A Presbyterian Leader blog post by Rev. Erika Funk
There’s a trending article right now about those little stickers on our produce. I’ve seen at least three articles about these stickers and how to de-code the numbers on them. They’re called PLU codes (Product Look Up) and apparently they can tell you whether it your peach was organically grown, genetically modified or conventionally grown. That’s a lot of information on a very small sticker.
If scripture came with a PLU sticker on it what would you want it to tell you? Would you want to know if it was allegorical or factual? Delivered straight from God or transmitted by prophet? Maybe a number that indicated “suggestion” rather than commandment? That would be helpful.
But there are no stickers, none issued by God anyway. Scripture comes to us uniformly typed and bound and except for the occasional red letters ( and recently green letters ) we are left to discern for ourselves if some words are better than others.
If you’re a Sci Fi fan I think you’re really going to like this next thought. What if people came with coded stickers? Each person affixed with a series of numbers that told us if they were dangerous or genius or conventional or pure? Perhaps too predictable for some people but you gotta admit it would save a lot of heartbreak.
What code would you want on others? Think of the possibilities. A new member, a potential elder or Sunday school teacher. Someone interviewing for a position at the church. Maybe these codes could tell you if someone was lying or if they didn’t believe what they proclaimed or if they could be trusted.
Enough day dreaming…that’s just not possible. People can’t be coded. But some people are marked in a way that is supposed to tell us everything we need to know about them. We called it the mark of baptism. Baptism in our tradition is a seal, a visible seal of God’s invisible grace. It is a sign of the covenant, a reminder that we belong to God.
But what if you didn’t know if someone had been baptized or not – would you treat them any differently? If not, then what is the sign of baptism for – what does it tell us?
One pastor recently faced this dilemma when a young woman who had become part of the church community wanted to be baptized. She was an orphan from another country and had no way to know if she had been baptized before. Coming from a predominantly Catholic country it was likely she had been but records would be impossible to find and she wanted to be part of this family. She wanted to be marked, coded, set apart as a beloved child of God. But we don’t baptize people who’ve already been baptized. It’s a one and done. So what to do?
Suddenly that idea of a visible sign, really visible, was appealing.
We speak of baptism as a visible thing, but once the water dries it cannot be seen. We cannot tell by looking at someone if they or their parents ever made a commitment to the Christian faith. We cannot tell if they have been sealed in the covenant. But do we ever act as if that matters anyway? Do we look at adults, who we know are baptized, and think “ah, there’s evidence of God’s grace. What a mighty God we serve!” Do we expect more of someone when we remember their baptism? Have you ever started judge or criticize someone and then remember “oh wait, they’re baptized! That changes everything!” No, we don’t.
Baptism in our tradition does not come with a membership card or a sticker that goes on your driver’s license and most of us do not remain in the community where we were baptized as a child. So perhaps we should just assume the mark has been placed and until proven otherwise treat each person like a newly baptized child – precious, fragile, touched by God’s grace and with short term memory loss of what that all means and in need of a reminder.
Do we need the codes stuck on our foreheads or can we remember everything we need to know just by remembering who God is?