Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt from it
Read 1 Peter 3:18-22
…and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.
More thoughts for meditation
Some scholars say that all of 1 Peter is a “baptismal liturgy” – a poetic defense of and for baptism. Peter certainly relies on the imagery, and no wonder! It’s such a good metaphor for the “new birth” he talks about in the very beginning of the letter. He doesn’t want them to think that being born again is purely a personal matter. If it were, we could all relate with (fictional) Sheila Larson’s credo in Habits of the Heart:
I believe in God. I’m not a religious fanatic. I can’t remember the last time I went to church. My faith has carried me a long way. It’s Sheilaism. Just my own little voice…It’s just try to love yourself and be gentle with yourself. You know, I guess, take care of each other. I think He would want us to take care of each other.
God does want us to take care of each other, but Sheilaism is missing an important component to be able to do that sustainabily and truthfully: others. That’s where baptism comes in as the example, because you can’t baptize yourself – even Jesus couldn’t. The event of baptism isn’t just an actualization of yourself, it’s an incorporation to the body of Christ, where all selves find their meaning, refuge and purpose. And just in case his audience is prone to legalism or feeling guilty, Peter clarifies that the heart of baptism isn’t a negative action – “removal of dirt from the body.” Rather, it’s the positive, enthusiastic response to the grace of God in one’s life, and the “pledge” to keep accepting what Jesus did for us, rather than trying to clear our conscious ourselves.
Suggestions for action
Pray: God, I’ve reached the limits of “my own little voice.” Help me turn again to Jesus and teach me about being part of the body of Christ.
Go: To the baptisms today! It’s OK if you have never been before, or if you don’t know who’s getting baptized. If Peter were writing to us he would tell us that what Philadelphia needs, now, is people who will jump into the Wissahickon Creek in October because of the grace of God in their lives, with the warm public witness of a community cheering them on.