1 Peter 3:18-22 (NRSV)
18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20 who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 21 And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.
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Although my preaching preference (I am not preaching today) generally is to base on either the Gospel or the Old Testament reading, this morning’s reading from First Peter might be interesting to develop as part of a theology and doctrine of Baptism. It would tie in: the gospel is Mark’s account of the baptism and temptation of Jesus, which is noticeably different from the other three gospel stories. In the Genesis reading, God (it’s from the “P” account) establishes covenant with us and promises repeatedly, almost apologetically, that he won’t destroy the earth with a flood again -- which is just as well, because it didn’t work: God’s idea in the Hebrew adaptation of the ancient great flood story was to destroy humanity’s wicked sinfulness, but it reignited immediately the little Ark crew disembarked; evidently, sinfulness is just our nature, give it up, Pantokrator.
At any event, those two readings, Genesis and Mark, about water and washing away sin, sandwich the First Peter reading, which obviously was selected by the Grand Viziers of the Lectionary because of the shared sense. They didn’t expect us to use it for our preaching text. But it could frame a decent Sunday School discussion.
For reasons, including its use of the Septuagint, reputable scholars doubt that the exquisite letter is the composition of the illiterate (Acts 4:13) Galilean fisherman. Others of integrity are convinced by its claim of eyewitness to Jesus, so I suppose authorship is reasonably arguable.
But for discussion I like the part quoted above (NRSV) that’s our appointed reading for today, the First Sunday in Lent. My view of the soteriology asserted in the passage has already been discussed. And I do not believe that we are saved (whatever exactly is meant by that) by baptism; in fact, despite their solemn intonement of the Baptismal Covenant, a significant number of those who come to be baptized seem to regard it as a cultural custom and are never seen in church again, so I don’t think they believe it either. Rather, baptism is a holy mystery of initiation into the Christian church -- mysterion, sacramentum though not in a gnostic sense and not necessarily in the sense of the unnamed rich youth who is resurrected by Jesus in Secret Mark and who apparently later in Mark flees the Garden of Gethsemane in his birthday suit, having perhaps been prepared for baptism.
But I do like the part of First Peter’s theology of baptism that he states as “an appeal to God for a good conscience.” And not only a good conscience (thought), but (deed) the life of love toward neighbor that is promised in the “I will, with God’s help” that the baptism candidate covenants before being washed.
Appreciatively having sipped my Kona while the fingers tripped lightly over the MacBook keyboard, it’s time for either breakfast or a short nap.