“Vocation, Vocation, Vocation”
Isaiah 42:1-9, Matthew 3:13-17
January 13, 2008
First Christian Church
Me and baptism: we just don't get along.
Baptism should be a time that one remembers as a special time in their lives. And my baptism was- but I still have a tarnished history with it.
Let's go back to the scene of the crime: December of 1976 in Flint, Michigan. I went to be baptized at New Jerusalem Baptist Church. Now there were a lot of good things about the church I grew up at, but one thing they didn't do so well is to explain to a seven year old what in the world was going on. They had me sit in a room with my Dad and I started crying that I was away from Mom. Then I walk down this hallway and I enter a pool (they didn't tell me anything about water) and the pastor says some words and, BAM! I get plunged into the water. Well, when you are seven and plunged into water, you do what any kid does: cry your lungs out. What was supposed to be a good experience was a tad bit traumatic for me.
As I got older, I started to be filled with doubts: was my baptism real? Did I really believe?
When I got into college, I shared these questions with the pastor that led the college fellowship I was a part of. He basically said that I might want to consider getting baptized again, just in case. I shared this with my Mother and she advised that my baptism decade prior was real. So, I didn't get baptized then. The doubts still remained, though.
Fast forward towards 1995. I was living in Washington, DC at the time and decided to join a church in the area. I had known the pastor for a while. He asked me if I was baptized. Even though I had doubts, I said yes. He then asked, “Was it a believer's baptism?” You see the pastor didn't think infant baptism was valid and would rebaptize people. I could feel my stomach flip a few times. The doubts were strong, but I told him that the baptism was official and we went on.
So, you see, I don't have a good history with baptism. Or least I didn't have a good history for many years. These days, I tend have a very different understanding of baptism, but I will get to that later.
In today's gospel, we see Jesus walking up to John the Baptist his cousin. He asks John to baptize him. John is taken aback. I mean, this was the guy whose shoes John was not worthy to even tie. John even told Jesus that he should be baptizing him instead. But Jesus persists and John relents. Jesus gets baptized and we are treated to a light show from God who tells Jesus that he is his beloved Son in whom he is well pleased.
Why did Jesus get baptized? I mean, he didn't have to get baptized for the forgiveness of sins, because he didn't have any sins to forgive. And yet he insisted that John do this for him. Maybe it was an act of service. Remember that Jesus didn't come to earth like any normal king. He was born to a poor unwed woman and grew up in a backwater village. Maybe Jesus was living out his message of being a servant. Here is our servant-king submitting to one that is considered lesser to him. And didn't Jesus talk a lot about the last being first, and taking up crosses? Well, here is an example of Jesus doing this. His baptism is what kicks off his ministry on earth. It doesn't start with a flashy miracle, but in being the servant that God calls his beloved son.
Some of you sitting here this morning were baptized probably as a young child or 10 or twelve. Some come from other traditions where they were baptized as a baby. No matter how one is baptized, the meaning is still the same: when we enter those baptismal waters we reminded that we are God's beloved, sons and daughters of God. We are reminded of God's wonderful love for us, God's generosity.
Jesus was reminded of God's love for him. And what was his response? He started his ministry where he was a servant to those that were considered unclean: tax collectors and other sundry folk. And his life of service lead him to peform the ultimate act of service: laying down his life for all of creation.
When I was younger, I got the message that baptism is done when you have enough faith or it had to be done the “right way.” Never was I told this was a simple act of love- that is, until I went to seminary. After I heard that this was more about God's love for me, God's grace than it was about doing all the right things, all the doubts vanished. I was confident in God's love. Grace alone.
Our baptism is a reminder that we are loved by God and there is nothing we can do about that. In graditude we go from these walls to serve others: our neighbors and strangers in need.
It was Alexander Campbell, one of the founders of the Disciples, that summed up what baptism is. He said, “baptism is sort of an embodiment of the gospel and a solemn expression of it all in a single act. In baptism, we are passive in everything but giving our consent. We are buried and raised by another. Hence, in no view of baptism can it be called a good work.”
Since I have a lot of Lutheran friends, I tend to go to various worship services. One of my favorite is Easter Vigil. We Disciples don't practice this tradition, but many Lutherans do, as do many Catholics and Episcopalians. People gather on the Saturday before Easter and tell the salvation story from the Creation to Jesus' ressurection. At some point during the service, the pastor takes a tree branch and puts in the baptismal font. He or she then will throw the water into the congregation, telling them: remember your baptism and be thankful.
Now, it's a little hard for my Lutheran friends to remember their baptisms since they were in most cases an infant, but that's not what the pastor means. They mean, remember that it was at these waters that you became part of God's family and that God loves you. And I say that to all of you this morning: remember your baptism and be thankful. Remember that God loves you, that you are a son or daughter of God. And show that thankfulness in acts of kindness to others.
When Katie asked me for a title for this sermon, it was to be called Vocation, Vocation, Vocation. And as you see, I haven't talked much about vocation- or maybe I have. You see, just as Jesus was called into ministry, so are we. We are called to share the gospel the good news in word and in deed. Our baptisms remind us of our calling and also who we are and whose we are.
Peter Morgan, the past head of the Disciples Historical society said this about baptism and I'd like to close with this. By the way, you can find both quotes in the Chalice Hymnal. Morgan said, “We rose from the water to manifest the presence of Christ. We are the laos, the people of God born from the water of baptism into a sacramental ministry, manifesting the presence of Christ.”
Manifesting the presence of Christ. This is our calling as a people born from baptismal waters. Being the presence of Christ in our schools, our places of work, when we give food to the hungry, homes to the homeless and hope to the hopeless.
Remember your baptism and be thankful. Amen.