Summary: For Baptist Identity Sunday. God has given the Baptist tribe one portion more of evangelistic zeal, missions involvement, and investment in freedom. This church is equipped with one portion more to do its mission.
I recently witnessed a special event, and was very impressed with how many Baptists there were in it. Everywhere I looked, I saw Baptists; every time the announcer identified anybody, I heard the word, "Baptist". It was one of the most sectarian occasions I’ve seen in a long while.
There was a preliminary meeting, and both the person who presided and the one who spoke were Baptist preachers. When we got to the main event, the people who offered prayers were Baptist ministers. The choir that sang came from a Baptist church. The soloist was the daughter of a Baptist leader. The gentleman who presided, I happen to know, was a Baptist layman. And, to top it all off, the two principal persons, the individuals for whom this event had been organized, are both Baptists, one of them even having preached from time to time in Baptist churches.
This was, without doubt, one of the most Baptist events I have witnessed in a long time. What was it? The D. C. Baptist Convention? The monthly Ministers’ Conference? Some kind of mutual admiration society? Not at all. I am speaking about the inauguration of the President and the Vice-President of the United States! It was a Baptist event! You heard and saw, among others, Jesse Jackson and Tony Campolo, Billy Graham and Gardner Taylor. With music of the choir of Immanuel Baptist Church of Little Rock and by Santita Jackson. And what’s-their-names - Bill Clinton and AI Gore, Baptists both.
I won’t even mention that if you stayed with the full coverage you saw remarks by Newt Gingrich, another Baptist! Some of you don’t want to hear about him!
But it was a remarkable display, and, frankly, if I were a member of some other Christian church, or if I were a member of some other, non-Christian faith, or if I had no faith affiliation at all, I’d be worried. I’d be worried that these crazy Baptist folks were taking over. I’d be worried that they were getting too successful.
Today, Baptist Identity Sunday, when we focus a while on what it is to be our brand of believer, I want to emphasize how privileged we are, and therefore how responsible we must be. I want to focus on how much has been given us, and thus on how much we need to give back. We are blessed. But for what purpose?
We have come to the third and last of our studies of Joseph. Joseph’s story has encouraged us to dream bold visions for our life together as a church. We have taken as our theme Joseph’s grand statement to his brothers, "God has sent me before you to preserve life."
Now at last we come to a poignant moment in Joseph’s life, when he and all his brothers are standing around the deathbed of their father, Jacob, and are waiting for Jacob’s blessing. Picture it; here is Jacob, full of years, having weathered lots of disappointments and yet also having seen God at work in many ways, about to die. He goes around the room, speaking to each of his sons, and telling them exactly what he thinks about each one. One of the privileges of old age, I guess, to say exactly what you think and not worry too much about whether folks like it! He goes around the room and finally comes to that special son, Joseph, and Joseph’s two sons:
To the tribe of Joseph he says, "I now give to you one portion more than to your brothers." A larger inheritance, a larger portion.
God has given to the tribe of Christians called Baptists one portion more than to our brothers. But before we shout hallelujah about that, let’s remember, "Whom God has given much, much is required."
One portion more than to your brothers. It seems to me that God has given the tribe called Baptists one portion more of evangelistic zeal; one portion more of missionary compassion; and one portion more of personal freedom. Let’s take a quick look at these things.
God has given us one portion more of evangelistic zeal. Wherever there are Baptist Christians, they care deeply about reaching out for more people. Baptists want to see the Kingdom grow. They expect their churches to grow. They spend money and time on finding those who need to know Christ, and they put forth a witness, so that others may know. Baptists are unashamedly evangelical. As this Scripture says of the tribe of Joseph, "Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a spring; his branches run over the wall."
We have wanted to be fruitful, and we’ve run those branches over all kinds of walls to be evangelistic! The walls of racial segregation, the walls of social class, the walls of educational difference ... all the things that people use to divide themselves from one another. We have ignored all those walls and have insisted that "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God", and that all need Christ. We are unashamedly evangelical.