Tomorrow night, June 2 at 6:30 pm, we continue #FreedomTrainLA at Westminster Presbyterian Church of Los Angeles! Review Underground episode 6, see the study guide below and we’ll see you Thursday night!
Baptized By Fire (Underground Faith Study, No. 6)
“A baptism is the first step of the faithful.” – Reverend Willowset
“But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’” – Matthew 3:7
Moses and Boo have escaped by train, leaving Noah, Rosalee, Henry and Cato to travel North by foot. They seize a boat to travel by river, but slave catchers are on their tail. Despite their abolitionist efforts, Elizabeth and John Hawkes are drafted to join a search party for a runaway slave. Thomas Macon welcomes Reverend Willowset to the plantation, seeking his endorsement for his Senate run. Ernestine confesses her jealousy of Pearly Mae and seeks redemption through baptism, but Rev. Willowset accuses her of being a “jezebel.” After Rosalee comes up missing, when the remaining members of the Macon 7 find themselves on their boat surrounded by armed slave catchers, Rosalee appears with a group of unlikely friends to save them.
- Cato deduces that Rosalee is Tom Macon’s daughter and is convinced that so long as she is with them, the
- Macon 7’s effort will be compromised. Does Cato have a point?
- Speaking of living in the slavemaster’s house, Ernestine says, ‘“ livin’ in they world starts to change you.
- You start acting like them.” What does she mean?
- Reverend Willowset advises Tom Macon that if he had taught his slaves Christianity, then the Macon 7 would not have run away. Is he right?
New Revised Standard Version
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming,
2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”
4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
John the Baptist was called to “prepare the way of the Lord.” He organized baptisms in the wilderness, outside of the city, for those who no longer desired to be beholden to the sinful and oppressive practices of Jerusalem.
Despite the security of the city, people throughout the region sought freedom in the wilderness. When those representing the powerful and privileged (Pharisees and Sadducees) come to be baptized, John scolds them, calls them a “brood of vipers” and tells them to change their hurtful actions before they can be baptized. He also warns them that his baptism is only for repentance, while Jesus’ baptism comes with the sanctifying fire of Holy Spirit.
Reverend Willowset believes that baptism is a tool for control, making those on the plantation more obedient, docile and accepting of its oppressive conditions. John the Baptist, on the other hand, reveals that baptism is for repentance and freedom from oppression, so much so, that he demands accountability from those who have acted as vipers, “sucking the blood” of the community.
As baptized followers of Jesus we must ask ourselves whether we are living into the freedom God ordains for us and all people, or whether we use our faith to control and manipulate others. Repentance, then, is to turn from our dependence on systems and behaviors that create misery and harm. They may foster safety and security for the few, but do harm to the many. We are called to accept the challenge of the wilderness, where we can “walk by faith and not by sight,” forfeit security, but claim our freedom in Jesus.
- What does baptism mean to you?
- Why does John the Baptist demand that the Pharisees and Sadducees “bear fruit” before they can be
- What are the ways that we exchange freedom for security?
- What do we gain from the Spirit leading us into the wilderness?