Wade in the Water: Remember Your Baptism

We come here ten days into a new year. But will it ever turn out to be a new day? Maybe. It may be, for each one of us, for all of us together, if before moving forward, we take a few sacred moments to reach back. On this Sunday every year we take time to reach back and remember Jesus’ baptism. This year, at our Bishop’s request, we reach back to remember, give thanks and   r e n e w   our own baptism. Jesus’ day. Our day. Both share distress in the news (ref. 1 Headline) and sin-and-sorrow weighing on our hearts (ref. 1/2). People of faith, now as then, sense a turning point. It can’t go on like this. Surely God will act to save! Luke, the teller of Christmas, tells us about that ancient turning point and invites us to claim it, too.

The Turning Point

As the people were in expectation, and all men questioned in their hearts concerning John, whether perhaps he were the Christ, John answered them all, "I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 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." So, with many other exhortations, he preached good news to the people. Luke 3: 15-18

What do you expect? Really. ‘Your glass, ½ full, ½ empty? Do you expect God to make a difference in your life? Would you trust him to do it? Really? If so, you will almost certainly require a turning. ‘A turning from everything that turns you away from God and a clinging to all that turns you toward God. That old baptizer, John, was right. Somebody’s comin’! Winnowing fork in hand, to gather the wheat into his granary, and burn the chaff. ‘Comin’ to clean us up and clean us out. What are your messes? …Wouldn’t you like to be clean of them?  What twists you, from your gut to your goodness? Wouldn’t you like to come to a moment where you get straight? And who else ever asks you this, except here, in the company of Christ? Wanna new day, a clean spirit, a life untwisted and turned? At your baptism, we asked (for) you to turn aside and give up some stuff. Christ and his church still ask, as on the day you were baptized: On behalf of the whole Church, I ask you: Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin? Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves? Do you know He will help you? I do.

Hymn/Praise Response: Spirit of the Living God No. 393

The Embrace of Grace

Hear this. Christ himself once came to the waters. Why is that? Not for any sin of his own. Oh no. ‘But to admit and to show that he has waded in those same waters we do, too. Scripture says he was tempted, tried by sin. He was, as we’ll see in a moment, The Tempter’s very own personal project. But he held fast. And at the sight of it, Heaven itself opened up, and the Spirit could not be kept away, but came to him. Heaven could not be silent either. “You belong to me!” That was the Word. Luke writes:

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.”  Luke 3: 21-22

Do you believe that? Really? Down deep? Jesus: God’s son. Do you get it that when he beckons with his teaching, he’s asking you to come to him? When he heals, he’s telling you you don’t need to be a broken body or spirit either. And when he stretches out on the cross he’s telling you to put it all on him. (What have you got that you need to lay at Jesus’ feet? What weighs on you only he is strong enough to bear?) Do you believe and are you brave enough to say out loud to somebody, anybody… “This Jesus, only Jesus can save me from myself, save me in the world, and save me for heaven?” His outstretched arms, the embrace of grace; his drenched face with saving droplets of the waters of life I want to glisten on my face and in my soul? At your baptism, we asked (for) you, and we ask you to renew your word today: Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races? I do.Imagine: YOU, God’s beloved and God’s pleasure!

Hymn/Praise Response: O for a Thousand Tongues (vss. 1, 4) No. 55

The Call to Commitment

AND JESUS, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing in those days; and when they were ended, he was hungry. … And Jesus answered him, "It is said, 'You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'"  And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.  Luke 4: 1-2; 12-13

There’s a wonderful song we sometimes sing when children or adults are baptized here. “You have put on Christ, in Christ you have been baptized.” Put on Christ and we make a commitment. To God. To each other. We agree to wrestle with all our hungers. and with every devouring instinct afoot in our world. (Remember, Jesus tells the devil himself, “Not by bread alone.”) We agree to behave without tempting God to bend the rules of earth or heaven just for us. (Cape/porch.) ‘And not to test God, bargain or barter with him like God had anything to prove to us. (God, if you’ll…. I’ll….) ON FAITH, that’s how we agree to live. And not just by ourselves, but in the smack-dab middle of a company of sinners and saints (the church). And we trust we’re fully authorized to tell the Good News of Jesus, anywhere, with any one, any time, all the time. The sign of this is the Waters/Baptism. At your baptism, we asked (for) you, and we ask you to renew your word today: Will you, according to the grace given to you, remain faithful members of Christ's holy Church and serve as Christ's ambassador in the world? I will.

Hymn/Praise Response: The Church’s One Foundation (v. 1) No. 545

…An Offering of the Heart…

Bound by Grace, Fitted for Glory

And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other words and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  Acts 2: 38-42

Ahh, the Waters. They are where we begin. But not where we end. Everyone of us who has been brought to or come to the waters is bound by grace and fitted for glory! We take on a life and a light for Heaven that comes no other way. And it grows. In us. On us. Through us. Because of us. Beyond us! Listen again, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” We’re not to fit in but to stand up/out.

And then we get an extreme make over. ‘Devoted to the teaching and fellowship of faith, to holy bread-breaking and prayer.  Are you willing today? Would you like to glory in this grace, and are you willing to live in this grace that gives such glory? It will mean a certain kind of life. And a life that is kind in its certainty. When we baptize we always invite: Let us rejoice in the faithfulness of our covenant God. We give thanks for all that God has already given us. And then we seal the Bond in this way: As members of the body of Christ and in this congregation of The United Methodist Church, we will faithfully participate in the ministries of the Church by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.

Hymn/Praise Response:  I Have Decided to Follow Jesus

Coming to the Waters to Remember Our Baptism

“Remember your baptism and be thankful.”

Come…touch the water, make the sign of the cross on your forehead; or scoop the water, let it fall back into the basin; or scoop it over your hands, or refresh your face. You may wish to come to the rail/cross, pause and allow the water to be cast in your direction at the pastors’ sign, like sprinkling with hyssop for purification (Ex. 12:22 ; Ps. 51:7) and as a sign of renewal (Ez. 36:25-26).

Closing Hymn: Go Make of All Disciples (Vss. 1, 2) No.

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