Saturday, March 30, 2013

Unmarked sheep. . .

We all affirm that baptism is the mark of the Lord upon those whom He has declared to be His own.  The sheep can wander from Him and thereby renounce the mark and the safety of the flock and the Good Shepherd, but the Lord cannot disown His own.

I grew up in an era when cattle were still branded, when ranchers still burned their mark into what belonged to them.  Now identification is done through ear tags.  Perhaps more humane but hardly as permanent as the mark burned into the flesh.

So often we think that mark is not all that necessary.  We think we know who we are and whose we are.  We do not need reminding.  Or do we?  Perhaps the issue here is that we forget -- either by choice or by accident.  We forget who we are and whose we are all the time.  When we melt into the crowd of the world instead of standing up and out as those called and set apart by the Lord to be His own, to declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light...  When we choose to sin because we think we can do it anonymously and without recrimination... When we filter the faith through our reason and our personal taste, picking and choosing from God the things we will believe, accept, and do...  In all of these we have forgotten who we are and whose we are.  The mark does serve to remind us when we run from that awareness or have drifted from the fold.

The mark stands for the world to see.  Baptism's mark is not burned into the flesh or tattooed upon us.  It is indelible by the Lord and revealed by the life of the baptized gathered around the Word and Table of the Lord, by the piety of prayer, and by the good works that accompany such worship and devotion.  "As often as you eat of this bread and drink of this cup you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes..."  Therein, in the Holy Communion of the called out who have been called in to this assembly, the mark of the baptized is revealed for the whole world to see.  Public worship is witness.  Kneeling before the Sacrament, like hearing the Word among the brethren, are acts of public piety that show forth the baptismal mark so that what appears to be hidden may appear before the world.

The mark is also for God to see.  Like the rainbow set in the clouds to remind Him of His promise, the baptismal mark is worn so that those who belong to Him are known by Him.  This may seem strange to us but it is surely no stranger than the rainbow.  This is the mark God appointed to remind Him of His mercy that the world may no more be subject to a drowning death.  Once drowned, the death is done.  And in this way we see baptism.  He sees us in the drowning death of our baptism and the new life He has imparted to us in those living waters.  No more are we subject to a drowning death but have died the fearful death with Christ to be raised to new life where death has no more power over us.  God wants to be reminded of this and so we tell Him what He has told us and this is the nature of worship.  No more different, then, than the baptismal mark which is not visible like an external brand but still seen by God to name as His own by the Name He has placed on us.

Without a mark, we are not yet His.  Apart from His mark of grace, we are subject to the claim of any and all who would claim us, until His claim stands on us.  Baptism is clearly the all important lens... through which we see ourselves... through which the world around us sees us... and through which God sees us. . . 


Janis Williams said...

Now that I understand Baptism, I don't understand how those who make Baptism a work of obedience don't see. They are marking themselves.

If we mark ourselves in Baptism when we "decide" we're ready, we cannot be sure we are His sheep.

What a comfort the high view of Baptism is.

Erik Maldre said...

I love sharing the blessed news of Baptism with my Protestant friends. It reveals how truly dead we are to sin and how a foundation of grace found in our Baptism is what we need to point us and lead us in a life of Christ.

David Gray said...

Baptism is indeed excellent news however that calf, before being branded, still belongs to the rancher.