This is a sermon I preached in 2007 for the Baptism of Our Lord which is next Sunday. I happen to be preaching next Sunday. No, I won’t be using this sermon.
“No Do Overs”
Isaiah 43:1-7, Luke 3:15-22
January 7, 2007 (Baptism of Our Lord)
Community of Grace Christian Church*
Did you ever have one of those experiences where you are playing a board game and you made some kind of mistake? Someone usually has pity on you and you get what is called a “do-over.”
I live for those moments.
Do overs can be great, I mean you get another chance. I really like them when I was playing some kind of athletic game as a kid. Since I was not blessed with physical prowess, this meant that I had another shot at getting it right.
Getting a do-over in say, kickball, is a good thing, but do-overs don’t work so well in the life of faith. In fact, they might do some damage.
Today is what is commonly called The Baptism of Our Lord. It is on this day, that we read about Jesus, the Son of God, the one who had no sin, coming forth to be baptized. Baptism has always been a touchy subject for me. As many of you know, I come from the Baptist tradition, so people tend to get baptized later in life than someone from a tradition that practices infant baptism. Baptists as well as Disciples believe in something called “believer’s baptism,” which means that the person usually makes a profession of faith before they are baptized. I got baptized in December 1976 at New Jerusalem Baptist Church in my hometown of Flint, Michigan. I was seven years old and didn’t understand everything that was going on. Anyway, I did get baptized and went on to grow up in the church and learn about God and about how God loved me.
As I got older, I started to have doubts. I would hear many preachers talking about making sure we were saved by God and I would fret about this. Did I really believe? It didn’t get any better when I was in college. Back then, I shared my concerns with my campus pastor. His belief was that in my case, I might want to get baptized again since I wasn’t sure. When I shared this with my mother, she looked at me as if I had just turned purple. I never went through with it and over time, I put my fears to rest. That was until about five years later when I was looking to join a Baptist church in Washington, DC. I was chatting with the pastor, and he asked if I had been baptized. I said yes “Was it a believer’s baptism?” he said. I tensed up. All the doubts came back. You see, he believed that the “believer’s baptism” was the only true way to be baptized and had “re-baptized” those who came from traditions where they were baptized as children. Despite my doubts, I told him I had been baptized.
Baptism, is an interesting tradtion because we humans just don’t get it. We tend to think it is something we do, and forget it is something that God does. While I was pointing out how some misinterpret “believer’s baptism,” there are many who see infant baptism as some kind of magic that protects children from the flames of hell. Again, we think it is a human action, but baptism is a reminder of who God is and who we are in God.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is going to be baptized. In some passages, he is baptized by his cousin John, but in this passage it seems that John is in prison, so someone else must be doing the deed. After he is baptized, the Holy Spirit comes down and a voice from heaven says, “You are my Son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
This passage is pretty short, but it says a whole lot. The pastors I heard in my youth seemed to think that you had to be incredibly perfect to make your baptism stick. You needed to be sure in your heart for it to work or you needed to profess your faith for it to have any affect. If you made a mistake, you got a do-over and could do it again.
But that’s not what a baptism is all about. What happens when Jesus is baptized reminds us what this event is all about: it is a reminder that we are loved by God, that we are part of God’s family and that there is nothing that can tear us from that love, not our doubts, not our sins, nothing. And then when we are washed clean by God, we are then called into the world to bring God’s message to all.
Baptism is about entering into a relationship with the creator of the universe. This God that loves us so much that God sent his only Son for us, reminds us when we are baptized.
Baptism isn’t magic; it’s about a relationship. God reminds us that we are loved, and we pledge to love God and serve others. Jesus’ baptism was the beginning of his public ministry. All those miracles and teachings didn’t happen until he was baptized. The baptism was not a good luck charm, but it grounded him, he was doing this for God, because he had a relationship with the Father.
I tend to keep up on what’s going on in other denominations, and since I know a lot of Lutherans, I tend to know what’s going among our Lutheran brothers and sisters. In a few weeks an ecclesastical trial will take place. There is a pastor from Atlanta, Brad Schemling, that has been found to be in a relationship with another male pastor. Now, the ELCA frowns on gay pastors in relationships. What they outcome of this trial will be in still in doubt, but I am reminded that some of Lutheran friends who believe in the ministry of all believers tend to say that if gay people can’t be pastors, then don’t baptize them. Now being a logical man, that used to not make sense to me. I knew Lutherans were baptized as infants and no one can determine sexual orientation when some one is in diapers. But then that was the point. When we baptize a child, we don’t ask if they are gay or straight, we see them as a child of God that is to be brought up in the ways of God. If we don’t prohibit someone from being baptized and told that God loves them, then why are we prohibiting them from sharing that love with others in the role of minister?
Community of Grace has gone through a lot in the past few years. We are at a crossroads here. I think I can speak for Dan in saying I feel tired and listeless and feeling a bit of despair. Why didn’t anyone come visit us? Why aren’t more people in the pews? What did we do wrong?
While I feel that way sometimes….well, most of the time, I also think God is telling me something else. The fact is, as small as we are, we are a gathered community of baptized believers. We are part of God’s family and we are on a mission. I will say that again: we are a gathered community of baptized believers and we are on a mission. Baptism is also a call to go into the world and share God’s love. We are modern apostles, which in Greek means “sent out.” Church isn’t about how many people are in the pews, but if the people in those pews are going to go out and “be Christ” to the world. Are we showing that Christ’s spirit of caring for the poor, for all of creation, of welcoming everyone and anyone? Community of Grace has tried to do that, though sometimes we’ve gotten off track. That’s why we try to give a portion of our offerings to a charity. When we offered pastoral care after the death of Charlie XXXX, we were being Christ and affirming our baptism, that God loves us and in response we will love others.
I think we need to do more. I think we need to do more acts like going to soup kitchens or delivering meals to persons living with HIV/AIDS or the elderly. Our worship needs to focus on giving praise to God and preparing us for mission in the world.
In a few moments, we will reaffirm our baptism. We will pledge to live lives pleasing to God, to renounce sin and to work for justice and peace. We are reminded that church is more than just going to a service once week, but it is about being sent into this world armed with God’s love and knowing that we are loved by God no matter what.
The Preamble to the Design of the Christian Church says this about baptism:
Through baptism into Christ,
we enter into newness of life
and are made one with the whole people of God.
Baptism isn’t about trying to get right before God as some of the pastors of my youth thought. It isn’t some magic trick either. It’s about entering into a new life and new family. It’s about remembering what God has done in our lives and in gratitude sharing that same love with others. Our renewal of our baptismal vows is a reminder that a church isn’t a country club, but a people on a mission with God as our guide.
If I had to give an answer to my campus minister and my minister in DC, about my certainty of my faith and if my baptism meant anything, I know what my answer would be. It’s an old answer; it’s the opening lines of the Heidelberg Catechism, one of the important creeds from the Reformed branch of Protestant Christianity. Since it’s a catechism, it’s in question and answer form. That first question says, what is your only comfort in life and death? The answer is what I would say to those pastors:
That I am not my own,
body and soul,
in life and in death—
to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven:
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.
Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.
Seems like a good enough answer. Thanks be to God. Amen.
*Community of Grace was a new church start of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) I was a part of from 2004-07.