Let us pray:
Gracious God, open our ears that we may hear your truth, open our eyes that we may see your kingdom and open our hearts and minds that we may hear the cry of those brothers and sisters who are hurting and hungry and dying without the knowledge of your love for them. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing in your sight, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
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.
Today is Baptism of the Lord Sunday. We remember when his cousin, John, baptized Jesus in the River Jordan. John has been the one who has gone before…the one whose responsibility was to prepare the way of the Lord.
The Jewish people of that time were very familiar with the rituals of cleansing. In fact, many homes, especially the homes of the upper class had their own ritual pools for cleansing. Generations of tradition led to specific rituals for cleansing for numerous reasons.
But John was calling for something that was different than anything that the people had heard of before. John called for the people to repent…repent of their sin…change their life…and become something new.
And he called on them to repent because the one who is coming was coming to clean house…he was coming and we needed to get ourselves right with God…or else. And the or else was that we would burn in the lake of fire if we didn’t.
The scriptures go on to say that the people were so impressed with John and all that he had to say to them that they began to wonder if he were the Messiah. The people were filled with expectation. They all knew of the prophecies. They were all weary of the occupation by the Roman army and they were all expecting that this coming Messiah would be the Savior who would lead them in an overthrow of the Roman government and re-establish Israel as a sovereign nation.
But John, when he heard what the people were saying, made it clear to them that he was not the one that they were waiting for. He told them:
“I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than me is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
And Jesus comes to John at the Jordan and is baptized.
It is in this baptism that the Holy Spirit is invoked.
It is in this baptism that Jesus’ ministry is affirmed.
It is in this baptism that the preparation for Jesus’ ministry is begun. For it is immediately following the divine revelation that Jesus is the Son of God that the temptation begins…a period of 40 days in the desert facing the devil himself as he prepares to begin a journey and a ministry that will change the world.
It was a journey that began with a baptism.
It is a journey that we all will take and are taking as I speak with you this morning.
Prior to Jesus, there is no mention of the Holy Spirit being imparted in baptism.
Prior to Jesus, baptism was something that the person who was being baptized did as a means of making himself or herself ready to be with God.
But, with the baptism of Jesus, baptism takes on a whole new meaning. It is with the baptism of Jesus that the act becomes an act of God himself. It is with the baptism of Jesus that the sacrament of baptism takes on a whole new dimension of meaning and being for all of us.
Baptism becomes God’s act of claiming us and naming us as his own. Baptism is not a symbol. It is more than a symbol. The water is a symbol of washing clean, becoming a new person–
It is a symbol of dying to the old sin and becoming an entirely new creation. Baptism is being adopted into God’s family and taking on a new name– the name Christian.
As United Methodists we believe that one only has to be adopted into a family one time. (one baptism). We believe that Baptism is a means of grace — an outward and visible sign through which God conveys God’s grace. We baptize infants, because they are in need of God’s grace just the same as any other human being. We baptize adults only when they haven’t already been baptized because we believe that baptism is God’s act in us…and what God does, he does right the first time…God doesn’t need a second chance. And only in very extraordinary circumstances will we baptize outside of a gathering of the congregation, for baptism is an act that is meant to take place within the community of believers.
Baptism is an act of God’s prevenient grace. The grace of God working on us, urging us to seek him out and enter into a relationship with him.
The laying on of hands by an authorized person invokes the Holy Spirit to continue working in that person’s life.
When we profess our faith either at confirmation or as a person who is baptized at an accountable age, we experience God’s justifying grace. And we begin the journey toward perfection through Sanctification – the new life in Christ that proceeds from righteousness by faith.
Now, if baptism is the act of God naming us and claiming us as his own, don’t you think we should act like we are the children of God? Don’t you think that we should be doing the things that God would have us do?
We are all children of God. We are all called to help one another. We are all called to share one another’s burdens. We are called to lift each other up, not tear each other down.
We are called by the one who has named us and claimed us as members of HIS family to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that (Jesus) has commanded you.” But most of all, we are to remember that Jesus is with us, all of us, to the end of the age. Always and everywhere, Jesus is with us. God is with us. To pick us up when we fall. To hold us when we need to be held. To dry our tears when we cry and to help us through those situations that we cannot face all alone.
God never fails us. But we constantly fail God.
This morning, we have a chance to remember. We have a chance to be reminded of the vows that we made and to experience the joy of being children of God once again as we remember our baptism through the congregational reaffirmation of our baptism that you will find on page 50 of the hymnal. Please turn there now and let us join together in this act as a community of faith…together.