"REAFFIRMING OUR BAPTISMS"

January 22, 2017

REAFFIRMING OUR BAPTISMS

 

13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16And 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. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”             (Matthew 3:13-17, NRSV)

 

 

Today is Reaffirmation of Baptism Sunday, a time to recall the promises of your baptism, made either by you or on your behalf by your parents and other loved ones.  As has become our tradition on Baptism of Christ Sunday, after the sermon those who would like are invited to our baptismal font to reaffirm their baptisms.  (People who have never been baptized are invited as well.)  As you reach the baptismal font, Lori or I will dip our hands in the water and then, making the sign of the cross on your forehead say, “You are God’s beloved child.” 

 

On this Baptism of Christ Sunday we remember the day a 30-year-old Jesus was baptized by his cousin John in the Jordan River.  We’ve come a long way in the life of Christ since we celebrated his birth almost one month ago.  The reason we move so quickly from Christ’s birth to his baptism is because we have so little information about his growing up and young adult years.  From the Gospel of Luke we’re told that in accordance with Jewish law and tradition, Jesus was circumcised and named when he was 8 days old.  Shortly thereafter the young family traveled to the Temple in Jerusalem for Mary’s purification ceremony.  It was here they encountered Anna and Simeon, both of whom have high words of praise for Baby Jesus and his future.  The next time Christ appears in the Gospels it is the story of 12-year-old Jesus in the Temple following Passover, discussing theology and the finer points of the law with the rabbis. 

 

After that we fast-forward over the next 18 years of Jesus’ life.  The next time Jesus appears in the Bible, he is that 30-year-old standing on the shore of the Jordan River asking his cousin, John the Baptist, to baptize him. 

 

If we had known John the Baptist we might have questioned the soundness of this decision.   Compared to the religious leaders of his day, John wasn’t exactly polished, and his social skills seemed questionable at best.  Instead of studying the Torah in the calm of the Temple, he lived out in the wilderness, clothed himself in camel’s hair, and snacked on locusts and wild honey.  John wasn’t afraid to step on toes.  He preached with the passion of the prophets, warning of God’s imminent wrath.  While the religious establishment thought John a lunatic, the common people responded, coming in droves to be baptized in the muddy Jordan.

 

John was not the first person to practice religious baptism.    For centuries, Jewish people had practiced ceremonial washing or cleansing in obedience with the Mosaic laws of purification.[1]  In later years, Gentile converts to Judaism were baptized into the faith.  While John’s baptism was in line with these Jewish traditions, he put his own spin on it.  John emphasized, “An ethical quality that baptism had not had before.  His was a moral community of penitent souls seeking personal righteousness.”[2]  John stressed repentance from sin and a personal commitment to worship and obey God—then and only then could a person escape God’s wrath.

 

And yet, even John knew that his baptism was transitory, that someday a greater person would come to lead the way back to God.   John said, “I baptize you with water to show that you have repented, but the one who will come after me will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  He is much greater than I am; and I am not worthy to carry his sandals” (Matthew 3:11).          

 

The one who came after him was of course Jesus, and when he showed up to be baptized by John it threw the Baptizer for a loop.  And yet this untamed prophet knew that his cousin, Jesus, was the Christ, the Messiah.  So John said, “I ought to be baptized by you…and yet you have come to me.”  Jesus replied, “Let it be so…to fulfill all righteousness.” 

 

The very fact that Jesus desired baptism is puzzling. Traditional Christian doctrine asserts that Jesus lived a sinless life.  Since he had no sins from which to repent, where was the need for baptism?   Scholars offer a variety of explanations.  The simplest answer seems to be that Jesus was ready to begin his earthly ministry and his baptism was an inauguration of sorts, minus the pomp and circumstance.   United Methodist minister, Alex Stevenson, notes that like the other people who came to John for baptism, Jesus too was, “leaving his old life behind.  And like them, Jesus was being obedient to God.  He was surrendering to God’s will for his life.”  With his baptism, Jesus began the messianic era foretold by prophets.  He started the work that God had intended for him all along. 

