Saturday, January 21, 2006

Activity redux

The point I actually lost in my previous post "activity" was that baptism in particular (and sacraments in general) gives us the essential clue to how God works. God is not a tyrant, judge, sadist...nor is God aloof, disinterested, or vaguely curious.

In The Purpose-Driven Life, which is quite popular on both sides of the Atlantic at the moment, human beings are "made for God's pleasure." The image this conjures up is of a whimsical, let's-try-this-today, bored deity who is interested in us only because of the momentary happiness we can bring him. I don't think this describes Rick Warren's intention, but in trying to come up with a pithy encapsulating slogan, this petty image for God is perpetuated.

God is passionately interested in human life. Moreover, God made human beings and all creation not because it was an elective pursuit which brings pleasure (hedonistic or otherwise)--God makes because that is God's nature to do so. God so overflows with love, care, and creativity that it would be a travesty NOT to create. Out of the rich abundance of the inner divine life (the community of the Trinity, if you will), space is made by the omnipotent, omnipresent God for something uniquely Other to take shape. Out of this unfolding of divine activity and love can we begin to see how all life is grace--God's active love.

The creation, human beings--we are not divine playthings, to be toyed with momentarily and then abandoned or destroyed when the fit of creativity ends. We are ends in ourselves, created with an integrity and vibrance and dignity that pays homage to the Creator. And the creative environment in which we find ourselves is all love.

Baptism vindicates this way of seeing God. God pours out love in the form of water and the Spirit, without respect to achievement or awareness or ability, potential or purpose or proclivity. If you are a child, you receive--if an adult, you receive; if you are guilty of horrible atrocities, you receive--if you have lived a saintly life until now, you receive; if you have doctoral degrees in philosophy, you receive--if you are mentally limited by genetics or biology, you receive. We can all receive God's free gift of grace. What we do afterwords, in response, that is conditioned by our human situation, of course. But the receiving begins before we are aware even of the possibilities.

In baptism, we experience an ordinary channel of God's grace; but ordinary doesn't necessarily mean lesser or plain. Baptism is ordinary because God orders it for the good of human life. It is ordinary because it is meant to be accessible to all. And because of that, it is perhaps the greatest. A fellow Candler student once asked me why baptism was looked down on by the church (vis a vis Eucharist): even deacons (and laypersons!?!) can preside. I responded that I thought that meant baptism is more highly valued, not less--we need to make sure it can happen anytime and anyplace, for the benefit of anyone.

1 comment:

spiritstirrer said...

This idea of "receiving" is what I find to be central in the task of the pastor. We are to be communicators of God's activity as well as the great gift of being able to receive. This is why the baptism of infants is the model for all baptism. The infant cannot do anything but receive the adult always has the tendency to think that it is up to them.