“Blessed & Baptized by the Spirit”

Matthew 3: 13-17, January 12th 2014

By Pastor Tim Woodard

Twenty Seven Pets blessed and loved this past Sunday!  What an awesome event!  Thanks to everyone who helped make it happen and thanks for those that brought their pets, thus giving me the privilege to bless them in the name of our Creator God!  Pets are such a wonderful example of God’s unconditional love!  D O G, G O D!  Even the word spelled backwards takes us back to the source of love, GOD!  The spirit of those present touched my heart.  It was clearly evident that the Spirit of God was present in the midst of so much apparent love.  Cats, as-well-as dogs, were connecting with those family members that brought them, and the love was just purring and mewing everywhere.  Even my black toy poodle, Jamie, was lovingly ‘yapping’ as she tried to get my attention all throughout our blessing service.  It was great fun!

Human blessings are awesome events also.  There are many occasions when a pastor gets the opportunity to bless people on their journeys of life.  I blessed a couple on Sunday the 29th of December, just an hour after we finished our second worship service that day.  Together, their wedding party and I gathered with them on the pier at ‘Fishman’s Landing’ off of route one in Grant.  I blessed them as they took their vows of marriage that day.  You as a Congregation, in like fashion blessed me the first Sunday I began as your Stated Supply Pastor; a number of you laid hands on me that day as you conferred a blessing upon me, while invoking the Living Spirit of God upon me.  Whether blessing someone, or being blessed: it is an awesome experience and hard not to feel the presence of God’s love at such times.

As Christians we lift up the rite of baptisms in a very special way; baptisms of course are a special type of blessing.  Baptism as we know it – is when we are brought into the Church of Jesus Christ.  When an adult is baptized they take on the responsibility of their relationship with Jesus as the Son of God.  When an infant is baptized their parents take on this responsibility until the child is able to affirm their baptism through confirmation, usual around the age of thirteen or fourteen.

I can remember a time when I stood at the baptismal font with my parents while my grandfather, Dixon, the local pastor in town preformed a baptism.  I have come to learn that I was almost four years old at the time.  My early memories were that I was being baptized, but that was not so.  You see, as an adult I found my baptismal certificate tucked away in the New Testament that was conferred on me when I went through confirmation as a teen; the certificate stated that I was only about three months old when I was baptized.  So the baptism that I remember was my younger sister getting baptized.  Standing here sharing this memory clarifies for me what a special moment baptism is.  For me to remember that event so, so clearly as a child, not quite four years old, is nothing short of a miracle – clearly the memory is very special.

As we turn to our scripture lesson we see that the baptism of Jesus was a special event indeed!  Within the passage we are blessed as we hear about three very important voices: that of John the Baptist, Jesus himself and that thundering voice from heaven – the voice of our God, our Father in heaven: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  What a joy, what a blessing to hear all three of these voices in this very short piece of scripture!  The humility in John’s voice touches the heart.  “Who am I TO Baptize You – I need to be Baptized BY YOU!” says John.  The love and clarity in Jesus’ voice as he responds to John is breathtaking, as these are the first words of the adult Jesus recorded for us in the scriptures.  “Let it be so for now, for it is proper,” says Jesus.  The power and authority of the voice of our Heavenly Father, thundering down upon Jesus and John the Baptist.  “This Is My Son!”

These contrasting voices leaving us with these puzzling contrasting views of our God: John the Baptist awed that Jesus had come to him for baptism; the Chosen One, the loving gentle baby… born in Bethlehem, raised as a Jew, trained to be a carpenter… Jesus touched by the hand of God, now baptized and filled with the Spirit, the Spirit of God that came down from heaven and landed on him like a dove.  This same Jesus is announced – that is – He is proclaimed to be: to those present that day, from a thundering voice from heaven, that He Jesus is the “Son of God!”  This Jesus is now driven by that same Spirit within him and becomes the humble servant of His Father in heaven, thus beginning his earthly ministry.

Now begins our journey of ministry with Jesus – as he is baptized by John – as we hear the voice of God and as the Spirit of God descends upon Jesus.  Historically, baptism represents the cleansing of sin as well as the act of becoming one with God, or one with the Christian Church as we now phrase it in modern times.  This forces us to consider that Jesus is meant to solidify His solidarity with sinners.  Again the contrasting view: like a dove, like a sinner.

