January 12, 2020 – Sermon

Baptism of the Lord January 12, 2020 Psalm 29, Isaiah 42:1-9, Romans 6:3-5, Matthew 3:1-17
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Bear with me for a moment as I retell an old story of pastors at a get-together, sharing fellowship and stories… One pastor asks if anyone can share any advice about how to get rid of mice – which have infested that pastor’s church building… Another pastor says “We used to have that problem… But I figured it out, finally. I put out a big plate of cheese in the middle of the fellowship hall. When the mice gathered to feast – I baptized them before they could get away….
We haven’t seen a single mouse… since.”

It’s a funny story in a sad way for pastors… who are often more familiar than we wish with people asking for what I call drive-by baptism – meaning no preparation, no follow up, no expectation of the one to be baptized ever coming back to church…At least not till the one baptized wants to be married… or needs to be buried…

Which is the main reason why, for many years, I have required families asking for a baptism to attend church at least three or four times, and counsel with me once about the meaning of baptism. Which screens out about 90% of initial requests…

John the Baptist was a lot tougher than I am. When Pharisees and Sadducees came for baptism and John detected less than full commitment to the radical make-over repentance he was preaching… He doesn’t invite folks to come for counseling first, and come, attend church a few times, and see if this might work for you… He says “who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit befitting repentance… and get ready for the fire next time…”

And even with his extreme tough love preaching message, John the Baptist drew large crowds… People were coming out from Jerusalem city and all around Judea in big numbers, confessing their sins and lining up to be water-washed in the River Jordan… As the Spirit stirred up faith in the community… Stirring primal memories going all the way back to… When the earth was formless and empty, and darkness was over the surface of the deep… and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters…

Now the Spirit of the Lord is hovering over the waters of River Jordan…
Drawing people to the riverside… Human spirits yearning to be reunited with the Spirit of the Lord.

Let us continue to pray for great awakenings everywhere… As we revisit the baptism of Jesus our Lord… And inquire of God into it’s significance… (As…)
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Over the years I’ve occasionally had people ask if they could have a child baptized at home, in their living room, or in a backyard swimming pool… in something resembling a private ceremony. Whenever people have asked for something like this I’ve tried to patiently explain – that would be almost the opposite of what baptism is about…
Not quite the opposite, because if there’s a real emergency, any believer can perform an emergency baptism on the spot. You don’t have to be a pastor or priest to perform an emergency baptism… (I learned this, actually, many years ago watching, I’m pretty sure – an episode of Cagney and Lacey, the old tv cop show – where a police officer baptizes a possibly dying child… Then gets scolded by a priest who shows up later. The officer then instructs the priest about what church law actually says…And the priest has to admit the cop is right and he was wrong…) In situations baptism can happen in a home, a hospital, an ambulance or car…

But barring real emergencies, baptism is meant to be a public event. Which is one of the reasons I love the sketch attributed to Rembrandt on our bulletin covers today of Jesus being baptized by John. Unlike most art of the time, Jesus is pictured here as immersed in the river waters – as the gospel account says – as opposed to discretely sprinkled by someone holding a little baptismal cup of water, as was used in polite church circles… And unlike most artists’ portrayals through the ages of the baptism of Jesus, Rembrandt includes the crowds of people who have come for baptism, before and after Jesus…Watching as Jesus comes up from the waters of baptism… A very good artist sees the big picture in more depth than others see – and notices details others miss or underestimate the importance of… While capturing the emotional spirit of what is seen…
Seeing – in depth – what God is doing – is the theme again of this Epiphany Season… and…

John the Baptist is a spiritual artist – who sees more of Jesus than others see – who recognizes Jesus as the One he’s been telling about – the one greater than he – who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. And John recognizes it ought to be Jesus baptizing him… But Jesus insists for now… And though it’s been an embarrassment for much of the church over the centuries – which has been uncomfortable with seeing Jesus submit to another human and seeing him so closely linked with John’s prophetic ministry. But Jesus always knows what he’s doing. Whether or not the church knows….

Jesus knows what he’s doing as he’s baptized in public…As he sets an example for us. We know now, if we’ve believed the gospel, Jesus is sinless. But probably at the time no one knows this yet. (John the Baptist and his parents may have guessed but….) Now here’s Jesus, setting an example for all the rest of us who definitely all do need repentance… Submitting to baptism with people like us…
Humbling himself – as he has done in his birth in a stable, born to an unwed mother – living as a refugee, as his family flees by night to avoid being killed by King Herod… Jesus accepts all that comes with the territory of being born poor and powerless… In deep solidarity with all of us and all of our human condition…

As Jesus bears public witness – teaching us to imitate him, and bear witness to our faith in God and commitment to follow Jesus. Teaching us to teach others… about Christian faith and what it’s about – and what it means for us…

The other night we were looking at pictures from our time in the Philippines last winter. We took many day trips with family friends driving. We’d stop and take pictures here and there of people and markets and rice fields and many a Methodist church. But here the other night was a picture of a large Catholic Church. And I remembered, oh, yea, we needed a bathroom break, and one of Reah’s sisters guessed the church might be open, and it was… And as we waited for each other we couldn’t help noticing – because it was being broadcast over loud speakers – a service was going on inside… It was in Tagalog (the national language of the Philippines), so I had to ask ‘what’s going on?’ And was told “it’s a wedding.”
And as we were remembering this the other day, looking at our pictures, I asked Reah “So why were they broadcasting that wedding service – so loudly for the whole town to hear?”
And Reah immediately said “So the whole town can hear – and be able to remind them of their wedding vows.”
Great answer. And best answer I can think of – for – why we baptize in church – so everyone present and anyone who watches our service on Bourne ETV or on-line will hear, as we recite our baptismal vows every time we have a baptism. Or a service involving remembering our vows.

Vows that are for each of us… Vows that are even more for all of us together as the people of God… As we proclaim our faith in God and our commitment to Christ’s church – as we pledge to help those being baptized live a Christian life. And renew our vows to help each other be Christians together. As the words in our baptismal service say, we renew (quote) “our covenant faithfully to participate in the ministries of the church” through “our prayers, our presence, our gifts, and our service – that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ…”

In much the same way and for much the same reasons, every time we share in communion together we conclude, praying together: “Grant that we may go into the world in the strength of your Spirit, to give ourselves for others, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Every week we remind each other by word and deed of the promises we have made to God and to each other. So –

May this be our prayer every day – to live, by God’s grace, with each others help, by these vows that we have made. Every day… In your mercy Lord let it be so.

Thanks be to God. Amen.