Matthew 3:13-17 (CEB)
At that time Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan River so that John would baptize him. John tried to stop him and said, “I need to be baptized by you, yet you come to me?”
Jesus answered, “Allow me to be baptized now. This is necessary to fulfill all righteousness.”
So John agreed to baptize Jesus. When Jesus was baptized, he immediately came up out of the water. Heaven was opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and resting on him. A voice from heaven said, “This is my Son whom I dearly love; I find happiness in him.”
January 7-8, 2017
Reaffirmation of Baptism
Psalm 29 (Lay Reading)
“Washed by the Same Water”
On this day that we are celebrating the Baptism of Jesus and reaffirming our own baptismal vows, I am going to read one of the stories of the baptizing of Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew.
The story of Jesus’ baptism is written about specifically in three of the four gospels—Matthew, Mark and Luke; and in the gospel of John, it is written about more as an eye witness account from John the Baptist.
The fact that each of the gospel writers included a story of the baptism of Jesus, signals to us that this is a pay attention moment…that baptism is important…Jesus’ baptism and our own baptism.
Baptism is the place where Jesus learned and where we learn who we are and whose we are.
Do you remember as a child making up things to do with your friends?
I remember things like making up our own games; pretending to be the heroes that saved the day; or pretending we were cowboys and cowgirls out on the range.
I had a friend whose dad was the pastor of the church we attended. And, since we attended church every Sunday, we often pretended to be pastors. We even thought we knew enough to perform some pastoral functions such as baptisms.
One summer day, my friend and I made the decision that our family pets needed to be baptized. And since our experience was in the Baptist church, these would need to be full immersion baptisms.
We spent a full day making the preparations…gathering towels, finding white T-shirts that would be used as the baptismal gowns, filling the small children’s pool with water, inviting other friends and deciding whose animals would be baptized first.
I had a dog, a hamster and a duck that needed baptizing and Mary had a dog and a cat. Since Mary was the PK…the preacher’s kid, we decided that her animals would be the first to be baptized and that we would start with Grace, the cat.
Now, at this point in our young lives we did not have a lot of experience to know what it was like mixing animals and water. We had certainly all given our dogs a bath in the backyard on a summer’s afternoon and watched them shake themselves dry; but cats and water were not something we had experienced.
Getting the white T-shirt on Grace the cat was a bit tricky, but we managed, and everyone gathered around the kiddy pool as Mary got in the water holding Grace. We knew that it wouldn’t be right to baptize Grace face-first into the water. Instead, Grace needed to be put on her back so that she could be immersed into the water in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Well, Mary managed to get Grace on her back and lower her toward the water, saying the words, “Grace, I baptize you in the name…” and at that moment the cat’s instincts kicked in and instantly Mary became a launching pad as Grace flipped over, set her back claws into Mary’s arm, pushed off, flinging herself past me and racing to safety somewhere in a tree of the backyard, not to be seen again for several days!
At this point the baptisms ended because we needed to tend to Mary’s scratched and bleeding arm…but it was a baptism or an attempted baptism to remember.
What is the story of your baptism? Do you remember? If you were baptized as an infant, has anyone shared how that day went? Do you have pictures of your baptism day? Where were you baptized?
Do you remember or has anyone told you who the pastor was? Were you immersed into the water, or brought to the font and had the water sprinkled or poured on your head?
Most families still make the day of their child’s baptism a big deal, as it should be…inviting family and friends, taking pictures, and sharing in a special meal or reception together.
But then often our emphasis or remembrance of baptism seems to end there. Not many families remind their children, or themselves, of their baptism or celebrate the anniversary of their baptism with anything similar to the attention we lavish on birthdays.
Yet there are so many times that our baptism is called to remembrance along the journey of faith. There is the Baptism itself; confirmation, church membership, reaffirmation of baptism, marriage and even the funeral or memorial service to celebrate our lives…Each one is a marker and milestone in our lives tied to baptism and is an expression of the most foundational covenant we have…the baptismal covenant. It’s that central to our Christian faith.