Are we to see only the cleansing power of God’s touch through the Spirit of God, or are we to see the empowerment side of the Spirit as Jesus becomes thrust into his ministry, a ministry that we shall study over the ensuing weeks?  Are we to embrace the clarifying voice from heaven that Jesus is indeed the Messiah or are we meant to grapple with what it means to be a disciple thus a servant of God?  Our passage brings up many questions as well as powerful insights.

When we begin to contrast the life of baptized Christians in today’s culture, Christians like you and me, how are we to interpret the lesson we are presented with today?  Are we to see ourselves cleansed of sin?  And are we to see our Jesus, the ‘Christ-child’ humbly born in poverty or are we to see this our ‘Savior’ holding our hands as he steps out into the world ministering to all of God’s children as He/Jesus ultimately pays the price for our sinfulness?  Are we to see ourselves as God’s servants?  Are we meant to tremble at the sound of God’s voice, or simply be in awe of God’s power and might?  Do we find ourselves humbled as God calls upon us to do things that seem far above our position in life?  And in contrast: are we to ‘still’ feel loved when we are ‘led’ to do things far below our stations in life as we embrace the full meaning of servant-hood?

Do you remember how Jesus, in the Gospel of John verses 1-12 hosted the dinner we remember as ‘The Last Supper’ and also takes on the role of a servant?  “These verses of scripture show Jesus in two aspects of servant hood.  First, he dresses as a servant with his robe removed and wrapped in the towel.  Second, he performs the duty of the servant when he kneels to wash their feet.  This is a humble service performed in a lowly position, the very lowest of duties for the lowest of servants.”  Jesus has set for us an example as to how to serve as a servant (far below his station in life) even as he is teaching his early disciples how they are to serve the people of God.

You and I have stepped into a new time.  This, your church, has found itself needing to make new choices as you seek ways to keep the ministry of Jesus at the forefront of who and what you are as a faith fellowship.  Many people miss some if not all of the signs that changes are coming and are needed.  The vast majority of us miss that change comes whether we are ready to embrace them or not!  But embrace them we must!  Jesus was not given a choice when he began to follow the will of His Heavenly Father!  No he wasn’t, not if he was to follow the will of God.  We live in the midst of a harsh time period here in the history of our nation.  We may want to go back to the way it was, but we con not.  The only way forward is in front of us!

Let me speak plainly.  You and I, we are here because we follow Jesus that is we turn to Jesus as our primary connection and understanding of God.  This is in your Statement of Faith, and this statement; this fact is what makes this church a Christian Church.  There is no debate on this basic point.  This is the only reason you stick together in thick or thin, in plenty or in want.  Therefore, it stands to reason that we, you and I, shall walk as he walked.  It seems clear that if he was called to servant-hood than – so are we!  Did Jesus need to be cleansed by baptism that day at the River Jordon?  I don’t believe so, yet he insisted upon being baptized non-the-less!  He set for us a clear example for us to follow.  Thus, you and I, we understand clearly that we are to be baptized by water AND the Holy Spirit.  And when we are, we are brought fully into the life of the Universal Church of Christ.  Freed from any sinfulness, filled with the Spirit of God and joined to the will of our God in servant-hood with Jesus!

If you have lost the thrust of what Jesus’ baptism truly means to you then please consider talking further with me as your Pastor, or talk with those who assist in your spiritual journey.  It is absolutely critical that you get this.  It’s like leaning math, if you don’t first learn how to add and subtract, you will surely struggle with multiplication and division.  The fundamentals of Christianity begin with our understanding of being blessed, and being baptized by the Living Spirit of God.  We need to know that we are a part of the larger church, thus empowering us to begin or continue to grapple with, our personal call into ministry, our call into servant-hood.  And we need to know how this affects our lives and how we live our lives.  We must continue to build a ministry to teach others, thus fully utilizing these our times of worship and study together.  Furthermore, we need to embrace, fully embrace how we shall continue to effectively use this community of faith and fellowship to be: ‘The Church’!  Last but not least, we need to embrace God’s blessing and fulfill our baptism – as our own individual and corporate journeys of discipleship – await our action!

         Amen.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.  John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”  Then he consented.  And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.  And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

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