What's to Keep Me from Being Baptized?
Last month, many at our church engaged in a 28-day challenge to read through the book of Matthew, one chapter at a time. We shared comments back and forth, and were encouraged and challenged by the Gospel story. As the month drew to a close, many in the group asked to continue on, and we have done so, reading in the book of Acts this month.
In Acts 8, Philip, a deacon who had been chosen to serve the church two chapters prior, finds himself on a road and comes across an Ethiopian who had just finished a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. On this pilgrimage, the Ethiopian likely arrived at the Temple, hoping to offer sacrifices and to be brought into the presence of God. However, at the time, there was a pretty strict idea about who could and who couldn’t approach God in the Temple. There was the Holy of Holies that only the High Priest could enter once a year, the court of the priests, the court of Jewish men, the court of Jewish women, and finally, the court of Gentiles. All of these courts would take you further and further away from where God’s presence resides within the Temple. And so, the Ethiopian was only able to enter into the court of Gentiles. There was separation between him and the God whom he had come to worship.
Now, this is especially pronounced for someone like the Ethiopian man, but it is also true for us all. The story we read in Genesis about the origins of the world (and more importantly, the relationship of God and humanity) tells of the separation that is created between God and humans by sin and evil. The Temple and the Law also make clear who and what is separated from God and for what reason(s).
But, this Ethiopian man, along with the help of Philip, has an incredible insight into the message from the scroll of Isaiah that he is reading: What is to keep him from being baptized? And through that baptism, what is to keep him from being connected to God in such a way so that sin and evil can no longer separate him from the love of God?
Philip’s answer? They get down into the water immediately and baptize him!
This is such a beautiful example to us of the power of baptism and a reminder for those who have been baptized of what that action is for them. There is no longer separation from God. We have been cleansed, washed by the waters of baptism and the death and resurrection of Jesus to new life with God right now.
What is to separate us? Sinfulness? Financial status? Social status? External appearance? Power? Influence? Skin color? Gender? The Law? The practices of the religious, even those who are well-meaning? No! None of these separate us from the very presence of God because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
The Ethiopian goes to Jerusalem to worship God at the Temple, and he leaves Jerusalem in good standing, but still with distance between himself and God (both literal–he is leaving the Temple where God is said to reside–and figurative–he is still a sinful person, just like the rest of us, who is thereby separated from God because of his sin). But, after this baptism, he is brought to new life with God. The barriers, the separation, are gone.
When we come before God, we each have the same option available as the Ethiopian. We are not shut off from accessing God. We are not prevented from the presence of the creator of the world. An immersion allows us to become immersed into God’s being. May we be fully covered in God’s presence today. May we be immersed in the mind of God. And may we find that God ever present to us too.