Part of the Family
Message: “Part of the Family” Rev. Richard Blount
“Part of the Family”
Baptism is a covenant made by God with humanity so that the people who were not a people become God’s people. Baptism is initiation into the family of God.
What does it mean to have good manners? (pause) What should it look like to teach good manners to our children? (pause) These are important questions if we are going to understand what is happening in Acts 10:44-48, and the baptisms of Rory Dot Morris and Hayden Walker Chapman. Now, I consider myself fortunate to have been born and raised in the “South.” Down here we are taught at an early age to say, “Yes, sir.” “Yes, ma’am.” “No, ma’am,” and, “No, sir.” From an early age we are taught the importance of saying, “please,” and, “thank you.” Manners and hospitality are important. Down here you do not disrespect your Momma, and unless you want some teeth knocked out you do not disrespect anyone else’s Momma. There was a time in the south when we recognized and appreciated the value of a hard day’s work. We understood that a good life is worth working for, and the only time we asked for a handout was if we had no other option. However, if a neighbor, or a friend or even a stranger fell on hard times we would gladly give them the shirt off of our back. These are well documented and understood tenants of southern hospitality.
The same can be said of the Jewish people in our Bible up and to the time of the book of Acts. The Jewish people firmly believed there was a specific way to act and to live their lives. Their rule is laid out for all of us in the Law of Moses. There are dietary laws, and laws about how men and women should relate to one another, and how to raise children. However, the most important rules or commandments in the Law of Moses are to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your mind and with all of your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself (Deut. 6:5; Lev. 19:18). Sadly, the Jewish people were a little like a painter who is so consumed with painting a forest and getting every branch and every leaf of every tree right that they miss out on the beauty of the forest itself. The beauty of the Law of Moses is God so loved the world that God gave this one set apart family a means to grow closer to God. The trouble the Jewish people faced is they became so concerned with the means they missed out on the ends and what made the whole thing beautiful in the first place. What made the Law of Moses beautiful in the first place is God loves humanity enough to give us the Law of Moses, and God still loves us enough to send Jesus Christ to pay the price for all of our sins. God does not wait for us to be perfect. God does not wait for us to be baptized. God does not wait for us to get it right. God calls out to us before we understand the purpose of the Law of Moses; and God reaches out to us before we are Baptized. Everyone; Everyone needs to understand this. God has already laid claim on you. God is already sending out God’s love for all of us. God is calling us all home. Why has God claimed us? (pause) God has claimed us because God loves us. Amen? Amen!
So here’s the deal. In this morning’s passage Peter has been led by the Holy Spirit to the home of a Roman centurion. (pause) Okay. For those of you who do not know. Peter going to the home of a Gentile, Roman, soldier is odd. Peter had been identified as an Apostle. The Jews of the time who followed the Way of Jesus Christ likely saw Peter and the other disciples as not quite rabbis themselves, but obviously witnesses who shared testimony about the things Jesus taught. So, almost a rabbi, but not quite. This makes the idea of Peter going to the home of known sinners weird. Those who followed Peter may have likened him to a Pharisee or Sadducee and tried to hold Peter to that level of accountability. Faithful Jews do not associate or even enter the home of Gentiles. You might think of it along the lines of disrespecting another man’s momma. It’s just one of those things that is not done. What makes this story really odd is Peter is not just going to the home of a tax collector, or a prostitute. Peter is going to the home of a Roman centurion – a leader of soldiers who had oppressed the people of Israel in their own land. (pause) While this specific centurion appears to be an exception it is still odd to those following Peter that Peter is going to the home of a Gentile sinner. Please understand this violates some people’s understanding of the Law of Moses. In the South, you might say Peter is reaching into another man’s refrigerator without permission. These are things that just were not done. However, Peter was following the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was telling Peter God’s love comes first. Before we can worry about the Law of Moses. Before we can worry about the things our Momma’s taught us are good manners, we have to first remember we are Christians. Christians are claimed by God because of the love of God. Christians are to respond to God’s love by loving others. Love brought Peter to the home of the Roman centurion. God’s love offered freely through the Holy Spirit brought the Roman centurion’s family to saving faith in Jesus Christ. And No. It did not matter that the family was Gentile, or Roman, or the family of soldier. Because the Holy Spirit fell upon that Roman, Gentile family, that family became a part of the family of God.
