It was a Sunday night several weeks ago. I was driving somewhere. I turned on the radio and went to punch the dial to hear if the Indians won (yeah right) but I punched wrong and got a station that was broadcasting a church service. The preacher and his congregation were getting all worked up. His sermon was about baptism.
It was unlike most baptism sermons I have ever heard or delivered. He was preaching on the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The preacher laid down the gauntlet: unless you had been baptized in the Holy Spirit – your baptism is worth nothing, God does not recognize you. Can you imagine that – God not recognizing those who are made in the likeness and image, those whom God has known, as Psalm 139 reminds us, since before we were in the womb. Can you imagine not recognizing your own child? On this Father’s Day – I cannot conceive of that!
A few days later I was walking with a friend who shared with me a conversation he had with someone who got all worked up about the type of water baptism one received: just a sprinkle wasn’t enough – you HAD to be immersed, or it didn’t “take.” Oh well, talk about “straining out a gnat but swallowing a camel!” as Jesus said about the Pharisees. How we let insignificant things separate the body of Christ.
The reformed understanding of baptism includes water (dunked, sprinkled and poured) and in the name of the “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” because that is what Jesus told us to do. We are not baptized into a local congregation, or a specific denomination – we are baptized and marked as part of the universal church of Jesus Christ – we join our voices with the angles and arch-angles and all the company of heaven.
In the early second century church, at least in a church in Dura Europa in eastern Syria, those who were to be baptized were taught about the faith during the Lenten season. They were called catechumens (those being instructed). The eve of Easter morn they were taken into the baptistery and dressed in a white robe and there in the early hours of pre-dawn they would be immersed backwards into the pool of water and when they arose, blinking the water clear they beheld a large mosaic above them in the ceiling of Jesus with arms outstretched welcoming them to the body of Christ. That would be something!
Today is a remarkable day in the life of this body of Christ, for we have baptized Maisarah and Abigail. Her parents, part of the exiled Forest Hill church out west, have brought them back home – so to speak. Her father, Andy, was baptized here on April 24th, 1977. Her sister Hadley was baptized here too a few years ago.
We baptize Ajah Hales and welcome her into active membership here. We celebrate the adult decision of Jacob who was baptized here on December 23rd, 1997. We have known him since he was a little baby. (he was a little bit smaller then!) He has come to re-affirm his baptism; to commit his life to Christ, to be shaped by the gospel, and to declare to you that his faith journey continues as an active member of Forest Hill Church.
We have also welcomed five new adult members Gretchen, Margie, Connie, Gale and Jessica, who are making their public profession of faith.
Over 2,000 years of children, youth and adults – feeling the tug of the Holy Spirit and standing before a community of imperfect but blessed folk saying “YES!” Yes, I will orient myself to the call of God’s love. I will put on the spectacles of faith and look at the world – not through rose colored glasses of naïve optimism, but through the lenses of faith that gives clarity to reality.
For I have said many a time – reality is not always pretty. Life is not always safe. Sometimes the world seems a scorched and parched place of suffering. And so if we are to be Christians in the world today – we have to move from immaturity to maturity.
I asked you the question: “Trusting in the gracious mercy of God, do you turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and its power in the world?”
It is self evidently true that the world is a broken place amidst the beauty. The gunman in Santa Monica reminds us that unstable people with a gun is a very dangerous man. We read that a little girl in a park downtown got shot in the chest. Thankfully she recovered. She was just going out to play. Six months ago – Sandy Hook.
We read daily about car bombs exploding and killing. We listen to radio shows about human trafficking and child prostitution. Of hunger and poverty and war.
Daily some of us face racism, America’s original sin. We face the glass ceilings where no matter our gifts we are not recognized.
It would be logical to take a narrow, selfish view – that it is a dog-eat-dog world, nasty, brutish, horrible – and seek only to protect ourselves and our possessions.
But we declare Jesus Christ – we do not believe that evil wins, that death gets the last word, that “life sucks and then you die.” We are going to repent from that – and live according to a different reality where, as St. Paul writes “death no longer has dominion!” God remains constant, is our foundation, the ground of our being – and God is GRACIOUS, and merciful. LOVE WINS! LOVE WINS! And once we have this world view – all bets are off – nothing is the same – we may look through the mirror dimly – but we trust there is a face to see, there is hope to hold, there is justice to pursue, there is love and joy to revel in.
I asked you the question: “Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Lord and Savior, trusting in his grace and love?”
How do we conceive of a God who created everything – who is totally other and beyond our ken? How can you trust that this God is gracious? Well, Jesus Christ show you who God is. Jesus is a man who is vulnerable, accepting, truth-telling, doesn’t let fear control him, who goes through every sort of temptation, and wanders and wonders, yet holds on. He is crucified and his followers experienced him risen.
We have known people who have lived and died and been absolutely sure that Jesus walked with them, and talked with them, and told them they were his own. And they have built stunning cathedrals, and they have stood up for justice, and cleansed the wounds of lepers, and found peace through poverty, and strove for reconciliation and restoration, and sacrifice and mercy.
A young man in this congregation left me this note last Sunday: “I love God because he is our creator. I love God because he loves me. I love Jesus because he told us about God.” Yes indeed Jesus did. But Jesus is not only the Word of God. Jesus Christ is the face of God for us and the body of God for us. And we trust that grace and love are more powerful than distrust and hate, that generosity is more powerful than stinginess. We believe that hospitality and inclusion are more powerful than division and suspicion. We are not bound by scarcity but are freed with abundance.
I asked you the question: “Will you be Christ’s faithful disciple, obeying his Word and showing his love?” Passive acceptance that there is a God, or that there was a man who lived long ago who taught good things – so what? How will people know, how will this broken world know that LOVE wins, that God is merciful and just, that Jesus gives a damn – unless you and I embody that love, do what he says and become the body and blood of Jesus Christ in the world. If we don’t live it and show it, who will?
I asked you the question: “Will you be an active member of this congregation, supporting the work and worship of Christ’s Church with your talents and gifts?”
This gets real specific. You know I am a lover of Paul. I believe that we are justified by faith alone, there is nothing that we can do to earn or deserve God’s love and favor – that is the free gift of grace. But I am with James as well – that “faith without works is dead!” This particular body of Christ on the corner of Monticello and Lee is only operational because you support it with your tithes and offerings, your gifts of time and talent. And as St. Paul reminds us,– there are no insignificant gifts. And as the widow who gave her last mite shows – there are no insignificant pledges and offerings. There is no church if you don’t show. Remember, 90% of anything is just showing up.
Today you and I move from the esoteric to the particular: from ideas to bodies, from theology to practice; from the eternal to the day-to-day. “We have been raised from the dead by the glory of the Creator, so we too might walk in newness of life.” You are baptized and beloved children of God! Go forth and live it! If you haven’t been baptized, let’s talk!