Amy and I are into a new TV show called Travelers. Travelers are people from a future where humans have all but destroyed themselves. In order to repair the future, "travelers" enter our time and assume the bodies of key people in the present at the moment they're supposed to die. The travelers then continue the lives of those they replace while going about their ordained mission. Travelers must take orders from an unnamed person known only as "The Director." But as they adjust to their new lives travelers begin to get their own ideas and have doubts and fears about their Director and mission. Since The Director never fills them in completely on the plan, many are tempted to turn away. To help stay on the right path travelers follow a set of mission rules. Their only job is to trust The Director and each other, wait for instructions, and follow. None of this works without the consent of the travelers.
Does this basic plot sound familiar? Anyone? How about the Way of Jesus. As followers of our "Director Christ" we're reborn into a new life. We continue the daily demands of living, while going about our baptismal mission in order to create a better future. To stay focused on our mission we must be disciplined or disciples (from the same root word). We never get the entire story from our Director either, only pieces as we go. We too have rules to follow called Commandments. Our Director even simplified our rules to just two: Love your Director with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind and Love everyone as you love yourselves. While on our mission, we too are tempted with the trappings of our human condition. We too have been inserted into lives we must live. Sometimes those lives seem overwhelmingly difficult. Those demands can make our mission from the Director Christ seem useless. Our own fears and worries can cause us to "go rogue" and forget our mission entirely. Every day we must freely consent to follow the Director of our life along with others.
In Matthew's story of baptism; the line - "Then John consented" is what got me thinking. Every key moment of calling in the Gospels revolves around consent. John must consent. Mary, Joseph, the Disciples all must consent. Consent or control; which one best describes our relationship with God and God's church? For the travelers on the TV show, everything breaks down the minute they stop actively choosing the relationship with each other and with their Director. Jesus shows us the way through his consent; his voluntary "Yes" to what God requires in every moment of every day. And the moment of consent begins with water.
John was sent to preach the kind of change needed to turn around this corrupt and self-serving world. It was change from the inside out. No one can idly approach the baptismal moment lightly. Although many do. Once we consents to baptism we've got to be disciplined and focused on the Director for the rest of their lives. The waters, although an important symbol, can do nothing apart from the consent of the baptized. If we don't stay focused on our Director, we get ideas and the rest is predictable.
In the show each traveler assumed both the name and life of their human host. They also had their true name and identity as a traveler. Jesus enters the waters of John's baptism as Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph. He steps out of the waters and God names him "Beloved." The true name of everyone who consents to the waters of baptism is Beloved. As Beloved ones we join our Director Christ in a mission to renew the world around us along with the team members we're sent to join as church. We can never take a single moment of our lives together for granted. We must be on guard so our fears and personal beliefs don't take over our thinking and turn us away from our mission.
Witness is yet other key component of our lives as travelers under the Director Christ. Matthew's story of Jesus baptism is different from the other Gospels because the identity of Jesus is made known to everyone. (Mention Scripture) This public witness validates John's mission, and challenges the baptized to consent and follow Jesus, not just through waters, but throughout the rest of their days.
On the TV show several travelers break ranks. They no longer trust their Director and chart their own way apart from the community of other travelers. They offer all kinds of very human excuses for their lack of faith in the way of their Director. As this church of the baptized continues to chart an unsteady but clear path forward, I'm deeply disturbed as some of our fellow travelers insist on leaving our ranks simply because they're uncomfortable with the mission we've been given by our Director. "But Pastor," they say, "I'm uncomfortable with the direction we're going as a church." Well, I'm uncomfortable too but you don't see me leaving. God wants our consent, our willingness to voluntarily accept the discipline of a traveler in the faith and trust in the direction we're given along the way.
But don't we have the right to question leadership, our the pastor, or even each other? Of course we do. Unfortunately, few travelers who've left our church have taken the time to publicly question anything, publicly ask anything of anyone in leadership, and be challenged by what God or others feel. With rare exceptions, the people who've left Lake Edge are unwilling to speak their truth in love. Baptism's a commitment to a lifetime of work in community with other believers, yet some just awkwardly slip out the door without a moment's thought for their accountability to the Director Christ or their baptism.
We must learn from this Gospel lesson. Jesus didn't need baptism. He was already ordained for his mission. We needed baptism then and we need it now. In Jesus we can have a name far greater than the one our mothers and fathers gave us when we entered this world. We can have a name alongside the one above all names. But these waters of initiation must be seen as something more than a casual ritual or a one-time initiation we can take or leave whenever we feel like it. Our Gospel story is all about consent; the willingness for the person to walk into the waters and confirm in their lives the mission of the Director of their days. We who come through these waters aren't finished with our mission. We're travelers whose mission together has only begun.