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Remember Your Baptism

Isaiah 42: 1 – 9
Matthew 3: 13 – 17

First Sunday after Epiphany
The Baptism of Jesus

Delivered by Rev. Ron Coughlin

Prayer:
O God, you have searched us and known us.
You discern our thoughts from far away.
May what we learn and say and do here now
bring us closer to you,
through Jesus, whose baptism we celebrate this day.. Amen

There is a delightful little book called O Ye Jigs and Juleps! which contains humorous stories as told by a ten-year-old little girl who has a tendency for getting into trouble. The setting is a small town around the turn of the last century – 1904 to be exact. Listen to her story about sacraments.

Sacraments are what you do in Church. What you do at home is something else. Cooking, sewing, dusting, and eating and sleeping and praying and scrubbing yourself are not sacraments. When you are little and ugly somebody carries you into church on a pillow and you come out a child of God and part of the Kingdom of Heaven. They pour water on your head and that’s a sacrament.

One day I got tired of playing hop-scotch and so my friend Edna said, “Let’s play baptizing”. I said to Mrs. Williams “Can we, I mean, may we play baptizing in your rain barrel? And she said to me, “Yes, indeed,” and just went on tatting. So I put on my father’s hunting breeches and I got Judge Williams’ hat off the moose horn rack and I dressed up like the Baptist preacher.

That was when Edna ran to get all the kids. And I said to them, I said, “The Lord is in his holy temple, keep silent and shut up.” And then I said, “All you sinners come forward and hence.” And nobody came but Melvin. He is just two years old. Poor little Melvin. He is so unlucky. I got him by the back of his diapers and dipped him in the rain barrel once for the Father and once for the Son, and when it came time for the Holy Ghost, poor little Melvin’s safety pin broke and he dropped to the bottom of the rain barrel, and everybody ran, and nobody would help me, and I had to turn the rain barrel over to get him out, and I had to put him on his stomach and press on his back to get the water out of him, and then I sat him inside his house, and then I went out to Mrs. Harris’ house and got under her bed, and when she looked under there and saw me, all soaking wet, Mrs. Harris said, she said, “Rain and hail in Beulah land, what has happened now?. When I told her what had happened she just patted her foot and sat and sat and then said, “You know what?” and I said “What”, and Mrs. Harris said, “The Bishop sure needs just such a rain barrel in the church yard to give some members I know just what little Melvin got.” And then Mrs. Harris said, “Let’s talk about fishing.” And we did. Thank God for fishing. Thank God for Mrs. Harris and God bless poor little Melvin. Amen.

This morning we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus. It is a story which each of the Gospels tell a little differently. Mark tells it urgently: immediately after Jesus came out of the water he saw the heavens torn open and the spirit, like a dove, descending upon him.

Luke’s account is most eccentric. The other writers imply that the Spirit descended upon Jesus at his baptism when he was still in the water. But Luke is different. He says, “Now when all the people were baptized and Jesus had been baptized and was praying, the Holy Spirit descended upon him.” So this means that the Epiphany, this special presence of God came to Jesus when he was by himself, praying. In other words, it was not a public event. It was a personal and private experience. No one else saw it. No one else heard that voice from heaven. He came out of the water and went off by himself and prayed. That is how Luke tells it.

The fourth gospel, John, is so defensive about Jesus’ purity it does not mention his baptism at all. In John’s telling of the story, John the Baptist testifies that he saw the Spirit come down from heaven like a dove and rest upon Jesus, but he does not mention that Jesus happened to be standing in the river Jordan at the time.

Matthew is much more academic by comparison. According to him, John the Baptist and Jesus engage in a theological debate about who should baptize whom, before John relents and plunges Jesus in the Jordan River like any other Galilean.

And it is at that moment that Jesus hears those wonderful words: “You are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased.”

Yes, this is what happens: Jesus goes into the waters of the Jordan, a carpenter and comes out a Messiah. He is the same person, but with a new direction. His being is the same, but his doing is about to take a radical turn. Jesus went into the waters of baptism, his own person, a private man, and came out God’s person, a changed man.

This is not a bad definition of Baptism. Now I could say a lot about baptism at this point in the sermon.

But I am not going to talk about baptism as being more than just joining a club. Some people treat baptism as a way to join the Jesus Club. They think of it like joining the Brownies, or Scouts or Kiwanis. Now, I could talk about how baptism is different than joining a club, but I won’t.

I am not going to talk about baptism as “hell insurance”. I remember one grandmother who insisted that her granddaughter get baptized before the family went on a trip, because she was afraid that if there was a car accident and the baby was killed, the child would go directly to hell. She wanted to have “hell insurance” to protect the child. I could talk about how baptism is different than “hell insurance”, but I won’t.

