One of my former bishops, Tom Breidenthal, calls baptism the “sacrament of expulsion”. That sounds kind of hard to our ears, doesn’t it? Usually, when we talk about baptism, we talk about inclusion; we talk about welcoming the newly baptized into the community, into the kingdom of God on Earth. Tom argues something much different, and I think, thought provoking. He asks us to remember what happens after Jesus is baptized; he is sent, expelled, into the desert for 40 days. After that, he spends his life on the margins as an outsider. Baptism, he says, is not about finding a comfortable center, but rather should shock us, and blast our comfortable centers apart; baptism then makes us all outsiders. Baptism should expel us to the wilderness, and then to the margins where Jesus was and is. By virtue of our baptism, we are expelled to be with the poor, the hungry, the refugee, the isolated… those who do not live or look like we do. When we are baptized, we are not called into the safety of the community, but rather sent with the community to those places that are not safe, places where Jesus has gone before us, and where we are to continue the work that he started. Baptism then, sends us to those places where we have to shed the comforts of economic security, prejudice, pride, privilege, health, and all of those things that keep us safe, secure, and in the center of society, so that we might work beside those on the margins who do not have the same safeties and privileges that we do.
A bit different than we usually think about baptism, isn’t it? I thought about Tom’s words as I heard the words of the gospel telling of the tearing open of the heavens. It’s not a clean or sterile image; any woman who has ever given birth will understand that being born is not a clean or sterile process, and neither is being born again in baptism. We are born again in the water of baptism and then by the blood of the Eucharist to be the kind of outsider that Jesus was. Yes, we are cleansed from original sin, from the sin of Adam and Eve; and that cleansing opens our eyes and our hearts to see the world that Jesus loves in all of its beauty and helps us to see the margins that we are called to live in… those are the physical, emotional, spiritual, boundaries that we are called to tear open, with all the love, urgency, and power that we are given by the Trinity. Let’s face it; being disciples makes us outcasts, or at least it should. We live in a world that is hostile to the gospel on the best days. Perhaps as the gospel of John puts it, we should remember that we are in the world, not of the world.
Are we comfortable in our life in discipleship? If the answer is yes, then perhaps we need to reassess what we are doing. Perhaps it’s time to let the Holy Spirit burst through the boundaries that we have created so that we might hear the Father’s voice, and follow Jesus to the places where the outsiders are. What boundaries do we need to tear open? How might we make this world more like the kingdom of God?