I Am Baptized into Christ

*C2.01. This congregation confesses the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

After declaring our legal name and location, our congregation’s constitution begins with a statement of faith still required by our denomination. The asterisk in front of the C2.01. makes clear this section is mandatory. We don’t just state the name of the God in whose name we gather, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” we “confess” that Triune God, who is a community within Himself. The language we use for this God is specific “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” a community within the one true God. The obvious pronoun is “He.” The Holy Spirit is not “She.”

First, a walk down my biological and ideological memory lane. My older brother Norman graduated from high school in 1963 (the year I finished 3rd grade) and promptly spent the summer in Greenwich Village. When he came home with longer hair, there was not yet the name “hippie.” He was a Beatnik. My WWII veteran parents were quite aghast. After he spent the better part of 1967 in Haight Ashbury and partook of the so-called Summer of Love, he returned to Texas as a heavy drug user and now he could be described as a hippie. He spent the better part of 1968 in Germany where he fathered and abandoned Tony, a son he never acknowledged. And after a time working on the railroad across the Hudson from New York City and in Dallas, he went back to school and settled into life with Glenda and her young sons Devon and Max, whom he later abandoned in the throes of his alcoholism. Before he died in 1992 at the age of 46, he had fathered with Patricia and then also abandoned a stepson Danny, and more biological kids Tina, Sammy, and Matthew. I experienced quite a lot of the 1960s mythos through my brother who was a grad student at the same time I was beginning undergraduate studies. He was funny and charming until he wasn’t. Vodka does that to you.

Unlike many of my classmates when we entered seminary in August 1976, I had graduated with a liberal arts degree from a state university. Most of my professors earned their doctorates during the 1960s and were already post-Christian academics bent on reshaping their students into the likeness of their “gods,” those ideas to which their hearts were clinging and from which they derived their “raison d’etre” (their reason for being, or, as the online dictionary puts it, “the most important reason or purpose for someone or something’s existence”).

In Honors English 102 which began in January 1973 (the month of the Roe v. Wade decision and when Lyndon Baines Johnson died), we read the blueprint for the rapid social changes that have taken place in the past 25 years (“Patriarchal Attitudes” by Eva Figes, “Boys in the Band” by Mart Crowley, “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” by Dee Brown, etc). One of the two professors teaching the course told me that if ever again I opened the door of the Lit/Lang building for her, she would break my arm. The next year my college girlfriend joined a women’s group, stopped shaving her underarms and legs, and announced that if ever we were to marry we would have to have separate bedrooms and perhaps she would consent to having only one child…to make me happy.

By the time I completed seminary in January 1981 (after dropping out a semester in 1977 to watch the slow demise of the relationship with the aforementioned girlfriend), there were many female Lutheran students and a few gay students from the Metropolitan Community Churches all preparing for the ministry at Christ Seminary in St. Louis, by then the seminary of the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, one of the predecessor church bodies of the ELCA.

By the time I began an advanced Clinical Pastoral Education residency at Parkland Hospital in Dallas TX in the summer of 1981, I had been ordained in the AELC and had strongly socialist leanings which stayed with me through the better part of the 1980s. Despite my very low church rural Lutheran raising, seminary had also turned me into a high church Lutheran. I began serving an LCA mission in the summer of 1982 and was received into the LCA at the Texas Louisiana Synod convention in May 1983.

In the now almost 37 years since I was ordained to the holy ministry and in my almost 64 years of life outside the womb, I have seen more than my share of changes in society and in the church. As the youngest by a bunch, I sought the approval of older siblings for years. As someone from the lower middle class, I sought the approval of those who were from a higher class. As someone whose parents never finished college, I sought as many degrees as I could earn while having to work to help pay for them. And inevitably, I sought the approval of those with more and “better” degrees. Along the way, I sought the approval of church assemblies by allowing two different nominations for bishop in the Northern Texas – Northern Louisiana Synod in 1994 and 2000. Thank you, God, for sparing me from what comes with such a call.

Now looking back over all the changes and chances of life, I remember I was given the only approval I need on the 17th day of my life outside the womb. I was baptized with water in the name of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Later, when I was ordained to the holy ministry in my 27th year outside the womb, I promised fidelity to that Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I no longer need anyone else’s approval, but I am grateful for the love of my wife and daughter and of a few others. I’ve heard a lot of other stories and, along the way, was tempted by some. But the only story that gives life eternal comes from the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I call God “He,” because that’s the proper pronoun that goes with His Name. I won’t worship or commune with those who cling to other stories. It’s about being faithful to the One who has claimed me through no effort or merit of my own. Grace and mercy indeed!

St Matthew's Pastor Sam Zumwalt

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The Rev. Dr. Samuel Zumwalt has worked in churches for 41 years and in May 2017 celebrated the 36th anniversary of his ordination to the holy ministry. He is a member of the Society of the Holy Trinity (www.societyholytrinity.org). In 2004, Pr. Zumwalt moved with his family to Wilmington from Texas, where he served for 23 years as pastor of small, midsize, and large congregations.