Membership.

But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him.

The words membership and identity are hot terms in these days. That said, they have been terms used throughout history to impose or self-impose a sense of communal belonging. 

In some cases, membership and identity were imposed upon others as a result of prejudices – in an accusatory manner – to differ the other from self, to reduce people’s humanity. In other cases, we have taken on our own memberships and definitions of identity.

If we took a moment to pull out our wallets and purses, we could quickly list some of our memberships. Here are some of mine: SEFCU member, NY driver, PACC member, AARP member (how did that happen?), BJ’s Club member, and others. A quick look at someone’s Facebook – memberships and identity markers abound. Where in all of that is our Jesus card?

The most significant sign of our belonging to Christ is that we bear markers that cannot be reduced to a card or social profile.

Our communal membership, our mutuality, our identity as Christians starts with that which was written on our souls at Baptism-Confirmation, our regeneration, from which our membership and identity as family, as brothers and sisters permeates our entire being and way of living.

Jesus, joined with His disciples as recounted today, told them that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in His name to all the nations. This statement directed His disciples to go out and bear witness throughout the world. With the gifts of the Holy Spirit and, as St. John’s letter describes, the keeping of His word, they grew the family of faith. Out of people of every nation, class, status, color, and gender the Church grew as family.

Faithfulness to Jesus does not make us individuals, separate from each other. Rather, we are defined by our belonging, our obligation to God and each other.

We, the people of the Church, are not a separate people, each on his or her own path who just happen to get together for a moment. Instead, our getting together in worship is sign and symbol that we belong to God, that He belongs to us, and that we belong to each other. God infuses us with a grace to see beyond self to the family. He causes us to share with the Body of Christ as a symbol – a sacrament – of our love and of each person’s dignity.

In today’s Psalm we hear, for you alone, O LORD, bring security to my dwelling. This is not just our home, a physical structure in which we reside. Rather, the term my dwelling refers to our house, the place we reside together. He secures us in the family of faith and calls us to show our Jesus card by being “witnesses of these things” and bearing perfected love.

I want to
join.

The body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body; God raised the Lord and will also raise us by His power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? But whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one Spirit with Him.

St. Paul teaches a beautiful reality today. As members of the Church, we are no longer alone or apart. We are joined to Jesus.

This is not a joining like a membership in a club or with our local automobile association. Those things are optional. If we have a club membership, we can go and partake in club activities if we feel like it. We can adjust our club participation to suit our needs. If we joined the local AAA or other automobile association, we can call them if we need them or are in trouble. We might even take advantage of club discounts if we think of it. Otherwise we can simply ignore the association; file our membership in the back of our minds. But, if we have joined ourselves to Jesus we no longer have options. We have to be all-in.

Paul points out that being part of Jesus is about being all-in. We are intimately joined to Him. What He has, will be ours. Who He is, we will become. His inheritance is our inheritance. If we are one with Him.

The Christian community – made up of each of us – is called to a new way of life; Christian living must show our membership in Jesus in ways that others can imitate. We must be so attractive, so Jesus like – love filled, gracious, peaceable, service oriented, sacrificing, and dedicated – that those who are seeking Jesus find Him. That those who are our fellow disciples grow deeper in their union with Jesus. All because of us.

We are called to completely orient our lives in a way that is in communion with Christ. This means we must make a giant change. We have to fully understand that our lives are not ours. Our bodies, minds, souls, desires, wishes, present and future do not belong to us – they belong to Jesus. We have to give up on ourselves to fully live our union with Jesus – our membership in Him.

This joining is not easy, nor does it happen overnight. If it did, every baptism would result in perfect Jesus-like people. Rather, our membership in Jesus is a process of becoming – and Paul is reminding us of what we must become to really be part of Jesus.

We hear of those who decided to walk with Jesus – they said, ‘I want to join.’ They walked with Him, listened to Him, prayed with Him – lived at His side yet still had to grow in their membership. That should give us courage.

To be really complete and all-in we must seek the Holy Spirit’s help and reach for the fully aligned life. With the Spirit’s help, we become, grow, draw others to Jesus and share in glory.

Reflection for the Solemnity of the Baptism of our Lord

Baptism

Why should I join?
What does it mean?

“He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

It wouldn’t be unusual to wonder about baptism, what it means. We might also wonder why Jesus was baptized.

For us, baptism is membership in the body of Jesus, the Church – we are made part of Jesus by descending into the water, as He descended into death. With this membership we are promised that we, like Jesus, will rise again.

For us, baptism is washing. We are washed of sin. In baptism we recognize that we fall short of the glory of God. As St. Paul wrote to the Romans “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” We know that we are sinful, no one is perfect and without failings. In baptism we acknowledge our sinfulness and our reliance on God, who through Jesus’ sacrifice washes us of our sinfulness, brings us forgiveness, and welcomes us back – always, no matter what.

For us, baptism is proclamation that Jesus is the Son of God, true God and true man. We proclaim the triune nature of God, Jesus’ sacrificial death, resurrection, and ascension. In baptism we proclaim the Creed – stating definitively what we believe by faith. At Jesus’ baptism the heavens were opened. The Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove. The Father’s voice is heard: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” This is God revealed, as He is, plain and simple, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Jesus’ baptism pointed to all these things. At Jesus’ baptism John publicly recognized and declared that Jesus was the One who was awaited, the Messiah, the One who would baptize “with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Jesus’ baptism also showed that He identified with sinners. His baptism symbolized sinners’ baptism into His righteousness. In addition, Jesus baptism showed His approval of John’s baptism, bearing witness to it, that it was from heaven and approved by God. Later, after His resurrection, He would tell His followers that by baptizing the many they would be made His disciples. In Jesus’ baptism the reality of God was revealed in testimony direct from heaven.

All the glorious truth of the mercy of God found in Jesus Christ is on display at His baptism. We join ourselves to that glory and truth in our baptism.

In the dynamics of baptism we join ourselves to all the truth of Jesus. We proclaim that God has freed us by His grace and our acceptance of that grace. We declare with all the faith that we have – we are members of His body, and that He is our Lord and God. We are His members – and it means this: That we receive His mercy and glory.