“The Gift of Baptism”
Luke 3:15-18 & 21-23, January 9th, 2022
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
Read the Statement of Faith
“Hear now these words from the gospel according to Luke, chapter three, verses fifteen thru eighteen and continuing on with verses twenty-one thru twenty-three.”
Luke 3:15-17, 21-23
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.
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.”
“Having heard today’s lesson with our ears, let us now open our hearts as we reflect on their intended meaning.”
“The Gift of Baptism”
It is now January 9th, even the twelve days of Christmas have passed. Time to take down the tree, put all of holiday stuff away till next season. All that is left is the cleanup. Who here loves to clean up after the party is over, after everyone has gone home? Most of us are adults now and the odds of our mothers and fathers cleaning up after us has probably passed. Our children, many are already adults and prayerfully they learned from us how to clean the house, wash the dishes, and make the beds. Perhaps they even learned how to keep their cloths clean and cared for; simply speaking, everyday things that adults are expected to know how to do; and ‘actually’ do. Yet, at times we may need help with some of these things, especially if we are ill, or simply too busy because of careers or jobs. Thus, we hire someone to help. Also, some of us older folks may need to enlist help with basic choirs, simply because we can no longer do all that we know needs doing. Most of us already know all this and we are effectively passing on these simple pieces of knowledge to those we are responsible for, through our words and our examples.
What about our personal faith journeys; including, of course, our relationships with God. Have we been dusting off our meditation books and our Bibles, being sure we have the up-to-date versions so that we can understand more easily what is written? If not, perhaps it is time to do so. If you need help with that ask me or any leader of this congregation and they ought to know the answer. It is a great time of the year to start new habits and or routines, especially if the old ones from years gone by have stopped working. Take for example: we are feeling disconnected from our family, our church or from God. Let’s start reflecting on our relationship with God first, as… if we are not grounded in God’s love then we probably will not have a lot of luck reconnecting to our church family. And without this underpinning of our faith and consequentially our faith journey, our personal relationships, including that of our families will suffer. There are numerous ways too begin correcting these connections that have become less efficient than they use to be, or less than we would have them be. It would be sad to think that some of us are heading into the new challenges of a new year without all our available support networks – in good working order.
As your spiritual leader, your pastor, I too need a tune-up now and then. In fact, just this past week I had lunch with my personal spiritual director. He made some simple suggestions, even gave me a Bible verse to reflect on, which I have been doing; Psalm fifty-five verse twenty-two. “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” Basically, my advisor was urging me to trust God with even more of my burdens, which I foolishly thought I could handle on my own. Are there things that you may be trying to handle on your own; without asking God for a bit of help and direction with? When we allow ourselves to trust God more, allowing God in more and more areas of our lives, thereby trusting the power of God’s grace, into our lives, the burden will at the least seem lighter. It sounds so simple when someone else says it. And it is, just turn to God in prayer, earnest prayer, and keep at it on a daily or hourly basis, if necessary, until you have let go and let God handle it.
Let us look at today’s scripture and see what we can learn. The scripture is about Jesus, the son of Mary, going to the river Jordan to be baptized by John the Baptist, as he was called. Baptism, in that time-period was seen as a cleansing ritual. John would immerse people fully into the water, after calling upon folks to repent their sinfulness and give up their evil ways. Then John would allow the waters, to fully cleanse their bodies as John called upon God to forgive their sins. In this gospel account’s retelling of the Baptism of Jesus, we hear how the Baptizer responds to suggestions that he, himself is the Messiah. 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.” /Luke 3:16/ The excitement that we ought to all feel as we read and hear this passage is to realize that we are reading this passage long after the time of Jesus’ active and earthly ministry. Therefore, we who have been baptized have received the baptism to which John the Baptizer spoke of that day! We ought to be well please just as the voice of God spoke to being well pleased with the presence of his Beloved Son that day at the Jordan river! “The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” /Luke 3:22/
Unfortunately, depending on how you view this, after we repent and are forgiven, we are still human and subject to going against God’s wishes; you know what I am saying… some of us sin again. Consequentially, we may need to again ask for forgiveness with a sincere heart, thereby seeking to not do so again. Because of our human condition, just like our homes and such, we need to be vigilant and clean house again and again and again. I have had folks, over my years in ministry, asking if they can get re-baptized. Theologically, we are baptized only once, but we can renew our baptism at any time. The ritual is cleansing and can give oneself a feeling of renewal. Just like when I went to my Spiritual advisor this past week, I knew the answer, but it helped renewing it out loud with another. My wife and I have hired a house cleaner. She comes once a month. She does the floors and the bathrooms in a way that is healthy and good; she also dusts all the shelves and bookcases, including everything on them which we have; and there are a lot of items that get dusty easily! We need the help, plain and simple. There is no shame in this. Neither is there any shame in asking for help or guidance in our spiritual lives. In this context spiritual refers to our personal relationship with God as we understand God to be. Each Sunday as we gather, it is my fervent prayer that everyone, you folks sitting in service live on Sunday morning, the on-line visitors that watch us on Facebook, and those who read my sermons, or listen to the audio tape on our website, it is my prayer we all glean a sense of renewal of our spirits. Prayerfully, we all feel closer to God in whatever form God takes in our hearts.
There may be some here, within our collective gathering, who have not been formally baptized. If that, is you, or a member, or a child in your family needs or wishes to be baptized it would be a privilege to work with you in the process? Baptism is considered a sacrament in our understanding of theology, and it is our custom and tradition to offer it to those who understand its meaning. In infant baptism, an adult helps the child by providing them the opportunity to learn about Christianity and the life and ministry of Jesus and his role as the Christ child in their faith journeys. Likewise, we, the members, and friends of this faith community commit to offer children that opportunity to learn the faith through our Christian education program. At the time of John, the Baptist, we know he did not yet have the full understanding of a Christian baptism, as the fullness of the long-awaited Savior’s ministry had not yet been revealed. Yet, Christian baptism does offer the cleansing as part of the sacrament. Going deeper into this, the bringing of a child and or an adult into the community of faith, is an important element in the ritual; central actually: as it is the heart of the matter. For it is through baptism that we join in the full fellowship, the wholeness of Christ and the universal church of Jesus Christ. Most importantly, baptism is a gift, a gift which I personally have never denied anyone seeking it, for themselves, or a loved one, and most certainly a child brought to me by a parent, caregiver, or guardian, has never been denied this sacrament. The only requirement ever sought has been for those who seek it for themselves, or another – is their desire to be a part of the universal body of Christ.
The time of celebrating the birth of Christ has passed, yet we know that this was simply a celebration and a reminder of the fullness of God’s grace; as we systematically, go through the church calendar of events each year. Every morning when I awaken, I give thanks for the gift of life, the gift of God’s forgiveness for my humanness in the past. It’s a gift. Christmas can be celebrated every day. As a new day begins and I ask God for guidance and direction, knowing how easy it can be to get lost within the busyness of life. Ultimately, every day is the eve of a new opportunity awaiting us. However, my experience suggests that there can be much to be learned from our recently pasted history, which can help us grow while maturing in our faith and thus – we can do better in our current day. When we live fully in today, correcting our mistakes as we go, asking God, through even short moments of prayer for a little guidance – can make a huge difference in the fullness of our today’s. When we fully live as children of God, we shall begin to realize there is a lot of hope for our tomorrows; and when we get there our today’s will have become our historical yesterdays – as our tomorrows become our today’s. There is a lot to be thankful for, and the celebration of Thanksgiving can be ours to enjoy – every day!