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Psalm 46 begins by describing God as a “refuge,” a safe place to take shelter. This strength-giving refuge is watered by streams of joy, gladness. The water imagery, is evocative of God’s nourishing presence. It is in the city of God where such waters are found. Where God is found, there is God’s city. It’s an image of baptism.
In the Old Testament, the “city of God” is, on the one hand, clearly Jerusalem. But on the other hand, God’s city, God’s place, is any city, literally any place where God’s name is. (Exod 20:24, Jer 7:12; Ps 74:7). And in the book of Revelation there is the promise of a “new Jerusalem” (Rev 21:2), a metaphor for the church. And throughout the New Testament, the church is made up of the baptized. Where the baptized are, there the “city of God” is.
In Acts 2 the emphasis in on calling “all who are far away,” to come to God. While the place imagery is not so obvious here, the notion of movement — from far to near — of a calling to closeness, is. If God’s city is that place where we are made glad in God’s presence, then it is also the place where we find forgiveness, and are given the gift of the spirit (2:38).
Peter, after telling God’s story (Acts 2:14-36), calls his listeners to be baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ.” Thus, the name of Christ, the name of God’s Son, is the refuge in which the baptized dwell. And where the name of God is, there God is, there the city of God is. (taken in part from Karl Jacobson at workingpreacher.org)
Baptism, here through the lens of Psalm 46 and Acts 2 is not simply something that is done, it is a place; a refuge to which all are called, and re-called; named and re-named. Martin Luther understood baptism as a daily event, a cleansing and renewal of forgiveness that we need, and is ours, every day. It’ is not something once done, now finished; but rather once done, now lived in as a place, a refuge, a community gathered in common need and strength.
In our Presbyterian Book of Order we say that “Baptism is God’s gift of grace and also God’s summons to respond to that grace. Baptism gives the church its identity and commissions the church for ministry to the world.” [W-2.3001-7]. It’s both who we are and what we do.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION & EXAMEN:
• What engaged you, enraged you, or surprised you in the text?
• In Acts 2 the people create a new vibrant counter-cultural community in response to Peter’s sermon. How is such a community different than the corrupt generation Paul speaks of? How is baptism such a refuge in which we dwell in community?
• How is the Spirit of God inviting you – or us as a church – to affirm who we are called to be together and individually in our chaotic world today through baptism?
Download a Text Study Sheet HERE.