Listen to the entire service online including, around 39 minutes in, Rev. Lois Annich’s sermon For Capri (and all God’s children!) on Philippians 4: 1-9 and Luke 3: 21-22.
Welcome to the family of God! I actually believe you’ve always been part of the family because God loves everything he has made in a big way, but your baptism reminds us all of that fact.
I like to think of baptism in two ways. First I think of it as a way of getting squeaky clean. Do you like water? Do you like swimming, or soaking in a bath or taking a warm, soothing shower? I do. Just the other day I got out of the shower and noticed that I felt like a new person. I had more energy and at the same time I felt calm. My skin felt all tingly and fresh.
Back in Jesus’ day baptism was a way to wash people clean from their sins and make them feel fresh and new in their hearts. John the Baptist–Jesus’ cousin –baptized lots of people as a way of showing that God had forgiven their sins and was giving them the chance to start over and be new people. You’re young so I imagine you haven’t had time to rack up a lot of sins, but all of us are human and all of us make mistakes– lots of mistakes over the course of our lifetimes. You will too. That’s just part of being human. But the good news is that God through Jesus makes our spirits clean and is always willing to help us start over whenever we get honest about our mistakes and ask for help to do better. We can’t do it alone. We need God’s cleansing and help, but the good news is that it’s always there for us. We just need to ask.
The second way I think about baptism is that it’s a sign of God’s love. In baptism God says to each one of us– like he did to Jesus–“You are my child. I am so pleased with you!” Jesus didn’t really need to get baptized for the forgiveness of sins but he asked his cousin John to baptize him anyway so he could show people how good it is to be close to God. Baptism is something we can see that tells us something about God whom we cannot see. You know, I wear a wedding ring that my husband gave me the day we married. It reminds me that he loves me. I can’t see his love, but I can see signs of it. One of those signs is on my ring finger. When I look down at it I am reminded that he loves me and has promised to love me forever. Baptism is a way we are reminded that God loves us and promises to love us forever.
By asking to be baptized you gave your church family a really great gift. You gave us the chance to remember how much God loves all of us, forgives all of us, and helps all of us be new people. We need to remember that because life can be really hard at times. If we don’t hold onto God’s love it’s really easy for us to get angry, sad, or hopeless over all the bad stuff that’s going on in the world and in our own lives. So thank you for helping us remember what we need to hang onto.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I want to say to you on your baptism day. The first thing I want to say is “Hallelujah!” I believe that whatever stirred you to tell your parents and us that you wanted to be baptized was nothing short of God’s Holy Spirit. And you listened to God’s Spirit and chose to tell the world that you belong to God in Jesus Christ. Hallelujah!
The second thing I want to say is that even though you are God’s beloved child you will still have your ups and downs and that’s very normal. Some days you’re going to feel really close to God and Jesus and other days you’re going to feel overwhelmed with school work, or worried about friends, or weighed down by bad news. If your thoughts wander or your faith doesn’t seem as strong as it is today, that’s okay. Just notice what ever’s going on, and say “Ok…that’s what’s happening” and then go have a talk with God. God knows exactly how hard it is to be human because Jesus lived among us as a human and faced all kinds of joy and sorrow. God cares about you and wants to share in whatever you are going through. So bring everything to God–the good, the bad, and the in between.
Next, never stop growing in your relationship with Jesus. There are lots of ways to keep growing. Praying and studying, and coming to worship every week are very important. But feel free to ask questions as well. The opposite of faith isn’t doubt–it’s something called indifference, which means just not caring. Somehow I don’t see you as someone who would be indifferent, so go ahead and ask tough questions when you run into something you don’t quite understand or believe. That’s being a faithful follower of Christ!
Did you see all the people who stood up a little while ago in the service? They work with programs that help people in our neighborhood and city and even halfway around the world. As members of Jesus’ family we are called to work with others, fight for fairness and justice, and love all people– no matter who they are, where they live, what they look like, or who they love. You’ve already worked on projects to help other people in Pathways and as you get older there will be lots more opportunities to serve God’s people. But you don’t need dramatic opportunities. As you go about your life ask yourself, “How can I show the world that I am a follower of Jesus Christ through the choices I make every day?” “How can I tell the story of Christ’s love for everyone by the way I behave?”
In today’s scripture lesson St. Paul reminds us that God is near so we don’t need to worry about anything. Paul tells us to rejoice, to let go of worry, and to pray, because God is with us and God is in charge. It may be hard to believe that when we’re constantly hearing about fires, and floods, and hurricanes; violence and mean people who don’t seem to care about others. But here’s an interesting fact: St. Paul wrote those words about God’s nearness when he was in prison. He was always getting locked up for telling the good news of Jesus. In his many jail cells he learned how very close God is. He found out that God’s love will always be bigger and better than hatred and violence, so even when he was in chains he sang and preached and taught us to rejoice in God, pray all the time, and keep our minds focused on all that is good in life.
I pray that you will grow to see the truth of what Paul is saying. I’ve lived a lot longer than you and I believe Paul knew what he was talking about. Through the years I’ve seen people do terrible things to one another and I’ve seen very sad things happen to very good people. But I’ve tried to follow St. Paul’s advice to rejoice in God, pray constantly, and think about all that is good in life. Some days that’s really hard and I have to push myself to do it, but whenever I really do feel God’s presence. Scientists who understand how our brains work tell us that for every sad thought we have we should think of five good things. So practice thinking about all the people who love you, all the ways God cares for you, all the helpers who are out there helping people in need, and all the beauty that is in the world. That’s an important way to stay close to God and have the strength and energy to do whatever God wants you to do.
I’m rejoicing right now that God’s spirit stirred in you and called you to be baptized. You are a sign in the midst of a hurting world that nothing can separate us from God’s love. Please call on any one of us in your new church family if you ever need support or help because none of us can follow Jesus on our own. We need each other as we seek to tell the good news of Jesus and take part in the good work God is still doing in this world. Welcome to the family, Capri! We’re glad you’re on the team!