Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Gift of Baptism

Sermon: The Gift of Baptism, January 11, 2015
Text: Mark 1:4-11

As we come together this weekend to remember and celebrate the baptism of Jesus, we are extended an opportunity to spend some time in reflection on our own baptism. We are invited to consider just what baptism is to us, and how it has transformed our lives.

Baptism is…

Affirmation, only deeper, more like unconditional acceptance. We need to be accepted just as we are. Affirmation is that release of endorphins that we feel when we posted something on Facebook 30 seconds ago and somebody likes it. And then as we sit and watch the number grow. It’s that feeling that our young people know when they see how many followers they have on Instagram. Our need for affirmation in some cases is so heightened in our world of social media, that a lack of instant affirmation throws us into the realm of anxiety, depression, self-loathing, wondering what is wrong with us and/or the picture we just posted, that nobody has liked it. And to make matters worse, now we can see who saw it, but didn’t choose to click like. I personally have a theory that the founder of Facebook, that Zuckerberg guy, is in cahoots with the national association of therapists or something. Maybe not though, come to think of it, because when we go into a deep self-doubt hole, we rarely seek professional help to speak rationality to us, rather we often act out in passive aggression, refusing to like other people’s things, or just flat out berating them on how they could have the nerve to look at our thing, but not like our thing. I could go on about this, but I won’t.

Because I say all of this to say that we are created for relationship, and we crave the acceptance that comes when someone loves us as we are, where we are, for who we are. God does that with us. Sometimes one or two humans get it right too, but we should first seek it from the one who never fails. Remember at the moment that Jesus came up from the waters of his own baptism, he and those around him heard God’s voice of affirmation, acceptance, and blessing. “You are my son, in whom I am well pleased” Wrapped up in those words are identity, worth, and unwavering acceptance. Our baptism gives us the opportunity to re-enact the baptism of our Lord, and hear for ourselves those same words of love.

It is an initiation, into something much larger than ourselves. When we are baptized, we are actually initiated into many communities. One of those is the group of candidates that we are baptized with. In many protestant denominations, baptismal candidates spend several months meeting together in a pastor’s class. Imagine being an impressionable youth and spending time each week with a group of your peers who are held together by common faith, thinking of how you will live out faith in each of your lives, and what it will mean to take this next step on your spiritual journey. The bonds that are formed in those groups are strong and long lasting.

The next community that you are initiated into is the local church. While it may seem that baptism is an individual act between the pastor, the candidate, and God. It really is much more than that, and I would argue that it was always meant to be more than that. Look at the baptism of Jesus…Jesus was intentional about aligning himself with Jewish community, but not just any Jewish community. He could have, and probably did on many occasions, go and dip himself in the cleansing pools outside the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. But he chose instead to find John the Baptist and his followers out in the wilderness, and wade into the Jordan River for his baptism.

Think about that for a minute…sterile pools in town, at the door of the temple, or a river, an ever flowing stream, that as far as they can see, never begins and never ends. There, readily available for anyone to wade into, the elements of nature integrated into the experience. It was everything that organized religion and civilized society would frown upon. And yet it was chosen, by our Lord, to be the place where he received his blessing and accepted his calling.

And we become connected to Jesus and every other baptized person through our shared experience. We often sing a song at Table of Grace, by Christopher Grundy called Stepping In. Part of it says “There is a prayer, like a wide river, it never ends, does not begin, around the world, it’s always flowing, and I am stepping in, we are stepping in. That’s what happens when we are baptized. We step into a stream touched by all who have gone before us and all who will come after us.

It is surrender. It’s a giving up of the old and grabbing hold of the new. Admitting that we can’t and don’t want to live this life on our own, and that we want to walk with God and our faith community through all of the milestones in our lives, good and bad. Imagine with me, if you will, your dust covered body, about to wade into the flowing stream. Each particle of dust represents a sin, a regret, or some burden that you have carried for way too long. As you are dipped into the water, your toxins, the dust particles, remain at the top. They aren’t strong enough to penetrate the flow of the water, and so they float away, downstream. And as you come up out of the water, you can feel the newness of God’s love and redemption, clinging to your body like a glove. So it is with our baptism, we enter those waters with sin and death clinging to us with all their might, but the purity of strength of God’s love are too much, and they wash us clean. The old life has been surrendered, and we come out ready to experience the new. Thanks be to God!

It is tradition, with meaning. It’s not a tradition like Uncle Joe getting drunk on Thanksgiving and knocking over the dessert table every year. But a tradition more like your grandmother handing down her wedding ring because there was so much love in her relationship with your grandfather that she wants to share that with her children and their children and so on. It should bless us to know that we get to experience the same sacrament as Jesus, the disciples, and so many heroes of our faith over the last 2000 years. And it blesses us equally to know that this rich and beautiful tradition will be shared by our grandchildren, and great-great-great grandchildren, along so many others who will live beautiful, God centered lives, connected to our own through Baptism.

Baptism isn’t incidental, it’s foundational. David Lose, one of my heroes in the profession of preaching and teaching about Jesus writes “Jesus’ baptism isn’t preamble to all that comes later in his life, it’s the highpoint and climax of the story in a nutshell. Again and again, as Jesus casts out unclean spirits, heals the sick, feeds the hungry, and welcomes the outcast, he will only do to others what has already been done to him, telling them via word and deed that they, too, are beloved children of God with whom God is well pleased. And the darkest moment of the story when Jesus feels absolutely abandoned is followed immediately by the story of resurrection, where the messenger testifies that God has kept God’s baptismal promise and continues to accept and honor Jesus as God’s own beloved Son. So also, at our low moments, we might remember that the God who raised Jesus from the dead is the same one who promised in baptism to never abandon us and to love and accept us always and still as beloved children, even and especially when we have a hard time loving and accepting ourselves.”*

It isn’t an end, but a beginning. Being initiated into such a community of believers, filled with the affirmation and unconditional acceptance of our creator, in the tradition of those who have informed our lives, having surrendered that which separates us from God, symbolically once, but knowing that we will continue a lifetime of surrender, empowered to give to others what has been given to us, we go forth from the waters of our baptism having been made new. Ready to be an agent of God’s love, grace and mercy in a world that needs it so badly. Thanks be to God for the gift of new life, given anytime we ask, and for the sacrament of Baptism to stand as the ever present reminder that our lives are not our own.

Remember now your own baptism. Dip your toes or your fingers into some of water, eyes closed, feeling God as close to you as the water to your pores, and know that you are loved, and that God is calling you to walk in God’s light, giving to others the gifts of love and healing that have been given to you. And if, by chance, you haven’t been baptized, that’s okay! Know that the gift of baptism is for you too, if you desire to step into the stream and surrender. I or any other pastor will be happy to talk with you about your decision.

Blessings my friends, may you all be renewed in your spirits as you consider the gift of baptism, and all that it means for your life. Amen.


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