I am not going to talk about the debate over infant baptism versus adult baptism or the virtues of sprinkling water versus full immersion. Different denominations within the Christian family have different ways of expressing the ritual of baptism. I could talk about the differences, but I won’t.

I am not going to talk about how baptism is like adoption. Some people think that at baptism God adopts the child into the Christian family and we, as members of the church, then promise to support and help with the Christian upbringing of the child. I could talk about how baptism is like adoption, but I won’t.

I am not going to talk about how baptism is like branding. You know how the owner of a herd of sheep or cattle, put their brand on the animal to indicate its ownership. Well, some people have talked about how baptism is like branding, where the mark of Christ is put on our forehead and we know we belong to God. I could talk about how baptism is like branding, but I won’t.

I am not going to talk about how baptism is like washing. A popular mistaken view of baptism is that it is a symbol of washing our sins away. When we come from the ritual of baptism dripping with water, God washes away our sins and makes us clean. I could talk about how baptism is not like washing, but I won’t.

I know, I know, you are thinking enough with all the things you will not talk about. What are you going to say about baptism? My message this morning is quite simple. Baptism is a gift from God which reminds us that we are the beloved children of God and part of the community of faith.

But baptism also reminds us that we have a responsibility as children of God. The baptism of Jesus marked the beginning of his ministry, which led him to the cross. Our baptism is our call to be in ministry, to serve the community of the church, to love and serve others, to make a difference in the world, because of our faith. Yes, as a church, we are called to witness to peace in a cruel and violent world, to bring a message of hope in the face of cruel despair. Whatever the worldly powers may be – Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon, Caesar in Rome, Herod in Jerusalem, or contemporary dictators, or corrupt lobbyists, or CEO’s who steal from their company causing bankruptcy – Christians are called to witness to another, greater power. When we remember our baptism, we remember that God calls us for this purpose.

You see Baptism is much larger than when someone says “I was baptized United.” Or “I was baptized Catholic.” A Christian is baptized into the Christian faith, not a particular denomination. Baptism is that big!

You know when I was learning this scripture passage to tell it this morning, I struggled with how I should state the last line: “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.” At first I thought it should be like God speaking through the sound of thunder. Or like a Cecile B. Demile movie where God has a big booming voice. After all, it is the voice of God speaking! Then I thought it should be a gentle, soft voice, like the “still small voice” which Elijah heard. But as I lived with this passage for the past three weeks, I began to realize that these were not an accurate representation of God’s voice in this passage.

The tone really is one of a loving parent who speaks tenderly to a child. The voice is one of a proud parent who wants to tell her child how much she is loved. So, as you saw, I adopted the stance of a proud parent when I said, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.”

On this Sunday, celebrating the baptism of Jesus and the baptism of Finn, we are called to remember our baptism by claiming ourselves as beloved children of God, and by going about God’s business to make a difference in the world – through loving and serving others, through seeking justice and resisting evil, and through proclaiming Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope.

So let us take a moment and renew our own baptismal vows – as printed in the bulletin.

Re-Affirming our Baptismal Vows

Today we recall that
Jesus came to the waters of baptism.
In baptism, our Creator claims us
and frees us from the power of hatred and death.
In baptism we are joined to Christ
and we are joined together in unity, recalling
“There is no longer Jew or Greek
slave or free
male or female
for all are one in Christ Jesus.”
In baptism, the Spirit of God anoints us for ministry
and makes us signs of divine love.
It is the mark of acceptance into the church
and the beginning of our growth
into full Christian faith and discipleship.
Therefore on this day,
the whole church, the Body of Christ,
remembers and celebrates.

REMEMBERING OUR BAPTISMAL PROMISES
Do you promise, by the grace of God,
to be a disciple, to follow in the way of Jesus Christ,
to resist oppression,
to show love and justice,
and to witness to the work and word of Jesus Christ,
as best you are able?
I do, by the grace of God.

And do you promise, according to the grace given to you,
to grow in your faith and to be a faithful member of the church,
celebrating Christ’s presence and furthering God’s mission in all the world?
I do, by the grace of God.

PRAYER OF RECOMMITMENT
By your Spirit, Almighty God,
grant us
love for others,
joy in serving you,
peace in disagreement,
patience in suffering,
kindness toward all people,
goodness in evil times,
faithfulness in temptation,
gentleness in the face of opposition,
self-control in all things.
Then strengthen us for ministry in your name
that we may go out and make a difference in our world.
Amen.

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