God’s User Agreement

When I download an app, I typically will either check the box that says I read the user agreement or scroll to the bottom of the agreement so that the installation can continue. I suspect that most people do the same thing. I mean, I want the software and it really doesn’t matter what is in the user agreement.


I also believe that the software companies know that we don’t read the user agreements. I don’t have Tumblr, but after some googling I discovered that they put some interesting things in their user agreement. Here are two examples:


Their community guidelines prohibit impersonation with a specific example:

“Don’t do things that would cause confusion between you or your blog and a person or company, like registering a deliberately confusing URL. Don’t impersonate anyone. While you’re free to ridicule, parody, or marvel at the alien beauty of Benedict Cumberbatch, you can’t pretend to actually be Benedict Cumberbatch.”

In their privacy guidelines, they even add some positive affirmation:

“Reblogs, Likes, and Replies (sic) are a matter of public record, so if you’re truly ashamed of your desires it’s best to keep them to yourself. Buy why? Be proud of who you are. You’re beautiful. We’re looking you in the eyes and telling you how beautiful you are.”[1]


User license agreements are basically, contracts. Lawyers always say to read a contract before you sign. However, I’ll bet most lawyers don’t read the user agreements of the apps they download.


In the Episcopal Church, a document called a Letter of Agreement is negotiated and signed by the rector, the Senior Warden, on behalf of the Vestry, and the bishop. It is basically the bishop’s document that can be tweaked by the vestry and/or the rector. Any tweaking must be approved by the bishop. It spells out compensation, vacation times, and benefits, mainly.


It is a contract. But the church wants to use more words and letters to make it seem less legal. This is from a church that has canon law. Go figure.


God works through covenants. A covenant is a contract. You’d think that God is a lawyer or something. It started in the beginning, with Adam and Eve and later with Noah. After those things didn’t go so well, God made a covenant with Abraham. God will be with Abraham and his descendants and they will have God will be their god. The world will know God through the descendants of Abraham.


God spoke through Isaiah reminding the people of another covenant and said, “I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations.” (Isaiah 42:6b) Through Isaiah and the prophets, God told the Jews that they were to be the light of the world, to bring the world to God through them. But they didn’t do that.


After the Babylonian exile, they said they didn’t want foreigners. They said, “We won’t marry foreigners. We won’t touch or deal with foreigners, because we need to stay pure.”[2] They looked inward upon themselves.


God was not pleased. So, God sent Jesus. Jesus reminded them that they were to be a light to the world. They didn’t like that. Jesus was rocking the boat. So, the authorities decided to get rid of him. That didn’t work so well either.


Jesus knew that he could not be the light to the world all by himself. The message cannot stay inward it needs to go outward. The crucifixion was actually a favor. Jesus came back to commission his disciples to spread his word throughout the world – a much more effective strategy than Jesus trying to cover the world all by himself. Instead of the world going to Judea, the disciples would go out to the world.


It didn’t take Paul long to figure out that strategy. For Peter, it took a bit longer. But that’s Peter. God had to give Peter a vision to convince him that God was for everyone, not just the Jews. (Acts 10:9-23)


It was that vision that convinced Peter he could go to the house of a Roman officer – that gentiles are all right, after all. Jesus’ message is for all people. Though the Jews were and still are the chosen people, God’s message of peace and love was and is proclaimed throughout the world by Jesus’ followers.


Jesus’ mission only began after his baptism. Jesus was anointed “with the Holy Spirit and with power.” (Acts 10:38b) As Peter describes it, Jesus began his teachings and healed people after Jesus was baptized. In other words, baptism is a powerful act.


Peter’s sermon in our reading from Acts is shorter than mine. It is a summary of who Jesus is and what Jesus stands for. It is Peter’s declaration that gentiles are welcome in the Christian community. Indeed, there are no outcasts in Christianity.


In the act of baptism, a human being pours the water or directs the immersion of baptism, but it is God who acts and God acts with power. Personally, I believe that the Holy Spirit guides us to seek baptism, if our parents or others didn’t already make that choice for us. I think it was the Holy Spirit who guided Jesus to John to be baptized in the Jordan. But still, the Holy Spirit becomes fused with us in baptism.


This spiritual aspect of baptism creates a covenant between the person baptized and with God. As the priest or bishop says during the anointing following a baptism, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.”[3] This is a perpetual bond. God wants us. God will not let go of us, even if we turn our backs on God. The Holy Spirit will tug at us. We can accept the tug or reject it. But the Holy Spirit will never give up.


Baptism is sticky. It stays with us when we worship and when we don’t. God does not let go. We may push away, but God does not let go.


Baptism is our initiation rite giving the one who is baptized membership in the church. We are joined with Christ in baptism. Cornelius the centurion and his whole household were baptized by Peter after hearing the gospel. We are made ministers in baptism. Baptism makes us a Christian, not an Episcopalian, not a Roman Catholic, not a Baptist, not any other denomination in Christianity. We belong to Christ and not to a specific denomination.


Being infused with the Holy Spirit at baptism, we are given gifts for ministry. All of the charisms that Jesus had are available to us. However, we only get a few of them. It takes the whole church together to continue Jesus’ ministry with Jesus’ gifts. If you like doing something and you are good at it and it reflects love, then that is your spiritual gift. (I add that love part, because we recently saw the movie, The Irishman, and he had gifts but not a lot of love.)


Because God and the church are kind of lawyerly, when there is a baptism (and occasionally even when there is not a baptism) we recite with the ones being baptized, The Baptismal Covenant. It is a contract that the baptized make with God. It also reminds us of the contract we made with God.


These are promises we make. They are difficult promises, but they lay out the goals of being a Christian. The Baptismal Covenant is the contract we make with God. It is our User Agreement.


Jesus’ message of peace, justice, and compassion were echoed by Peter in his sermon. We promise in The Baptismal Covenant to do these things as well. They are difficult. But we can do them with God’s help.




Text: Acts 10:34–43 (NRSV)

[1] https://www.onelegal.com/blog/fantastic-clauses-hidden-in-contracts-and-eulas/

[2] Paraphrasing Ezra and Nehemiah

[3] Book of Common Prayer 1979, page 308.

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