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January 13, 2019

Remembering Jesus’ Baptism, and Ours

Jan 13 Remembering Jesus’ Baptism and Our Baptism * Isaiah 43:1-7 * Psalm 29 * Acts 8:14-17 * Luke 3:15-22

How many of you remember your baptism? How many of you were infants at the time? In the Methodist Tradition, we practice infant baptism as a sign of God’s grace being the only thing that saves us, for it is only through grace that we come to faith. Grace comes before belief, so it is acceptable to baptize infants even though they don’t know what is going on, and may object accordingly. Certainly adult baptism is just as important and in no way inferior, and we may even regret not owning that kind of meaningful experience, but those who established our practice of baptism long ago wanted to make it clear that we can in no way earn our salvation by our own efforts. This of course has been debated for centuries; that is where our forebears took their stand.

Anyway, do any of you have any stories from your baptism or the baptism of someone else, maybe for one of your kids? It is a very special occasion in the church, and these days is more common than weddings but not as common as funerals, it seems. My family started going to the big Methodist Church down the street when I was in nursery school, which met in the church basement, so I was not baptized until after I went through Confirmation when I was in Junior High. All I remember is that I wanted to be baptized by my favorite pastor, since we had three pastors at the time. I was happy when he did, and he would become one of my inspirations for becoming a pastor, but I doubt that I really understood what was going on.

In the bulletin is printed a summary of today’s readings which I borrowed from one of my sources which states:

Because the Lord loves us and knows us by name, we need not be worried or fearful (Is 43:1–7). God is all-powerful and blesses us with strength and peace (Ps 29) and with the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14–17). Through Christ’s baptism (Lk 3:15–17, 21–22) we can better understand the plan God has for our own salvation.

I was initially planning to just read this and say that I couldn’t put it any better, so we might as well go home early, but figured some of you would not appreciate that. Certainly some of you would like it! Hopefully less than 50%. My favorite reading for today is from Isaiah, especially where he says:

But now, says the LORD-- the one who created you, Jacob, the one who formed you, Israel: Don't fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine. (Isa 43:1 CEB)

That too is something that cannot be put into better words: how comforting it is to know that we belong to God, and we have nothing to fear because he has called us to himself and protects us. Certainly there are other ways that we signify that we belong to God, but baptism is the primary way we show that we are his. In churchy language, it is the first gift from God when we join the people of God. Baptism shows the world that we have been accepted and forgiven, and through Christ we are considered worthy to be God’s children. So now we can remember our baptism, and start anew every day, cleansed and ready for what the day brings, having started our morning in prayer. If you don’t remember your baptism, these of course are still blessings God provides for you whenever you need them. Today, we remember our baptism, and recommit ourselves to those vows made at our baptism, for each of us as well as the vows we make every time we witness someone being baptized. Many are baptized, but there is only one Baptism. These are vows we honor even if we were not present at the time when that person sitting next to you was baptized, vows that bind us to any person who was baptized in the name of Jesus. The primary way that we now experience our belonging to God is through the love we share, begun at and through baptism, knowing that we belong to each other, as well.

Baptism isn’t just an occasion for wearing our best clothes and posting pictures on Facebook. In baptism we draw a line in the sand between our former lives and our new life in Christ. It marks a new beginning, a new life. In Biblical times as well as in some places in our world, it could be life-threatening as well as life-changing. Christians were persecuted then as they are now, in some places violence and death a very real possibility. At different times and places, baptism could lead to expulsion from one’s family and the loss of one’s livelihood. But it also means belonging to a new family and new support systems.

Now perhaps you are asking yourself the old question: If Jesus is the Son of God, why did he even need to be baptized? According to the Bible, it was to fulfill prophecy, but that doesn’t really satisfy, it seems rather esoteric and intellectualized. Some folks say his baptism signifies the start of his ministry, which is correct as far as we can tell from Scripture, but we still have almost twenty years between Jesus being supposedly “lost” by his parents in Jerusalem and his baptism for which the Bible is silent. He could have been doing “ministry” before his baptism for all we know, as some non-Biblical texts suggest. What does Jesus’ baptism mean to you?

Certainly the descending of the Spirit and the proclamation from heaven that he was the Son of God signify a world-changing event, where time stood still for a moment, and from then on everything was different. But we also remember that baptism is something that we all are called to undergo. By being baptized, Jesus was declared human also, he was one of us, with the reminder from heaven that he was also very special. He may not have really needed to be baptized like us for the forgiveness of sins, but he, like us, had to be baptized to signify his part in the Kingdom of God, and his belonging to the people of God. With baptism comes the responsibility to live according to God’s instructions and answer his call for action. Certainly the forgiveness of sins promised through baptism is crucial, as well as the further forgiveness of sins as we remember our baptism and accept the good news that God forgives us and accepts us just as we are, but it is also crucial to remember that through baptism we have a place where we belong, as beloved children in the family of God, not just in this building but in the Global Church, past, present, and into eternity. We may feel lonely at times, but through baptism we are never truly alone.

On Tuesday evening, we will be starting a study, with video, on the life of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church. He came along at a time when the church was not keeping up with societal change and the rapid growth of the population of England, and he began a grass-roots campaign to offer Christ to all of those who did not know him, and to reinvigorate the Church. Part of his success came from going out and proclaiming the Gospel publicly, traveling to coal mines to preach to the miners, and preaching in fields and byways to thousands of people. What began as movement to reinvigorate the church eventually led to a new church, which in turn would lead to many others, like the Pentecostal churches.

As the name “Methodist” implies, John Wesley was a great organizer and creator of systems for discipleship, including services for worship and for different kinds of covenants, and set high standards for those who joined his houses of worship. In time without TV and the internet, with people mostly too poor to afford such luxuries that we take for granted today, his services and meetings could be very long, with complex liturgies. Every year, his churches would perform a service for the recommitment of their baptismal vows, as well as recommitting to faithfulness to the Church and to Christ. You will be happy to note that our version today of the Reaffirmation to our Baptismal Covenant is much shorter, but no less important. Water will be provided, and you are invited to come forward during the Offering to dip your finger in, maybe make the sign of the cross on your forehead, or have me do this for you, or even kneel before the altar as we offer not only our gifts this morning to God, but ourselves as well. If you have not been baptized, you are welcome to come forward for prayer, and further discussion after the service if you feel the need.

Let us continue on page 50 of the Hymnal…

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