Thursday, January 17, 2013

Baptized by the Red Sea

When I asked my pastor for a couple of simple books to help me break down (or introduce me to) sacramental theology, the first thing she told me to purchase was the study guide to By Water and the Spirit, as written by Gayle Carlton Fenton.  It fleshes out the official UMC document on baptism, also called By Water and the Spirit, as adopted by the 1996 General Conference as a way to firmly establish, and reclaim, the Wesleyan way of baptism.

As I've pondered through this resource, I've found my mind blown over and over again.  In a blessed way.

First is to realize that there's no true way to completely understand the mysteries of the sacraments   We journey with the sacraments of baptism and communion, as they are points where the Spirit (whether we're open or not) will enter and begin a change.  Whereas there's an awful lot we can do to offer our thanks and praise up to God, Wesley viewed the sacrament as reflected in his Anglican roots "that a sacrament is 'an outward sign of inward grace, and a means whereby we receive the same."  So, God is at work in the sacraments.  And we join with God in them.

As the document and the book dive further into baptism's rich history in the Christian church, we find that it's truer roots are in our Jewish heritage, well before Christ was baptized in the Jordan by John.

Of the pictures of baptism (water as a change agent in the Word) in the Old Testament, the one that rocked my world the most has to be this:
Other biblical accounts associate water with other salvation themes present in baptism.  The Hebrew people were freed from their slavery in Egypt by God's action, which enabled them to escape through the sea (Exodus 14:19-31).  So, baptism is liberation from sin.  (page 19, By Water and the Spirit Study Guide)

On one side of the Red Sea the Hebrews are a nation of slaves.  On the other side the Hebrew nation is on their way to God's Promised Land.

On one side is their old way of life.  On the other side freedom in the Lord.

But, they have to get across first.  So what does God do?  He parts the sea, and the Hebrews run to the other side, chased by Pharoah's army - chased by their old life.

Grace was offered to the Israelites as they stepped out in faith to cross that body of water.  Can you imagine that?  The sea wasn't dried up - it surrounded them on either side as they ran.  No doubt they were afraid, but also no doubt that they pushed through with faith in the Lord.

The people of Israel needed a new start, God made that new start happen.  Crazy awesome.