 

Christ’s baptism must have been a high point in his short life.  For as John lowered Jesus into the water and brought him back up, suddenly the heavens opened and the Spirit of God descended as a dove and alighted on Jesus.  Then God’s voice was heard saying “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.”  Thus began both an earthly ministry and a new spiritual era, which continues to this very day. 

 

Baptism was a milestone for Jesus, and is an important event for his followers as well.  All Christian churches practice some form of baptism, from the sprinkled water of a baptismal font to total immersion in a river, from pouring water on an infant’s head to adult immersion in an indoor, heated tank.  Growing up Baptist, I was not baptized until I was 7-years-old.  Baptist churches were heavily influenced by the revivalist tradition, and emphasize the need for a personal commitment to Christ prior to baptism.  At the other end of the spectrum, Roman Catholics began practicing infant baptism as a means of salvation to wash away original sin.  Congregational roots can be traced to the Reformed tradition and John Calvin who stressed the idea of children being a part of the “covenantal relationship…in a Christian household.”[3]

 

            In our church, baptism formally receives children into the love and care of the church.   It is an act of public thanksgiving to God for the miracle and mystery of the baby’s life.  It is an act of dedication when the parents dedicate their child and themselves to God and God’s service.  It is an act of consecration where the parents acknowledge that the child is a gift from God.  It is a promise from the members of our church and the church universal, to love and guide the child in the Christian faith until they are old enough, usually in the 8th grade, to confirm the promises made for them.  On Confirmation Sunday the confirmands officially join the church and own the Christian faith for themselves.  

           

            We who are baptized with water are also baptized with God’s Holy Spirit who dwells within our hearts and minds as an eternal reservoir of strength, wisdom, and compassion. As the Spirit descended from the heavens at Jesus’ baptism, so the Spirit of God fills us with vision and power to transform our lives and our world.

 

            In just a few moments you will have the opportunity to reaffirm your baptism.  Once again the baptismal waters will touch your forehead in the sign of the cross.  Once again you will be reminded that you are God’s beloved child.  After that, we will join our voices in a prayer of recommitment which says,

                       

                        By your Spirit, Eternal God, grant us

                        Love for others,

                        Joy in serving you,

                        Peace in disagreement,

                        Patience in suffering,

                        Kindness toward all people,

                        Goodness in evil times,

                        Faithfulness in temptation,

                        Gentleness in the face of opposition,

                        Self-control in all things.

                        Then strengthen us for love and service in your

                        name.[4]  AMEN.  

 

Baptism of Christ Sunday

Reaffirmation of Baptism Sunday

January 22, 2017

The Congregational Curch of Manhasset, New York (UCC)

 

PASTORAL PRAYER

 

Loving God, whose Spirit parted the waters at Creation’s birth, who parted the Red Sea to free your people, the Israelites, who parted the sky to appear in the form of a dove and speak when Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, speak to us this day.  Speak to us words of hope that we might never give up.  Speak to us words of faith that we might know we are never alone.  Speak to us words of peace that we might be as one with all our sisters and brothers.  And speak to us the words you spoke to Jesus saying, “You are my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.”  Remind us that we are all your beloved children, every last one of us.  And that as your children, we all count, we all matter, we all bear more significance, more than we could ever imagine, to you, to one another, and to the world.

 

Through our baptized and beloved Savior we pray.  AMEN.

 

 

 

[1] The New International Dictionary of the Bible, p. 123 

 

[2] Ibid. 

 

[3] The Dictionary of Bible & Religion, p. 102 

 

[4] Prayer of Recommitment adapted from “I am God’s Beloved!” Service Prayers for the First Sunday after Epiphany, written by the Rev. Dr. David Bahr, pastor of Park Hill Congregational UCC in Denver, Colorado. 

 

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