In our church, when we baptize a child or adult, confirm the baptism of a young person, or reaffirm baptism as a disciple or household unites with our church family, we ask four questions. For nearly 2000 years, some version of these baptismal questions has been asked any time we enter or affirm covenant with Jesus Christ and his body, the Church.
The first of the four questions: Do you turn from sin and renounce evil and its power in the world?
That’s a rather BIG ask of anyone, young or old, individually or congregationally!
Philosopher Timothy Merton has coined the term “hyperobjects” to indicate phenomena “too vast and fundamentally [unsettling] for humans to wrap their heads around. His examples include oil spills, the scale of plastic waste, global warming. We also may consider fraught human social issues such as refugee displacement or pressures, widespread poverty, or hateful and harmful ideologies as “hyperobjects”. Overcoming such evils, we declare, is “way beyond our pay grades.” Addressing such large-scale evils “exceeds our bandwidth,” and so we concede the world as it is.
Evil takes so many forms in the world. Evil has so much momentum in the world. Evil is frightening and powerful and overwhelming.
Disciples of Jesus, it is no small thing to publicly, repeatedly, collectively renounce evil when our impulse urges us to give up or give in, to hide or hunker down.
The first question we ask those who would join the church in following the way of Jesus seems to require “hyperfaith”: Do you turn from sin and renounce evil and its power in the world?
Earlier this year, at the funeral for a friend who tragically lost his life, his brother-in-law eulogized him, offering this paraphrase of a Buddhist saying: “Everyone wants to save the world, but nobody wants to do the dishes.” Our departed friend, we remembered, was one to do the dishes, the necessary daily duties, the little things, and the world was made better because of him.
Let me suggest that when we say we turn from sin and renounce evil, we commit to doing the dishes… or doing our part in small but necessary ways that keep hope and harmony flowing daily. God’s Word and our faith experiences tell us God can take our meager acts and small offerings and magnify them in the mission of overcoming evil. But first and always, we commit our lives to the God who made all that is, hyper or humble, infinite or minute.
Which brings us to the second of the four questions the church asks in affirmation: Do you turn to Jesus Christ and profess him as Lord and Savior? Along with doing small things faithfully, kindly, hopefully, we trust in Jesus Christ, who comes to stand with us against all unholy “hyperobjects” — “the cosmic powers of this present darkness… the spiritual forces of evil” (Ephesians 6:12).
Pastor Scott Benhase says that “Those who manipulate our anxieties want us to believe that God will be outflanked by what is wrong with the world…” Such focus on fear reveals belief in “such a weak God,” he reminds us.
We give our allegiance fully to Jesus Christ, who bolsters us: “Take heart; I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33b) Crucified and risen, Jesus Christ reveals that no evil will withstand God’s will to love and make the world and our lives anew. We trust in healing, redemption, and ultimate salvation already underway through God’s sent one, Jesus Christ. In him, we dare say “I do” when asked, Do you turn from sin and renounce evil and its power in the world?
We will come back to the Church’s four questions, including the two we have not considered here. For now, let us abide with that first question, which is a doozy, and the second question, which makes all the difference. Let us “do the dishes” and give our hearts and minds to Jesus Christ.