“Turning” – our Baptismal Journey of Transformation
by Kathy Staudt
A church sign I passed some weeks ago read “Come as You Are: You can Change Inside.” I’ve been pondering this from a number of different angles: I think it says something to us about how counter-cultural the Baptismal message can seem, with its invitation and promise of transformation (whoever is in Christ, behold, a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). And yet also about the openness and welcome that draws people to us.
“Come as You Are” : Whoever you are, and wherever you are on your journey, you are welcome here: “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You” – those messages of welcome and inclusion are part of the identity we have claimed as Episcopalian Christians. This is almost in synch with a dominant message in our culture: that the most important thing is that we feel good about ourselves, that we are not judged or shamed about anything, that we are “fine the way we are.” But when we are “Baptized for life” there’s a subtle difference – we are indeed welcomed and loved, “fine the way we are” in that sense. But we also acknowledge that we need to “change inside” – to turn our lives around — there’s an important difference, isn’t there? The first step in the National Church’s “Way of Life” – the proposed Rule of Life for our branch of the Jesus Movement to TURN toward Jesus – it is about changing, being transformed: and turning does require turning away from some things about ourselves and toward what the journey with Jesus will make of us.
That’s why I smiled at the second half of the church sign’s statement: You Can Change Inside — it’s a double meaning, of course: first come as you are, no matter what you’re wearing – and the first part of the change may be internal: “You can change inside – inside of yourself, in your heart – you can become open to conversion because you have “come as you are”.
But there’s also a suggestion that there is some kind of dress code eventually – the garment you need may be provided inside, inside the life of the church – and once you have come in, you will be invited to “change, ” first inwardly and eventually in your approach to life and those around you: To put on new garments appropriate to new life. The garment imagery is wonderfully biblical, and I welcomed a new insight this church sign offered me for the sometimes troubling parable Jesus tells about the wedding feast, in Matthew 22:1-14.
It starts off with a familiar, welcoming message – When his original guests are all too busy, the Master of the house goes out to the highways and byways and invites everyone to come in. But then toward the end of the parable in Matthew, there is a hitch: someone tries to get in to the wedding feast without a “wedding garment” – i.e., without changing inside — and the response is harsh: he is thrown into the outer darkness, with weeping and gnashing of teeth. The language seems harsh to us but the suggestion is cautionary: there IS intentionality, commitment, transformation involved in this journey we set out on. All are welcome, yes: and we do welcome all – but the baptismal invitation will eventually ask something of us: to “Turn” – (the Greek word is metanoiete — turn your life around or “repent”) — to “change inside” and to “put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27) – that new wedding garment, and new way of life, that we are all still getting used to and growing into..
This gets to the conundrum at the heart of our Baptismal identity: All are welcome – come as you are! AND our Baptized life involves intentionality – the choice to enter into a new way of life: the way of Jesus, the movement toward healing, love and reconciliation that He is always inviting us to be part of. To be a part of it, we need to be willing, both to “come as we are,” without judgment or shame, and to “TURN” toward Jesus and a new, way of life, open to surprise and to “change inside” – so that we can become bearers of hope and new life to all we meet in life.