Sermon for January 10, 2021

Remember Your Baptism

Mark 1:4-11

          I remember when I was ordained as an Elder in our church in the West Virginia Annual Conference.  In that conference all the gatherings were held in a large chapel.

          There was a point during the services where those being ordained were recognized and so we were seated in the front pews…and those retiring had a chance to say a few words and eventually they too were brought to stand up at the front of the church as a group that the congregation might thank them for their years of service…as those retiring came up front and filed out in front of us who were beginning, a most usual thing happened.  David DeBoius, the minister who had baptized me as an infant, ended up standing right in front of me.  He was leaving the ministry in an official capacity, and I was beginning, and we had a unique bond that tied us together –that being the waters of baptism. 

          I was baptized as an infant, and I do not remember being baptized, but the church and the life of that one minister as well as my parents and family bear witness to my baptism.   By God’s calling through the waters, we know that we belong together.  God has laid claim to our lives, and we are recipients of the grace of God, and over time that grace has continued to be effective –for me this is illustrated first in one minister’s life and then in another’s, my own.  Do you not know that you too have been called for a purpose!  Baptism is significant for all of us.  We do well to remember our baptism.

          One of the truths about life is that life is not always easy.  As 2020 came to an end it was not unusual to see people saying good riddance to the old year, or even cursing it, and hoping that 2021 will be better.  The renewal of hope is a good thing, but is January 1 different than December 31.  With the current unrest in Washington, DC, I am incline to argue that a New Year doesn’t necessarily equate to a new beginning unless we are able to drop our burdens, and fears as the day comes.  Perhaps it is foolish to curse the past for whatever reason when we have never escaped our problems and carry our garbage with us.   Also, can we really hate the past and look forward to the future when, in reality, life is never without problems and even loss?   If our hope cannot really be in our unknown future, then where should we turn?  Everyone probably has their own sources of strength to meet the day, but might I suggest to you that one valuable resource is in remembering your baptism. 

To understand this let us first consider the meaning of Jesus baptism.

John the Baptist was in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for sins, and all the people of Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside were going out to be baptized by him. Among those who received John’s baptism, Mark tells us in his simple understated way, was Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee. And when Jesus came out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.”

          For me the significance of Jesus baptism and baptism in general can be seen within the actions that took place amidst Jesus baptism. 

          The Heavens opened…  In the Genesis story of creation, God is said to have created a firmament in the heavens to separate the waters above from the waters below.  This creates the image like that of a bowl being placed over the earth.  It might help if you think for a minute of the Earth as being flat.  The sky represents a domed expanse, a barrier between the realm of Heaven and the realm of Earth.     In Mark’s Gospel the word used in the Greek literally means that the heavens were torn or ripped –like a garment might be torn.   In the Greek the word is (Phonetic Pronunciation: skhid’-zo)  σχίζω (Transliteration: schizō).  To me it almost sounds like fabric being ripped.   (Maybe this is not just a coincidence.)   An opening has been made between that which is divine and eternal, and that which is human and finite.  Unlike a door that can be opened and closed, this opening is permanent.  God made a permanent tear in the fabric of creation.  One might expect this to be a frightening thing.  The suggestion is that the substance of the eternal might come pouring forth down upon the earth.  What will happen to creation?  Well in baptism this new order of reality is experienced.

          We read that the Spirit of God descended from heaven in the form of a dove.  God’s presence came into our world in a special way. That which so often seems to be intangible and like the wind is seen taking a bodily form of a dove and landing on Jesus.  The nature of God’s Spirit took on a physical manifestation within our world.  Instead of fire, smoke, and destruction we encounter a bird often enough associated with peace, love, and hopefulness.  Jesus life is revealed by heaven to carry the good purpose of bringing God’s peace and love to our world. 

          Finally, God’s voice came from Heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.  Although there is room to argue, I think this voice was heard by those around Jesus.  God communicated the identity of Jesus to those around and within the waters of baptism.  During the transfiguration, the disciples encountered a similar experience, where God spoke to them and affirmed Jesus’ identity and nature.  In baptism Jesus identity and nature is made more real and clear.  It is a shared truth and a truth to be shared –that the nature and presence of God are found in Jesus.  When the heavens opened what poured forth was life, hope, peace, and love, and Jesus is seen as the mediator bringing this work of God into our world.

All these truths, baptism holds for us.  Is this love and grace of God poured out upon us in such a permanent way worth remembering?  Most certainly it is. 

          Indeed through baptism the Heavens have been opened for us.   God has made a way between us and Him.  This means that our sins are forgiven.  Paul stated Romans 6:3-4 (NRSV)  “3  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4  Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” 

You know life can be full of times when we are confronted by our own failings, fears, and wrong choices.  I think if we are honest it is easy to realize that no one is perfect.   Now sometimes if our problems are severe enough, we may wonder if God can forgive us.  Does heaven have a place for us even when life seems to be at its worst?  Baptism reminds us that God’s decision for us is irrevocable.  The heavens have been open, and grace has been poured out.   Baptism means that even if a person tries to completely turn their back on God or live as if God means nothing to them, this cannot change God’s intentions for them.  We may walk away from God, but God does not walk away from us.  It does not matter how far from home you may be.  Remembering your baptism is to remember God’s yes for us.  You have been baptized and there is always a new day for making the better choices in life.

          The Spirit has come Down.   Pentecost the apostles quoted the prophet Joel: Joel 2:28-32 (NRSV)

28  ” … I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.
29  Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

32  Then everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved…”

Remember your baptism and remember that you are not the same person that you once were.  We are in that age of grace in which the Spirit of God has been poured out upon us.  In Baptism the pouring of water is a symbol of this gift of the Spirit and this gift is upon us.  This means we are the recipients of many spiritual gifts all which are given for the edification of the body of Christ, and a life empowered by the fruit of the Spirit —Galatians 5:22-23 (NRSV) 22 … love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23  gentleness, and self-control.”  Do you have the means to live a life that is even beyond yourself?  Can you succeed in serving Christ daily?  Are you able to manifest the life of Christ within your life?  On your own no, but in the knowledge of baptism, God has made you able.

          Finally in baptism we have been named and claimed as the children of God and brothers and sisters in God’s Kingdom.

1 Corinthians 12:12-13 (NRSV)
12  For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  13  For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Baptism draws and binds us toward one another. Roy Lloyd, a Lutheran minister, once interviewed Mother Teresa. He said that one of his questions and one of her answers stands as “a bright sun burning in my mind.” He asked her, “What’s the biggest problem in the world today?” And she answered, without hesitation, “The biggest problem in the world today is that we draw the circle of our family too small. We need to draw it larger every day.”

          Remember our baptism, and we are reminded to draw the circle of belonging a little bigger each day.

          With God’s help, may that experience of baptism be fresh within our consciousness this day that we may know its significance for our lives anew.  May you in times through out your life remember your baptism.  Amen.

Mark 1:4-11 (NRSV)
4  John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5  And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6  Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7  He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8  I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 9  In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10  And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11  And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Published by Rev. Russell

Pastor at the Lake City United Methodist Church in Lake City, Michigan.

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