“Words really do matter,” says the Rev. Jack Harnish as he takes a look at the language in our baptismal vows.
Retired Pastor, Michigan Conference
You probably saw the report about a Roman Catholic priest who has been using the wrong word for years. In the sacrament of baptism, the Rev. Andrew Arango had been saying, “WE baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.“ Evidently, he should have been announcing, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” Therefore, the church is saying hundreds of baptisms are invalid. If so, the confirmations, weddings, and the freedom to receive Holy Communion for all these folks could also be invalid.
All because of one word.
As a United Methodist pastor, I was ordained by the bishop to perform the sacrament, so therefore, I can say with authority, “I baptize…” On the other hand, because we believe baptism welcomes the person into the fellowship of the church, I feel “We baptize…” would also be appropriate. That’s Methodist ambivalence for you. In this case, I believe the words that matter most are the words “…in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit“ because I believe God’s grace is at work in the life of the baptized regardless of my feeble and fumbling words.
The words that matter today.
Right now, I would suggest the baptismal words which really matter are ones that often seem so out-of-place in the presence of loving, smiling parents and precious, darling babies: “Will you accept the power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?”
Let’s give “evil, injustice, and oppression” a name–Vladimir Putin. He represents those three forces in all their ugliness in the most graphic and literal way. But the fact is evil does not always come in the garb of a vicious, violent warmonger. Usually, our experiences with “evil, injustice, and oppression“ are more subtle. They present themselves in the form of greed which masquerades as capitalism, bigotry which hides behind religion, and oppression in the form of invisible realities like institutional racism. It’s easy to pretend they aren’t there until they raise their ugly heads in politics and preaching, school board meetings and state legislatures, or when lies parade as truth-telling.
Most of the world is speaking out against evil, injustice, and oppression in the form of Vladimir Putin. Yet, at the same time, we need to be aware of the places where these words come to life in our lives as we seek the God-given power to resist and to overcome.
The words really do matter.
~ Reprinted with permission from Jack’s weekly blog, Monday Memo. Readers may find an archive of those blogs at his website www.johneharnish.com.