Over the last few weeks as we have been Baptizing members of the Confirmation class I have been asked the question if those who are baptized as youth or adults need to work through another liturgy to become members of the local church. (pause) I think this is a little funny. (pause) I have been never asked this question when we Baptize infants. So let me offer an explanation this morning. In the United Methodist Church when a question like this comes up we follow a simple four step process to determine the answer. We begin by looking to Scripture. I hope we can all see when Peter visited the home of the Roman Centurion his whole household, men, women and children came to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ because of the love of God, and through the power of the Holy Spirit. There was no question as to whether another liturgy needed to be read, or if promises needed to be made to the community of believers in Jerusalem. There was no need because it was widely understood and accepted this Gentile, Roman family had been initiated and accepted into the family of God by the Holy Spirit. This was NOT done by Peter. Peter may have poured the water for baptism, but it was the work of the Holy Spirit who baptized this Gentile Roman family. It was the Holy Spirit who initiated, or adopted this Gentile family into the family of God. The Holy Spirit brought this household into God’s holy family. It was not the work of Peter. This family’s adoption by water and the Spirit into God’s holy family was a work of the love of God, and a gift offered freely by God. Amen? Amen.
The second step in trying to answer questions like these is to look to Tradition. According to the 2016 Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church; paragraph 215.1; “the baptized membership of a local United Methodist church shall include all baptized people who have received Christian baptism in the local congregation or elsewhere[;]” furthermore, “All baptized or professing members of any local United Methodist church are members of the worldwide United Methodist connection and members of the church universal” (¶215.4). We get this idea from the Scripture above and from the writings of John Wesley who is the founder of Methodism. I’ll stop right here to point out. United Methodists begin with Scripture. Then we worry about Tradition. John Wesley was an Anglican priest. You might say the Anglicans were the originators of Catholic “lite.” The Anglican church holds to the Catholic Tradition that when a person is Baptized they become a member of Christ’s holy family forever. We also believe that once baptized into God’s family you are always a member of God’s family.
The third step in our theological journey about Baptism is reason. If we are initiated and adopted into God’s holy family at our baptism can we ever be removed from God’s holy family. The clear answer there is no. The Apostle Paul answers this question for us in his letter to the Romans.
“35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39 ESV).
Clearly, from Paul’s description nothing, and no one can rip, tear or shatter God’s claim on us. By reason it is evident once we are a part of God’s family we are always a part of God’s family. Now, a question for all of you. Is saying once a member of the family of God always a member of the family of God the same as once saved always saved? (Pause. Answers could either be silence, a correct answer or really weird. Be prepared for anything.) If quiet too long repeat the question. (pause) Now ask them to think on their experience.
Have you ever known someone who claimed to be a Christian, went to church every Sunday and still managed to swear like a sailor regularly; to use racist or womanizing speech, or to engage in drunkenness or brawling? In short have any of you known people who claim to be Christians but do not follow the teachings of Jesus Christ? (pause) You see, now we are using the fourth means by which we as United Methodists struggle with these theological problems. We are using our experience. By a show of hands and a honking of horns, how many of y’all have in-laws and out-laws in your family? (pause). The same is true of God’s family. We have plenty of in-laws and out-laws in the family of God. John Wesley observed this fact in his lifetime. In fact brother Wesley was so torn by this too often occurring phenomenon Wesley almost, ALMOST changed his opinion about infant baptism. Wesley was conflicted by what he saw. Those who were baptized as babies were not walking according to the way of Jesus Christ. I have seen it. You have seen it. Wesley struggled with it. Let us consider this for a moment.
Wesley’s solution to this problem was to ask people to confirm their faith in Jesus Christ. Many of these did not profess to have faith in Jesus Christ at the start. Their baptisms as infants was something their parents did to them because that’s what they were “supposed” to do. Kinda like always saying, “please,” and, “thank you.” Those to whom Wesley ministered weren’t sure if there is a God, and had even less idea about who God is, or who God wants to be in their lives. They did not know about God’s claim on their lives or God’s love. Wesley started the class meetings as a means of asking simple questions and holding one another accountable for their actions. Wesley did not start out by asking you to believe in Jesus Christ. Wesley started by asking, “How is it with your soul?” Wesley started by asking the members of the class meeting to follow three rules. Do no harm. Do good. Attend to the ordinances of God. Wesley asked them to pray, attend worship, give the full tithe, do works for God, and do works for those who do not know Christ. When the Holy Spirit blessed this work, as the Holy Spirit blessed Peter’s work in Acts 10:44-48 in the home of the Gentile, Roman, Centurion, it sparked the Great Revival of the 1700’s. This revival gave birth to the spread of Christian faith and Methodism all across Europe and even to the forming of the Methodist church in the United States.
Now these confirmands have spent 40 weeks in a small group learning about God, the church, what it means to be a Christian, to have faith in Jesus Christ, and to be a United Methodist. It is their response to the Holy Spirit which has lead them to decide to come and to be baptized. As such they have all requested to be Baptized by being poured. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. In this way they both accept saving faith in Jesus Christ and confirm their commitment to God through the local church and the universal church. There is no need for another set of liturgy or a separate ceremony. When these children are baptized they are taking their faith walk into their own hands. They are being adopted into the holy family of God. And they are being initiated into the life of the church. To the three who have been baptized already this month and to the two who are about to be baptized today I would warmly and heartily like to offer this. Welcome to the family!
In the name of Jesus Christ,