Reblogged from: Experiencing the Sacred: By Water and the Spirit
My mother is preschool teacher at FUMC Pearl River. She called me this week to share a story that two little boys were having in her classroom. One child asked my mother if he was going to die one day. My mother said, “Everything that has a beginning has an ending. Everything that is born will one day die.” The child’s friend asked him, “Have you been born?” The child replied, “I don’t think so.” “Ok, good,” the other child finished. Being born again is one of the ways the church talks about Baptism. On the one hand it is a powerful moment of transformation and rebirth. On the one hand scripture primes the emotional pump, so to speak.
Malachi, which is the last book of the Old Testament, gives us a picture of what it will be like when the Messiah appears. It says, “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty . . . you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things . . . see, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their father, or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.” Then we turn a page, jumping forward in time and the New Testament begins.
Being primed with Malachi we might expect thunder and lightening and Elijah wielding an axe, and this is what happens, so to speak. This crazy man wearing camel’s hair and eating locusts and wild honey is preaching repentance, and he says to the crowd, “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I wish to baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Now we are really ready to go. We might expect Jesus to enter the scene riding a chariot of fire or being carried by angels. The Gospel continues to say that Jesus came from Galilee to be baptized by John. Wait. What? Even John is confused by the underwhelming event. He even says, “This is a bit awkward, but I think you are supposed to baptize me.” Jesus says, “No, you must baptize me and it must be this way.” Why? Have you ever thought why it was the Jesus was baptized? You see, if baptism is only about the remission of sin and being born again then it is difficult to explain why it was that Jesus was baptized. Now, hear me, it is about being made clean and it is about being born from above, being made new by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the Good News is, there is so much more.
First, Baptism is a sign of what God has done, is doing, and will do in our life. In the United Methodist Church Baptism is a sacrament, meaning that it is an outward and visible sign of an inward, spiritual grace. Last week we talked about grace. Grace is a gift. It is a gift of love that moves toward us before we move toward God. It is a gift of love that died and rose again so that death would not be the end of our story. It is a gift of love that walks with us each and every day, to help us live an abundant life and the change the world—outward and visible sign of an inward spiritual grace. So baptism is a sign of what God has done, is doing, and will do in our life.
Secondly, Baptism is a means of forgiveness for sin. When you come forward for baptism we ask three questions. The first is: “Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of the world and repent of your sin?” We’ve talked about sin before. “Sin” is an archer’s term which means, “to miss the mark.” One of the worst ways to miss the mark is to fire into the crowd behind you, so our first question in baptism is, “Do you repent?” Do you turn around and aim at the mark. That’s the thing with sin—it’s pointless and people get hurt. Are you ready to stop living in a pointless, hurtful place and are you ready to aim at the target to see the point of the arrows you’ve been given. Sorry, that was a pun. Are you ready to see why God has blessed you with the gifts with which God has blessed you?
The next question we ask is, “Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?” This is easy when we are faced with things which are clearly in the evil category: murder, robbing a bank, forcing yourself onto someone when they’ve clearly said no. The story is boring when the villain knows that he or she is doing evil. You see, Lex Luthor thinks he is doing good. Darth Vader says, “Join me and together as father and son we can rule the galaxy.” The Joker says, “It’s not about the money. It’s about making a point—to educate the masses that chaos is truth.” To resist evil means to redefine what is good. Instead of offering a list of sins, which can never be exhaustive and it just gives people ideas, I will offer you a question “Is this life-giving? Is what I am doing life-giving,” because sin never is.
The last question we ask is, “Do you confess Jesus Christ as your savior and put your whole trust in his grace?” Do you trust in the grace? That’s why we started this series with grace because baptism asks you to trust in God’s grace. Jesus lived, died, and lived again so that we might know how to live and how to die so that we might forever live in the heart of God.
There are many more things to talk about: How is the Holy Spirit present, can the water be poured or sprinkled or can I be dunked in a pool, do we baptize babies—yes, do we baptize adults—yes, can a mother and daughter or father and son be baptized at the same time—yes, there’s plenty to talk about, but what I hear the Spirit saying is this—When Jesus came up from the water, the heavens were torn apart. The Spirit descended like a dove and remained with him, and a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” “This is my beloved child.” Those words were for us. Why was Jesus baptized? Ask me tomorrow the answer may be different, but for today, for right now, Jesus was baptized so that we would hear those words. You are God’s beloved children. God loves even you. Jesus was baptized so that those words would be written down and forever remembered.
In the church we talk about remembering your baptism. We say, “Remember your baptism and be thankful.” I was baptized as an infant. I don’t remember my baptism. I wrote about that this week in our newsletter and the newspaper—the beauty of me having to rely on community for the remembrance of my baptism, but when we say, “Remember your baptism,” we mean remember those words—remember that you are a beloved child of God. Remember that firing arrows in the wrong direction is pointless and people get hurt—turn around. Remember that it is not money or fame or power, but it is God who is our definition of good. Remember in good days or bad, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, remember to trust that Jesus loves you. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.