As you may know, today is the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus. This year we hear Luke’s version of that story (Luke 3:15-17, 21-22). And in a few minutes we will, as part of that story, renew our baptismal vows.
Before we do, however, I want to ask you a few questions about your baptism but it’s probably not the baptism you’re thinking about. I’m not going to ask when you were baptized, where, by whom, or what, if anything, you remember about that day. That would be too easy, an exercise of memory or information gathering. Besides, as important as that day might be it’s only a beginning. It’s not the end or culmination of something.
What I’m really interested in are all the baptisms that have happened since that day, the baptisms of the last few years, and, especially, the baptisms that are happening today. In what ways are they reshaping your life?
I don’t think baptism is ever a one and done kind of thing. I see and experience it as an ongoing process. Baptism doesn’t happen only in the church or only at the font. The waters of baptism are everywhere.
Our marriage and relationships, our parenting, our friendships are all baptismal waters. Our work and vocation are baptismal waters. Our passions, dreams, and creativity are waters of baptism. Our concerns and work for justice and human dignity are baptismal waters. Our pain, brokenness, sorrows, and losses are baptismal waters.
We are always going through the waters of baptism, even, and maybe especially, when it’s an experience we don’t want to experience or a circumstance we don’t want to face. Baptism is ultimately the process of separating our life’s wheat from our life’s chaff, growing up, and becoming more fully and authentically ourselves. It happens through our connection to “the one who is more powerful.”
So here are my baptismal questions:
- Is your life growing, expanding, and engaging ever-larger things? If so, in what ways, and if not, where are you stuck, fearful, or avoiding life?
- Are you incarnating and living the fullest possibility of who you can become or is there an unlived life waiting and wanting to enter the world through you?
- Are you discovering and trusting yourself to be God’s beloved daughter or son with whom God is well pleased? Or are you at odds with yourself, seeking and waiting for another’s permission to live the life you want, feel what you feel, desire what you desire, or become who you want to become?
- Are you showing up to and taking responsibility for your life or are you living a fugitive’s life on the run?
- Are you living your life or someone else’s? Whose voice are you listening to?
- Are you less at odds with yourself today? Or are you still trying to serve, avoid, or fix your past?
- In what ways are you connected to the infinite, something larger and beyond yourself, and in what ways are you disconnected from the infinite?
Those questions are really just ways of looking at the wheat and chaff in each of our lives. Each question asks us to see and separate the wheat and the chaff in our lives. The winnowing fork is as much a part of baptism as is the font. It’s not as if some people are wheat and others are chaff. No, we all have both in our lives. I have wheat in my life and I have chaff in my life, and I suppose you do too.
The separation of wheat and chaff is not a judgment between good and bad. It’s the distinction and discernment between what feeds, nourishes, and grows life and what does not. Wheat is edible and digestible, chaff is not. Wheat nourishes and feeds life, chaff does not.
But here’s the thing; the wheat needs the chaff, until it doesn’t. The chaff is not inherently bad or wrong. It serves a purpose. It’s the outer husk or casing that protects the wheat. Without the chaff the wheat could not survive but at some point the chaff no longer serves a purpose. Instead, it restricts the wheat and gets in the way.
Haven’t you experienced that in your life? Haven’t there been things – patterns, habits, behaviors, attitudes – that at one time in your life served, protected, or nurtured your life but now they only diminish or constrict your life? They don’t offer you anything. They don’t work like they used to.
I remember a gentleman who said his childhood modus operandi was “be good, be quiet, stay out of the way.” As a child that was his chaff, his protective husk, and it worked, but as an adult it is keeping him from eating the bread of life – in his marriage, his parenting, his vocation, his hopes and dreams for who he might become. He needs the winnowing fork of baptism. And that’s probably true for all of us. I suspect we all have some chaff that gets in the way.
What would it be like to entrust your life to the winnowing fork of Jesus? What is the wheat of your life that needs to be gathered? And what is the chaff of your life that needs to burned?