True/false: there is a hot tub in our sanctuary. TRUE!
Some here who are newer to Lynnhaven Colony may not know that underneath the platform behind the piano is a covered baptismal pool. You can still see the small tiles around the outer edge. Who here, which long time member, remembers baptisms taking place in that baptismal pool?
We now use a baptismal fount, which was moved to the center for us to focus on today.
It’s there because today we read about Jesus’ baptism.
In this story, we are reminded of the power of water. We’d like to think it’s only when in large amounts - such as comparing a trickling creek versus a tsunami. However, even having one drop of water repeatedly hit the same spot will eventually cause the soil or rock or person to transform.
As Leonardo de Vinci said, “water is the driving force of life.”
When we baptize, we baptize with water. We see it as pure and able to make clean whatever it touches. Ironically, the waters of the Jordan where John was baptizing would have been a bit muddy. And yet, John still used that water to baptize the people.
The people coming to the water had heard the stories from their elders for years - the Jewish people knew the ritual cleansing needed for religious ceremonies; the Gentile people knew about the ritual cleansing used when converting to Judaism. The idea of using water for cleansing and for marking a new start was already embedded in their culture.
And they were ready for a new start. Remember, they were living during an oppressive time and culture. They were ready for a new leader - for a Savior to lead them to a new way of living.
Enter Jesus. Last week, we talked about the revelation by the magi of Jesus’ birth - a day called Epiphany. This week, we talk about the revealing of Jesus as God’s Son through his baptism and what that means for us today.
First, Jesus’ baptism shows us the importance of God’s mysterious Holy Spirit. As the likeness of a dove appeared and a voice from heaven was heard, we see the importance of God’s Spirit in our lives.
Depending on how the entire Scripture is read and compared with other verses, some theologians state that John may have already been imprisoned at the time of Jesus’ baptism and not have been present, suggesting that Jesus was solely baptized by the Holy Spirit.
Whatever the details of the event may have been, the point is that baptism includes the presence of God’s Holy Spirit.
Second, people were getting baptized into community. Ronald Allen and Clark Williamson note that this baptism by John went beyond simply a forgiveness of sins; it “set people apart as a community for the new world.” (Preaching the Gospel without Blaming the Jews)
At the risk of sounding like it was some sort of determination or hazing ritual of who was “in” or who was “out,” this act of baptism was marking the start of a new community of people. It was giving them a firm practice, an act, that said “we believe in the hope of a Messiah, as we have been promised.”
Our Isaiah verses remind us that we are God’s and God calls us by name, meaning that God is intricately a part of our lives. Couple that with the the voice from heaven at Jesus’ baptism and you can see that baptism is a welcoming into community, where all are God’s beloved people.
Third, this community of people was experiencing new beginnings as a group and as individuals. Renita Weems stated, John “staked his ministry on a belief in new beginnings.”
John was warning them that the time had come for them to repent. Repenting...taking a new direction. It is not simply saying you are sorry for past wrongdoings, but it is about taking a new direction, seeking a new beginning. It is acknowledging that how it was done before or what was said before is no longer the best way and, going forward, things will change.
In a sense, Jesus entered the waters as a carpenter and came out of the waters as the Messiah. His life from that point on was very different. He didn’t repent for past sins; though, he recognized that the old way of life was no longer the way forward.
Martin Luther (the Reformation minister, not MLKing!) said, “A truly Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism once begun and ever to be continued.”
Hearing Luther’s words and drawing on today’s lesson on baptism, I believe that living a Christian life means daily remembering to welcome in the Holy Spirit, daily remembering that we are beloved and a part of a community, daily remembering that new beginnings await us no matter our life circumstances.
Welcoming in God’s Spirit leads us to be guided by God and know God’s presence. It helps us to not lean on our own understanding, and to trust the mysterious ways that God can and does work in this world.
Recognizing that we are a part of a community reminds us that we do not have to be isolated. Especially in a culture that sometimes emphasizes individuality, we need to be careful to not stray from identifying as part of a community as well. Community is where we find encouragement and refining.
Remembering that we have the opportunity for new beginnings always before us is essential for us to not constantly hit ourselves over the head! We all do stupid things - whether we intend to or not. And we all need to periodically evaluate our theologies and ideals to make sure we are seeking after God’s divine will.
Some new beginnings occur gradually and others are almost immediate. The action of baptism is immediate, but the impact on our lives happens over time.
Kathryn Matthews says baptism is “as if God is trying to say to each one of us, "No matter what happens and no matter how low and discouraged you feel, no matter what is happening around you and in your life, don't you ever let anyone tell you that you are anything but a precious and beloved child of God." And, of course, this begs us to ask “how well we acknowledge that "belovedness" in all of God's children, not just in us, not just in those we love and can "accept" into the circle of God's grace.” (ucc.org; Sermon Seeds)
How will we continue to acknowledge our baptism and allow new beginnings to take root within us? How will we also acknowledge the belovedness of all people?
If you have never been baptized and are interested, I would love to chat with you more about it. It’s a beautiful outward symbol of recognizing God’s grace and presence in our lives.
Baptism is not just an excuse to welcome a new baby into the congregation, which IS always fun and a favorite piece of being a pastor. Baptism reminds us of the need and opportunity for new beginnings. New beginnings into the life of the global Christian community, led by God’s Holy Spirit.
Scripture: Isaiah 43:1-2; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22