Baptism and Membership

Download (right click and choose save as)

A number of years ago, my brother, Joel, who pastors a church in Vermont wrote a piece entitled “In Praise of a Strange Tribe,” in which he reminisced about the church he and I grew up in outside Washington D.C. He wrote, “There was the homeless cab driver who worshiped with manic intensity. The bachelor patent officer in his sixties who lived alone with his mother and who sometimes raised his hand during the sermon. The foreign man who looked and sounded funny because he’d been in a car accident as a young man and had been left for dead on a gurney in the hospital with a sheet pulled over his head until someone noticed his toe twitching.

And there were others. The bi-racial couple. The angry old man. The lady whose job it was to dispense the punch and who treated the clumps of sherbet floating in the punch like they were a very big deal. (To be fair, as a young kid in church I thought the clumps of sherbet were a very big deal – almost as big a deal as Jesus.)

This cast of characters, this mishmash of the quietly faithful and the loudly colorful people who made up the church of my youth, were the weird tribe that God used to establish the trajectory of my life.

They weren’t the crew I would have chosen, but that’s kind of the point.

My father, who was also the pastor, was raising his family in a hostile, urban culture and he really wanted us to know that we belonged to a tribe, to a counter-cultural movement that swam against the prevailing current we experienced at school and on television. He didn’t just get his family into the house of God; he brought the people of God, even the funky and strangely redeemed people of God, into his family’s house. Mexican immigrants made fragrant tamales in our kitchen and unassuming bachelors discussed the Bible in our living room and somewhere along the way I did the opposite of going native. I went non-native. “The Kingdom of heaven” that Jesus talked about so much in the gospels became real to me. I took my citizenship there seriously. And I decided that I need never be ashamed of my fellow citizens in that blessed Kingdom.

In his letter to the misfit believers in what is modern day Turkey, the apostle Peter said to them “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God.” You can not overstate how radical that statement is and how much power it has to change the course of a life.