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Sun, Jan 13, 2019

Remember Your Baptism

Duration:24 mins 37 secs

Our Second Scripture Reading for today comes from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 3, verses 15-22. The word of the Lord comes to John and he went into all the region around the Jordan proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Despite the fact that John calls them “you brood of vipers!” the crowds continue to flock to see him in the wilderness. The crowds are so impressed with John that they even begin to wonder if he is the Messiah. In our text for today we hear John’s answer to these questions about the Messiah, John’s arrest by King Herod, and Luke’s account of Jesus’ own baptism. Let us hear this Word of God.

15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. 19 But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, 20 added to them all by shutting up John in prison.
21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are my rock and my redeemer. Amen.

There was once a woman who was a cradle Presbyterian. She was baptized as an infant. She grew up and went through confirmation class, making her public profession of faith that Jesus Christ was her Lord and Savior. She served as an elder in her church, being ordained not long after she returned home from college.

However, as sometimes happens, this women had move for her work. And while she enjoyed her new home and community, there was not a Presbyterian Church for her to attend. So she tried the other options available and finally settled on the local Baptist Church. The congregation was friendly, she became connected in a bible study and mission projects, and the preacher’s sermons were generally good. Being a member of a church was important to her, so she decided that she would join the Baptist church.

She made an appointment to see the pastor. He was delighted to hear that she wanted to become a member. But knowing that she had grown up Presbyterian, he asked her on what day she wanted to schedule her baptism. The woman said she had already been baptized as a child, but the preacher insisted that if she wanted to join the church she needed to be fully immersed.

The woman thought for a moment. Then she asked the pastor if she went into the pool up to her knees if that would count. The pastor looked puzzled and said no.

The woman next wondered if she went into the pool up to her waist. The pastor said, “No, only fully immersed will do.”

The women continued, asking if it would count if she went into the water up to her chest. The pastor shook his head no.

The woman then suggested that she might go into the pool up to the top of her forehead. Becoming frustrated, the pastor said, “No, you must be fully immersed!”

The woman replied, “Well pastor, it appears that the only part of my body that really matters for this baptism is the top of my head … and I’ve already had that part done!”

She did not end up becoming a Baptist after all.

My friends, this is the Sunday in the church year known as “Baptism of the Lord” Sunday. We just read the Gospel of Luke’s account of John the Baptizer’s preaching and then Jesus’ own baptism. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit that today also is the day we baptized Oliver, Finley, and Nathan. In the next couple of weeks we have more baptisms coming, so it seems to be a good morning to reflect on baptism.

The liturgy that we have used for baptisms here at Reid Memorial, at least as long as I have been your pastor, is based on the liturgy I first encountered as a seminary student worshiping at River Road Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Virginia. Sarah and I had just started attending that church when we witnessed the first baptism. I do not recall the name of the child, but I clearly remember being moved by the baptism. Somehow it was not just a baptism of a random child I did not know; it was a personal experience with the Holy Spirit for me as a congregation member. And one of the phrases in that liturgy that made it so and struck me was the line, “Let us remember with joy our own baptism, as we celebrate this sacrament.”

Perhaps you noticed that same line today. “Let us remember with joy our own baptism, as we celebrate this sacrament.” It is an odd thing to say because many Presbyterians do not remember their baptism. I doubt that women who tried to join the Baptist church remembered her baptism or that Oliver, Finley, and Nathan will be able to remember the particulars of this special day. I know that I do not have an intellectual, mental recollection of my own baptism. I have seen pictures of my parents and grandparents decked out in their finest mid-1970’s fashions, holding me in a white baptismal gown – looked more like dress than a gown, but we will go with “gown” since it is family heirloom that my three children have now also worn. I have heard stories about the day. I even have a copy of my baptismal certificate in a box somewhere in the attic. But to remember my baptism, how could that be?

If we think that “to remember” is just an intellectual exercise, then those baptized as infants cannot remember their baptism. But in scripture, to remember means something different. In Hebrew the word is zechar and it means something like “to make present again.” For example, if I asked you to remember your high school graduation in the Hebrew sense you would go to your closet and find your cap and gown (which you would have kept), you would assemble in your High School gym or stadium with some of your classmates, walk back and forth while pomp and circumstance plays, and have someone read the words of the speeches given that day. Yes, to remember your graduation, you would take that past event and “make it present again.”

It is in this sense that we might “remember with joy our own baptism, as we celebrate this sacrament.” While the water is not poured again on our head, we see it fall upon the head of each child. We hear the same words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We hear the same promises. We make the same declarations. We walk the child through the congregation introducing them to their new brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, grandparents in the faith. We make present again our own baptism as we remember it today.

And my friends, I want to suggest to you this morning that as we remember our baptism we are reminded of two things that we need to hear over and over again.

You are forgiven.

You are loved.

Yes, you are forgiven. To be baptized is to be washed, to be cleansed, to be free from sin and death. As we prayed this morning, God nourishes and sustains all living things by the gift of water. The Holy Spirit moves over the watery chaos, calling forth order and life. God led Israel out of slavery through the waters of the sea, into the freedom of the Promised Land. Jesus himself was baptized in the waters of the Jordan, and was anointed as the Christ by the Holy Spirit. Through the baptism of his death and resurrection, we are set free from the bondage of sin and death and given cleansing rebirth. Yes, throughout scripture God uses water to wash, cleanse, and set God’s people free. You and I cannot wash the dirt and grime of sin off our lives or off our hearts alone, but through the waters of baptism God can and so we remember that in Christ we are forgiven.

And you are loved. After his own baptism, the heavens are parted and Jesus hears a voice declare, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” God comes down from the heavens to make a personal claim upon Jesus. Not only is he the Son of the Father, he is Beloved. That is the same claim that God made upon each of us at our baptism; the same claim that God made upon Oliver, Finley, and Nathan today. Long before we can say yes to God, God says yes to us. So as we remember our own baptism, we hear our names in the prayers. Steve, Betty, David, Jane, Ed, Peggy, Matt, you are a Child of God; you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever. You are loved.

You are forgiven.

You are loved.

Could that really be true? Could you, could I, really be forgiven? Could we really be loved by God? After all that we have done? After all the mistakes we have made? All the ways we have fallen short? Maybe God loves some people, but me? Could God really forgive me?

Whenever he was tempted, in doubt, depression, or near-despair, whenever he wondered if God could possibly forgive him or even love him, the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther would remind himself, “I am baptized,” and he would notice a change.

My friends no matter what you have done, no matter what mistakes you have made, you are forgiven. You are loved.

Yes, remember your baptism, because from the top of your head to the tip of your toes, you are forgiven. You are loved.

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray:

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