The followers of Jesus had gathered together, unsure of their next step in living into this “age to come” that their recently departed leader had told them was at hand. And then, filled with the breath of God, they are inspired (which literally means “with breath”) to live as the people of God in a radically new way.
They feed the hungry, care for the poor, and attend to any among them who has need. They see the world around them and instead of waiting for God to come down and do something, they see themselves as the living body of the incarnate Christ and go about setting the world to rights.
It would have been easier to stay tucked away in the locked room, to sit on your hands and await four horsemen or a quick rapture to take care of everything. But instead these women and men reach out to the world around them. And the world was and is and will be forever changed because of it.
They feed the hungry, care for the poor, and attend to any among them who has need.
These are the hands of God at work in the world.
God has hands and they’re attached to your wrists.
This story of the first followers of Jesus is wrapped around the practice of baptism. Whether three thousand baptized after a rousing sermon from the most unexpected public speaker to eunuchs and Gentiles baptized and welcomed into the family much to everyone’s surprise, this ritual plays a pivotal role.
Baptism is first and foremost a work of God. It is not my faith that makes baptism work but God’s faith that makes it work. Baptism is God’s faith that you, dripping with water and risen to a new humanity, are called to live in this world in a new and necessary way.
Baptism is like a catapult. God is launching us into the world.
To talk about baptism means you’re also talking about water. And the first mention of water in the Bible is in the first chapter of Genesis. The Spirit of God is hovering over the formless and void waters of creation, speaking for beauty in the midst of this chaos. We hear the voice of God separating water from water, a divine tahom (which is Hebrew for “formless” or “chaos”) or Tiamat (if you’re more into the Babylonian creation story) from which comes forth life.
It is out of this water that life emerges.
And then one book later we again see the parting of water as the people of God are stuck between an army and a wet place. A mighty wind or breath (or Spirit) of God blows and separates the water, revealing a way forward that leads to life.
And then dozens of books later we see a man named Jesus stepping into the waters of the Jordan river, asking to be baptized – a ritual that echoes back to these creation and Exodus events – by his cousin John. John hesitates but Jesus insists. Because baptism is not John’s sign of approval – it is God’s. And in this baptism (and perhaps every baptism to follow) we hear God utter the words, “This is my beloved child whom I love.”
It is out of this water that life is transformed.
Because these waters of creation/Exodus/baptism are a catapult, launching us into the world in a whole new way. These waters bring forth new life, launching it as a mission in the world.
Because our hands are the hands of God. Our presence in the world is the presence of God. We are launched by God, dripping in a combination of sweat from our anxiety and water from our baptism, to be the hands and feet and face of God in a world desperately in need of love and healing. We are called to feed the hungry, care for the poor, and provide for any among us who are in need.
In a word, we are called to love.
It has been said that love wins (though some cleverly disagree with this, saying that love would come in second place and let the other person win).
And while this sentiment can be seen as characteristic of these first followers of Jesus who saw their hands as the hands of God and as all the people of God who find themselves launched into the world around them, it can be reduced even further.
Rather than “Love Wins” this mission can be seen simply as “Love Period.” For the people of God are called to love, even (and especially) when it loses. We are called to love against all odds, radically and unconditionally. We are called to love, period.
The people of God are not called to do mission but to be mission. This mission is not something you hold in your hands but something you embody, seeing your hands as the hands of God. We are launched into this world, a mission whether or not we choose to accept it. We are called to love, regardless of the result. Win or lose, the people of God are the mission of God and this mission is simply “love.” Period.
May we see our hands as the hands of God.
May we embrace the catapult of our baptism.
And may we discover the radical welcome that comes when we move away from the dichotomy of winning and losing and simply love.