Baptized into the Body of Christ

The Rev. Becky McDaniel. This sermon is based on Acts 2:42-47.

Those who had been baptized devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

In the Book of Acts, we learn that awe came upon everyone as wonders and signs were being done by the apostles, and that day by day the Lord added to the community of Christians, as they bound themselves to one another and even held their possessions in common. This is how the earliest movements of Christianity manifested: those who were baptized into the faith lived with devotion: to God and to one another. What a beautiful manner of life: devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers. This being Christian was, and is, about a way of life, a way of life that depended entirely on community and devotion to the Body of Christ that was being formed. We are reminded in the Book of Acts that the Christian life is not a life lived in the minds of individual believers, but rather a life lived in the hearts of a beloved community.

In the early Christian movement, members of the community were baptized at an age when they could understand the faith and make a mature commitment to live according to this powerful teaching, fellowship, and prayers. But over the course of history, as the Christian community grew and grew, baptism became a practice for the very young as well as the mature in faith. In the Episcopal tradition, we do not wait to baptize our members, because we believe in the community of Christ to uphold and teach the young; we believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to guide and protect us; we trust in the divine presence of God within each and every human being and in the capacity of this devoted Christian family to carry one another.

The word “baptism” is derived from the Greek baptizein, which means ‘to dip’ or ‘to plunge,’ and the outward washing with water signifies an inward cleansing from sin as well as our union with Christ in his death, so that in baptism we are offered newness of life in a resurrected way of living unto God and in service to one another rather than living for ourselves and by the bonds of sin. When the priest prays over the water, we recall the events from holy scripture: the story of Genesis in which “a wind from God swept over the face of the waters” and the story of Moses leading the Israelites through the Red Sea when “the Lord drove back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land.” We are reminded that water not only cleanses, but also gives life and liberates us. Thus in our baptism, we are given new life, and we are freed from the old ways of sin and death. The process is about both repentance and liberation. And although it is a one-for-all event, it is something that we live out each and every day. We keep the baptismal covenant by living a life that involves a daily death to sin, the recognition of an opportunity for a new way of living every day, as we grow into the likeness of Christ within the Body of Christ. We, as a community, are constantly transforming, letting go of the qualities of our individual selves that keep us from loving one another, and taking on the way of Christ’s self-giving and all-embracing humility. We keep the covenant by surrendering our desires for material accumulation and status. We keep the covenant by honoring all creatures and respecting the earth. We keep the covenant by feeding the hungry, praying with the sick, walking with the oppressed. We keep the covenant by standing in hope rather than turning away from life in despair. We keep the covenant by abiding in God’s love and sharing it with others.

In all of this we must never lose sight of the truth that we are in our earthly existence the hands and feet of Christ, the Good Shepherd. With Christ as our guide, we are called to shepherd one another, forming a community that recognizes that each of us is the dearly beloved of God, a community of teachers, healers, ministers, and lovers of God’s divine creation. So as we join one another and welcome the newly baptized into this beloved community, may we remember our own baptism and go forth into the world as the hands and feet of Christ, together carrying the good news into a world desperate for love, community, and compassion.

Saint Teresa of Avila wrote five hundred years ago the following words: may they remain with you as you go forth into the world.

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.