Adapted from a sermon
Delivered January 8, 2006
Immanuel Presbyterian Church
The Rev. Dianne O'Connell
Remembering Our Baptism
Over the holidays, I read Anne Rice’s book, Christ the Lord: Out of
her life of Jesus on the years between his birth and showing up at the
Rice leaves Jesus at 12. She promises to pick up the story in a sequel, but most of us have a pretty good idea what the Rest of the Story is. Rice’s second book on the life of Jesus may very well take him from 12 to the events of our Scripture lesson from Mark this morning: The baptism of the adult man, age 30ish.
of us know the story of John the Baptist, kinsman of Jesus. John was a
wild-eyed, fur-covered, bug-eating preacher – one of the type who saw then End
of the World just over the horizon and therefore preached a message of
repentance NOW. John is busy preaching
and baptizing in the River Jordan. We are told that “all the people of
One of those people was a young man
Let's pause a moment, leaving Jesus there in the water, and
think about this baptism by John.
Over the next few weeks until Easter, we will learn much about the earthly ministry of Jesus. We will learn about his faith, his ethics, and our responsibility to care for the hungry, the needy, those in prison. We will be reminded at least once a week to confess our shortcomings, to repent, and we will again be reminded of God’s grace and forgiveness.
And every week, I along with you, will reflect on how we can do better, become better people and do more for others. This is good. But I can’t help but think of this in terms of being only a first step. There may be more.
our reading from Acts this morning, Paul comes to
Paul lights into them: “John
baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the
one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus…. When Paul re-baptized
the men of
Already my Presbyterianism has been shaken – twice. Jesus was not baptized until he was a full grown adult with a deep understanding of his faith traditions and his personal place in the cosmos. I see Jesus’ desire to be baptized as a desire to commit himself fully to his coming public ministry – a ministry he already had a pretty good inkling about.
Presbyterians baptize infants. We can dedicate a baby to God and promise to raise that child in the faith to the best of our abilities. But ultimately, the decision to take up the mantle of really being a Christian has to be the decision of an adult. God will sort it all out for us in the end, but I understand from where the Baptists come on this issue.
Then there is this baptism of the Holy Spirit. This is a concept not often tied to the Presbyterian understanding of baptism. Do the Pentecostal Christians have it more right than we do? Is glosalalia, speaking in tongues, required as a sign of really receiving the blessing of God?
Let's let Jesus come up out of the water now.
What would a Presbyterian say of his baptism?
Presbyterians can agree that baptism is all about grace. If we know anything that is decidedly Presbyterian, we know that God's grace happens first, our response comes second. Baptism, for us, is a sign of what God has already done -- called us to be among God's people.
As a hospital chaplain, I was often called to baptize infants and children who were not expected to live. It seems preposterous in these circumstances to ask the parents questions about promising to raise up their children in the church and to teach their children the ways of the Lord. I ask them, instead, if they promise to always love this child, regardless of what the future might bring. I think it is the same promise that God makes to us -- he will always love us regardless of what the future might bring.
But what about us who are expected to live long, fruitful lives? What does baptism promise for us, or require from us?
Traditionally, Presbyterians have understood that baptism initiates a lifelong process of transformation and liberation, both in the community of faith and in the individuals who belong to it. We do not have to resign ourselves to the natural limitations and possibilities of our world, our culture, or our individual tendencies. If we have faith, we can hope for more. We have a responsibility to attempt to grow in our faith, sometimes not knowing what direction that growth may take us.
Reading today’s story of the baptism of Jesus, I thought of the young Jewish man about to embark on his life and ministry. We are told that to follow the example of Jesus requires more than just the repentance of John – but we really aren’t told just what this “more” might be.
We seem to hear a promise of a deeper, more far-reaching understanding of the Christ experience, but the details are for us to discover ourselves. As we contemplate the meaning of our own baptisms, be they of water, or of fire, or of the Holy Spirit; as we contemplate these things, more will be opened up to us.
There is an old a Jewish legend about Moses. No, it is not in Scripture, but the legend illustrates a point nonetheless.
legend has it that when Moses first stretched out his staff across the
Nothing happened until an old Jewish couple came forward -- and took that first step into the sea. And they kept walking. The water lapped at their toes, lapped at their ankles, lapped at their knees. They kept walking -- and the sea began to open up.
The point of that story is that faith involves both our trust and our action. God doesn’t always take the first step. It's taking that first step forward that starts the process moving.
feel certain that Jesus did not know exactly how his ministry would unfold, but
in his incomplete understanding, he took that first step into the
May we, as this new year begins, take a few more steps into the deep water of understanding. May we remember our baptisms. And may we remember the promises of our God: You are my children, in whom I am very pleased. I will love you always.