Baptism ≠ perfection

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
 (with Holy Baptism)

In the name of God, the Creator who made us, the Christ who guides us, and the Holy Spirit who keeps us.  Amen.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a quote from a colleague of mine where he said, “When you’re ordained a priest, your imposter syndrome is ordained right along with you.”  Part of what he was saying there is that the act of ordination doesn’t somehow, magically fix everything that was wrong with us, or undesirable about us before.  But another part of what I hear in that quote is that when we are called to ministry – whether it be a ministry like this one, sheltered behind a collar and vestments and under the protection of the church, or the broader ministry to which we’ve all been called: the ministry of faithful Christianity – however we are called, we are called as we are.  God intends to use all of us – even those parts of us that don’t inspire our pride.  Even those parts of us that we’d rather keep to ourselves.

Today, as we welcome Samira into the household of this faith we share, it’s important to remember that.  Samira – it’s important for you to remember that.  This baptism isn’t a magic trick.  It will not solve all of your problems.  We believe that it is a sacrament of new birth, but that new birth brings along with it all of the truths of the old life, too.  And that’s exactly how it should be.  That’s exactly how God wants it.  Because God wants you.  Not some idealized, perfected version of you, but you.  Just as God created you.  Just as the changes and chances of life have molded you into the person who sought out this blessing today.

And for all the rest of us gathered here today, we are also being called to renew our commitments and “remember our baptisms”, as the saying goes.  Even if we can’t remember the specific event, we are being asked to remember the promises made, and more importantly, to remember the calling we’ve been given.  A calling not to perfection, but to faithfulness.

It’s a reminder we all need from time to time.  Some of my favorite stories from the gospels are like the one we read this morning – stories that show these first disciples of Jesus being a little ridiculous.  From our vantage point, it’s almost funny to imagine that scene – the disciples asking for more faith, as if it were a commodity that Jesus could distribute, and not a relationship that they had to cultivate in their own lives.  It can be fun to imagine these pillars of our faith being put in their place by Jesus.

They ask for more faith and he tells them: if you had even the tiniest amount of faith, you could perform miracles beyond your imagining.  But you don’t need that.  You just need to live your best lives.  Nothing spectacular.  Just do your best and humbly face each day.

Part of why it’s fun to see the disciples that way is because it gives us permission to be imperfect.  Like them, we’re just trying to do the best we can.  Like them, we’re trying to grow into more faithful followers of Jesus.  Like them, we have been called to follow Christ, with all of our baggage and imperfections and embarrassments and mistakes in tow.  They are a part of us, and they are a part of who Christ has called.

When Jesus called those first disciples, he didn’t seek out the perfect people of his time and place.  He didn’t look for the ones who were best prepared to quote and expound upon the scriptures.  He didn’t look for people who were prime examples of all that we could become.  He called fishermen and laborers.  He called tax collectors.  He called anarchists and scoundrels.  He didn’t look for perfect people, because he knew that average people – everyday people like us – were perfect.  They were perfect for what he needed, even in their flaws, and so are we.

In a few minutes, after we have prayed together, when Samira stands up dripping with the waters of baptism, after she is marked with oil and sealed by the Holy Spirit, she will still be Samira.  But she will be a Samira who has promised to follow Jesus.  She will be Samira who proclaims her place in this community.  The water won’t wash away anything about who she is, it will only add something more – something that we can’t quite explain or name, but something good, that we pray will help to sustain her and guide her in everything that is to come.  Something that will make her a part of us, and us a part of her.  The water of baptism won’t erase imperfections, but somehow still, it brings us all a little closer to perfection.

As we recite the words of the covenant – when we, again, make these promises for how we intend to live our lives – it won’t take anything away from us, either.  It will just add, to all that we have and all that we are, a renewed commitment.  A renewed promise.  And most of all, it will add a new member of the family.  A new colleague in ministry.  A new companion on the journey.

I pray that God blesses Samira, and with her, her family and friends today.  And I pray that we all are equally blessed to walk along this road with her.  May we all be strengthened by our work here today.  Strengthened to live for Christ in the days to come.  Amen.