Pentecost 8

After the baptism of his baby brother in church, little Johnny sobbed all the way home in the back seat of the car. His father asked him three times what was wrong. Finally, the boy replied, “That priest said he wanted us brought up in a Christian home, but I want to stay with you guys!”

I’ve been thinking about baptism a lot lately, mainly because we have a few coming up in the fall and partly because the Church of England has once again fallen off her rocker. “Declaring that the devil has departed from the Church of England’s baptism service, (the British newspaper) the Guardian reported on June 20 that “a simplified baptism which omits mention of the devil” is now favored by the clergy who have test-marketed it throughout the United Kingdom. Claiming that the traditional rejection of the devil and all rebellion against God “put off people who are offended to be addressed as sinners,” clergy claimed that they found it much easier to ask parents and godparents to make vows that do not mention Satan.

“The proposal to delete the devil from the ritual received initial approval by the House of Bishops and will be debated by the Anglican General Synod in York this July. If approved, these changes may reveal that the Church of England is losing its sense of sin—and its need for salvation.

“More than 60 years ago, T.S. Eliot wrote about the sense of alienation that occurred when social regulators—like the church—began to splinter and the controlling moral authority of a society is no longer effective. He suggested that a “sense of sin” was beginning to disappear. In his play “The Cocktail Party,” a troubled young woman confides in her psychiatrist that she feels “sinful” because of her relationship with a married man. She is distressed not so much by the illicit relationship, but rather, by the strange sense of sin. Eliot writes that “having a sense of sin seems abnormal, she believed that she had become ill.””1

We don’t talk much about sin sickness anymore; I’ll admit that even just talking about it right now feels a little, maybe, dated? It might feel that way because the predominant language of our culture has shifted from religious language to therapeutic language. “Sociologist Philip Rieff warned in his now-classic book of the 1960s, The Triumph of the Therapeutic, that “psychological man was beginning to replace Christian man” as the dominant character type in our society.”2 Rieff warning has come true, it seems; people now actually think that Oprah and Joyce Meyer and Joel Osteen are Christian leaders, when what their ideas actually represent is more along the lines of therapeutic deism.

Again, sometimes people might wonder if we’re a bit beyond our cultural expiration date, if all of this is going the way of the dodo. But I can tell you that even as our own mother Church debates their own relevancy, those of us on the ground know better. The truth is, very few of the un-churched, those who belong to no church at all, they don’t make their way to a church because everything’s hunky-dory. They come because they know – and don’t we all know – that they are not okay, that we are not okay; that like T.S. Eliot’s troubled young woman, we know the feeling of being spiritually ill, and that there’s only one person who can make things okay, and that’s Jesus Christ. That why two of the seven Sacraments are all about the eradication of sin – original sin at our baptism, our own sins at confession.

And by the way, if you were around in the 1970’s for the last Prayer Book revision and remember the Blue Book and the Yellow Book and the Zebra Book, well, the baptismal rite mentioned before is in the equivalent of one of those, and I have a feeling that the devil hasn’t tricked us into believing he doesn’t exist just yet.

And for the record, I don’t think the devil will ever get his wish of separating us from the God who has saved us, the same Lord who in our baptisms has made us His adopted sons and daughters, because I have to agree with what Paul told us today, that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

1Anne Hendershott,


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