Intimate and Affectionate

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-17 – The 2nd Sunday of Lent – for March 4, 2012

“I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of people will come from her.” (Genesis 17:16)

And thus the Lord appeared to Abram and gave him a different name: the man from Ur of the Chaldees became Abraham.

This same Lord instructed the newly named Abraham to rename his wife Sarai: the woman married to the man from Ur of the Chaldees became Sarah.

Important stuff, eh?

Abram means “the father is high” (and, all Biblical literalism considered, I doubt that carries any modern connotations about recreational drug use). Sarai, as you likely know, means “princess” (or “noble woman”) which is probably easier to brag about than “the father is high.” But that’s just me. I’m a bit vain about my name—Lawrence—because it’s derived from laurel. In ancient times, a laurel wreath was often placed on the head of a king or queen. Royalty. The Big Cheese. So, when you think of me, even if you use my friendly nickname Larry, please crown me with at least one metaphoric crown.

According to the writers of Genesis, the Lord made the Abram-to-Abraham and Sarai-to-Sarah name switch and, ta-da, for all the generations following these revered “parents” of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths will be known as (wait, wait) . . . “the father is high” and “princess.”

Hmmm? Is this Biblical sleight-of-hand?

In Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” the old king of the title bemoans:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Are Abraham and Sarah’s swell new names mostly a “sound and fury” that “signify nothing?” merely a ruse to amuse? Continue reading →

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See Jane Run…

Mark 1:9-15 – 1st Sunday of Lent – for February 26, 2012

“…Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” (Mark 1:9)

I was baptized once.

No, hundreds of times.

Raised in the American Baptist Church, my parents had me “dedicated” as a baby, but it would be my decision for a formal, full-immersion baptism. As a United Methodist clergy, most of the baptisms I’ve celebrated have been squirming infants while I dribbled H2O on their heads. Thus, based on my childhood church’s traditions, and the denomination I serve as a so-called responsible adult, I’m uniquely qualified to argue with myself about when (and how) a believer should be baptized.

Let’s see what you believe . . .

Those who think infants should be baptized, please line-up against the digital wall on the right side of the virtual room. And you adults-only supporters . . . over to the left wall. Both sides, please behave!

I’ll remain in the middle of the room and give a quiz:

The proper way to use the baptismal water is:

A. Minister sprinkles water on head once
B. Minister sprinkles water on head three times (symbolizing Father, Son and Holy Ghost or Creator, Christ and Spirit or . . .)
C. For a once-only ceremony, minister pinches believer’s nose closed and immerses her/him in water.
D. For as many times as it takes (for sinners keep sinning and need to be saved again…and again…and again), the minister pinches believer’s nose closed and immerses her/him in water.
E. The water better be a river, and not just a Jolly Green Giant-sized bathtub behind the sanctuary’s altar.
F. Who needs a minister? Like Robert Duvall’s Sonny in “The Apostle,” you can baptize yourself.

Is it okay to baptize yourself? Duvall's character Sonny did it in "The Apostle."

At “F” I grew weary (wary?), so that’s where the quiz ends. (For example, I began research on Anabaptists and their baptismal beliefs and practices, but my head started hurting. So “F” is where I’ll stop, though I hope it’s not the grade I’ll get as I reflect about this wondrous sacrament.)

It’s complicated: who we baptize and when; how we baptize and why.

And yet, maybe not. For Christians, before baptism evolved into a sacrament, a special set-aside ritual to acknowledge and celebrate a believer’s trust in the God revealed by Jesus Christ, it was the simple act of a man* wading into the Jordan River.

Therefore, let me tell you about Jane. That’s not her real name, but I do want to protect her identity. I grew up in the 1950/60s and recall those insipid, vaguely helpful, Dick and Jane (See Jane run!) books that taught kids how to read. Dear, sweet Jane. A simple name: easy to pronounce and neutral. So I’ll use it to keep my Jane anonymous. Continue reading →

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