Baptism is not a magical event that miraculously saves us. It is not an insurance policy to get to heaven or tied to salvation. But, baptism says above and before and through all else, we are held in God’s unconditional love because we are God’s dearly loved children.
That’s one reason we reaffirm our baptism with a service like this each year. While you may not literally remember your baptism, reaffirming our baptism in gratitude reminds us that God is present and involved in our lives and that God loves us just the way we are.
And just as Jesus’ baptism was an affirmation of him and his coming ministry, our baptism is an affirmation of our work and ministry together as beloved children of God.
In the United Methodist Church, we baptize at any age…infants, children, youth, or adults. But one of the reasons we emphasize infant baptism is our understanding and belief that God’s grace comes before anything we know about God or acknowledge about who God is. John Wesley called that prevenient grace…the grace that comes before.
Baptism also initiates us into the Christian faith and life of ministry. Emphasizing infant baptism recognizes that we are all in ministry from the day we are born.
Pastor Sandra Stickney tells the story of how her infant daughter shared in ministry. She writes, “My daughter was born when I was pastor at a downtown city church. At six months old she came into work with me and ministered alongside of me.
People who lived on the streets often came to the church looking for food or money and were often amazed to see a baby in our office.”
She says, “I don’t remember the circumstances, but I do remember passing my child into the arms of a man who lived on the streets. We all knew I probably should not have done that. Who knew where he had been or how bad he really smelled up close? He was not the kind of person a normal mother would or should trust her child to.
But for a moment he held the treasure of peace and possibility and hope in his arms and she gazed back at him with the knowing some infants seem to have. She did not fuss or cry or panic.
Shortly after that I brought my daughter for baptism and acknowledged the ministry that was hers in that moment, and in other moments just like it.”
Just as it was for Jesus, baptism for us is a sign of God’s grace and God’s affirmation of each of us as a child of God. Through baptism, we are sealed with God’s unmerited, unearned, and unconditional love.
It is hard for us to consider the possibility that God’s grace goes beyond where we can be graceful. But that’s what baptism does…it promises us and reminds us of God’s grace for all.
Through baptism and reaffirmation of our baptism, we are called to remember the meaning of our baptism with thankfulness, even in the midst of often horrifying and senseless acts.
As I listened to and watched the news of yet another horrific act of evil in Florida at the Ft. Lauderdale airport on Friday, phrases from our baptismal vows kept running through my mind…Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness and reject the evil powers of this world…Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?
These are words from the vows taken and reaffirmed at every baptism we share.
When we are baptized, it’s as if we are sealed by the voice Jesus heard when he came out of the water of the Jordan River that said; this is my son…or this is my daughter, “whom I dearly love; I find happiness in him”… or in her.
Other Bible translations of God’s voice at the baptism of Jesus say, “You are my beloved and with you I am well pleased.”
Regardless of the Biblical translation we read, this voice of God at Jesus’ baptism is a voice of authenticity. It is the same voice that the Psalmist declared in our earlier reading that says God’s voice “is strong” and “is majestic;” and is a voice that “shakes the wilderness.”
God’s voice is one that can be heard above the evil and injustice and fear in the world. God’s voice is the one the Prophet Isaiah says tells us, “I have redeemed you. I have called you by name and you are mine. I will be with you. You shall not be overwhelmed. Do not fear, for I am with you.” (Is. 43)
The challenging part is that we have to listen for that voice. Sometimes it is not a very loud voice because it is an intimate voice. It comes from a very deep place. Other times, it is a voice that can encourage us, strengthen us, guide us and help us.
By our baptism, we are called to claim for ourselves that the voice of God speaks the truth…the truth about God’s love for us.
By God’s grace may we know it to be so for each of us.
Thanks be to God. Amen