scientists can dissect, study and analyze her in order to gain knowledge about the history of the animals and their environment, thus allowing the carcass to decay?
If you were a scientist or a parent of a school-age child, what would you decide?
In a hypothetical scenario, a rare seed is discovered in an ancient Egyptian tomb that scientists believe may be viable.
- Should this seed be kept in a museum?
- Should this seed be taken out and sown?
- If so, who should grow the seed?
If you were a farmer or a botanist, what would you decide?
In your group, discuss what you would decide for both scenarios.
Note: Baby mammoth Lyuba is currently on tour with "The Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age"exhibit: www.fieldmuseum.org/exhibits/traveling_mammoths2.htm.
The baby mammoth and an ancient seed and be used as metaphors for Christian mission. What do we carry with us as we grow and age? What do we leave behind as knowledge increases and technology advances? Is there anything mysterious in life? How do we transmit the 2,000 years of Christian traditions that represent themselves in signs and symbols in our worship places?
How would we convey the meaning of baptism and Holy Communion, a pathway to Christian discipleship, to an unbeliever? More specifically, how do we effectively convey the mystery behind the signs and symbols of our Christian tradition?
How do we engage in the pivotal moment called baptism, in particular?
Baptism is a place and a time. It is being in a place where you symbolically cross the time line of death for a new life. You can be an infant, child or an adult. It is faith holding you in its arms and whispering, "My child, I am laying you out on the arms of the greatest faithline ever: the death of Jesus. Out of this place was born a new life. It is the Resurrection lifeline thrown out to you. In this act of dying and rising, you are brought face to face with Christ."
Ordination of All Believers
One person reads aloud 1 Peter 2:4-6 and Hebrews 3:1 to the whole group.
All baptized persons are called to be partners with God in God's ministry. It is our heavenly calling to be co-workers with Christ. Baptism is considered to be the ordination of all believers. Baptism is the gift of the Holy Spirit who calls us, separates us and ordains us to be in Christ's ministry and mission. Thereby, we are built into a holy priesthood—yes, all persons who are baptized in the name of the Triune God are called to be Christ's ambassadors.
Let us remember anew what it is to die with Jesus and to rise again with him into one Body of Christ:
- Baptism represents means of God's grace; that is, we receive a gift that we do not deserve.
- Baptism is doorway to renewed and sanctified life (Philippians 1:9-11).
- Baptism is a representation of new birth in Jesus Christ.
- Baptism is a sign of regeneration and renewal to live a life Christ wants us to live.
- Baptism is not something we do; rather, it is what we are called to be.
- Baptism is given to us. We are given something that we cannot achieve on our own. It is a reenactment of what Christ has done for us.
- Baptism also means inclusion in Christ's community of believers.
- Baptism is about ordination of all believers into ministry and mission.
- Baptism is a public testimony that we belong to Christ and a cloud of witnesses, both here and elsewhere.
Baptism is living into Christ, clothing ourselves into Christ (Galatians 3:27). It is God within each of us, releasing us and freeing us into places where we can sense the assurance that in Jesus God has entered into the brokenness of our life. In Jesus, God has left a primal inscription of God's signature in our lives that evil will not have the last word.
Listening With Our Ears to Our Hearts
Recall the baptism of our Lord by reading the following passages in small groups. One person in each group should take notes to share with the total group. Listen with your ears to your hearts.
Matthew 3:13-17 (Group 1)
- What do you see and hear in this passage?
- Why did Jesus submit himself to be baptized by John?
- What are the signs that accompany the baptism of Jesus?
- What do you think is the significance of these signs for you?
Mark 1:1-11 (Group 2)
- What are some things that stand out as important to you in this passage?
- What is repentance, according to you? Why is it relevant for your Christian life?
- Why did Jesus submit himself to be baptized by John?
- Why do you think Mark places the baptism of Jesus right in the beginning of his gospel?
Luke 3:1-22 (Group 3)
- What do you know about the Baptism of Jesus?
- Summarize the story of the ministry of John the Baptist in one line.
- Why do you think Jesus also went to the Jordan River to be baptized?
John 1:19-34 (Group 4)
- What is the testimony of John the Baptist?
- How does John see himself in ministry in relation to Jesus?
- Reflect on the title that John gives to Jesus: The Son of God(verse 34).
One person from each group shares the insights of his or her group with the total group.
John the Baptist is no newcomer to the waters of baptism. Did he not receive the Holy Spirit, along with his mother, at the instance of his Aunt Mary's greeting (Luke 1:39-45)? Did he not respond to the Holy Spirit by "leaping for joy"in the warm waters of his mother's womb?
Out in the wilderness John has no Elizabeth to remind him of that leap in her womb waters in the presence of his cousin Jesus, but the baby in the womb of his Aunt Mary is now a young man walking toward him by the riverside to be baptized.
Standing among the riverside people, Jesus and John the Baptist renew their spirituals bonds. Both of them come from God. As do we, if we are not just onlookers to this mystery unfolding in front of our eyes.
Walking It Alone to a Deep Place in You (optional)
Please read John 10:22-42 silently as a total group. This passage is about Jesus going back to the Jordan River in the midst of opposition to his ministry. When you are finished reading, reflect on the following questions:
- Why did Jesus go back to the Jordan where he was baptized?
- Why was it necessary for him to remain there?
- Are there situations in the past or present in your life when you felt like going back to the days when you had assurance of God speaking to you? What are they?
- What are some of the questions that you have in this story? Can you lay bare these questions that arise when reading the story of the baptism of our Lord?
It is all right not to have answers to all the questions you might have. Often faith stories are hidden by too many answers heaped on them. I invite you to walk alone to the deep places in you. Invite the Holy Spirit to embrace you as you walk it alone. Pray that the Holy Spirit strengthen your resolve to by in ministry and mission.
Take time for some silence and prayer. Then share with the total group your insights.
Litany: Baptism as Ordination of All Believers
Leader: Nurturing God, we thank you for the water in our mother's womb that sustained us in our birth.
All: God of our birth, we thank you for the gift of life.
Leader: God of life, we are gathered in your presence, as water-dipped or water-sprinkled people.
All: Living God, as water-washed and Spirit-born people, we lift our hearts to you.
Leader: Holy Spirit, refresh us, your baptized believers.
All: Loving God, journey with us, as we take a sacramental walk back to our baptismal identity today.
Leader: Sustainer of our faith, we often think that only some are called to be in ministry.
All: God who reaches out to our inmost being, strengthen in us the identity of priesthood of all believers.
Leader: Transformer of our lives, open our eyes to your working of love in all of us, baptized believers.
All: O God of our baptism and calling, you are still calling all baptized believers to your service.
Leader: Gentle guide, make us and mold us as your ambassadors to meet the needs of the world.
All: God of unfailing love, fill us with your daily grace to serve you better and love you deeper.
Leader: God, our walking companion, as pilgrims within and pilgrims without, we take a hallowed walk today.
All: Refresher of our soul, renew us by your Spirit in this walk.
Leader: God, our beginning and end, we are your people, called and ordained at our baptism for your ministry.
All: God who calls us each by our name, even by our pet names, may we always be bearers of Christ's name, in this New Year and all the days of our lives.
Leader: Thanks be to God! This is what we are!
All: Christ-bearing people, ordained for God's mission. Thanks be to God!
The group sings "Spirit of the Living God,"The United Methodist Hymnal #393, or any song that can be sung from memory.
As you sing, walk to the bowl of water or to the baptismal font in the church, if this Bible study is done in the church. Dip a finger in the water and make a cross on your forehead, then walk back to your place.
(Unison) May we be Christ-bearing people this year, and all the years to come. Amen.