This text invites us to attend a BAPTISM.
In the life of the New Testament—few things are more important.
All four Gospels record the Baptism of Jesus,
and one of them, Matthew,
begins with this story of John Baptizing in the Jordan River
and ENDS with the final words of Jesus:
“Go, into all the world, and make disciples,
baptizing them then the name of
the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe everything
I have commanded you—
–and Lo, I am with you always,
to the end of the age…”
So Baptism is a pretty big deal.
But as important as baptism is, we get NO words of instruction,
as to HOW we are to BEHAVE at a baptism.
But then again, I think the most significant moments of our life
tend to create their own atmosphere
they modify behavior in appropriate ways, all on their own.
If you attend a FUNERAL–
–even if it’s the FIRST funeral you have ever attended—you need no instruction.
Right BEFORE a funeral, people are standing around
talking about everything under the sun.
Where I grew up as a kid—people were always talking about crops.
Or, the weather
Or, some sports team.
Or, or MORE about the crops.
But then—everything STOPS—because the widow comes in.
This woman who now has to face life…without him.
This man who wonders what is next…without her.
And you DON’T need instruction—about how to behave.
The occasion…modifies your disposition,
appropriate to what you are experiencing.
I think it is the SAME at a WEDDING.
Oh, I know, BEFORE a wedding,
there’s this giant family and friend reunion,
and lots of laughing and back-slapping
and soda-cans tied to the bumper and all that stuff…
…BUT the moment they appear—before GOD and everybody—and the words begin:
“Will you…in sickness and in health,
poverty and wealth,
forsaking all others,
keeping yourself only unto the other,
as long as you both shall live…”
You DON’T need instructions—we know to be still.
The occasion modifies the behavior!
It’s like children—when their great-grandmother comes.
And they suddenly come in laughing from play outside—
and SUDDENLY they see her,
and they grow quiet
They are in AWE.
They want to touch her,
they want to hear her.
She is so…old, and has experienced so much…
you DON’T need to say:
“Now, children, be respectful,
this is the way you should behave
around your great-grandmother…”
It is the same way with a BAPTISM.
Before a baptism, people are laughing and talking
and fussing with the baby’s 100 year old baptismal gown,
and hoping the baby doesn’t cry…
…BUT THEN, when the words get spoken:
“In the name of the Father,
and the Son,
and the Holy Spirit…”
Anyone who is NOT HUSHED into the sacredness of that moment—is ASLEEP!
So, we get NO INSTRUCTION as to how we are to behave at a baptism.
And MORE than that:
THIS baptism is the baptism of Jesus of Nazareth.
Now, that’s a bit surprising!
Of all people, of all people who should be EXEMPT from baptism—its Jesus.
Let him stand on the river bank
and watch all the OTHERS coming for baptism—
–those who need a second chance,
–those who have waded out into trouble so deep—
–THAT is who needs baptism!
Let those whose lives are just a tangle of bad relationships,
who’ve just messed everything up
those who—out of ambition and greed—
-think they’re going everywhere
–when, in fact, they are going NOWHERE.
Rich in things, pour in soul—let them come!
Why is Jesus here?
That’s what John says when he protests: “Jesus…you? YOU?”
“You should baptize ME—I shouldn’t baptize you!”
And Jesus says: “Leave it alone John.
It is appropriate to do God’s will…”
And so Jesus presented himself for baptism.
He was 30 years old.
WHY is he coming now?
We can speculate.
In Israel, anyone entering into public life did so at age 30.
Maybe that’s reason enough.
Maybe he was in synagogue,
listening to the rabbi reading scripture,
and while OTHERS are dozing off, something strikes him—
–and he says “THAT’S IT! Now is the time!”
Maybe after work in the carpenter’s shop,
late in the afternoon,
maybe he goes for long walks
and communes with God
and there is this stirring inside him…
Maybe he remembers something he saw as a teenager—
–when the ROMANS came to town and took some of the men
and strung them up on poles
you know, just to warn the people that they don’t want trouble,
–and NOW there is this burning desire for justice
and for fairness…
It’s a good question. I don’t have an answer.
but it is a good question.
It’s a good question if someone 60 comes forward—why now?
It’s a good question of an eight year old comes and asks—“can I be baptized?”
It’s a good question for PARENTS coming with a baby in their arms—
We cannot fully know the stirring of the Spirit of God.
John the Baptist says you don’t know whence it comes, or where it goes.
The Spirit blows where it wills–
–but we SEE and we FEEL its POWER!
All we know is this—
–one day, Jesus took off his carpenter’s apron,
shook the shavings from it,
laid it on the bench,
went into the house,
told his mother and brothers and sisters goodbye—
–and made his way to the Jordan,
to present himself for baptism—THIS is God’s will,
he would say.
We learned a great deal about Jesus on this occasion.
There was that voice from heaven that said:
THIS is my Beloved Child!
What does that mean?
The line is a quote from the second Psalm.
It was quoted on the occasion of the crowning of the King of Israel.
THIS was quoted at Jesus’ baptism—he is now King.
But look: what does it mean that he is God’s beloved child, the King?
Does he go around now in a chariot, with silk cushions?
Does he now wear a crown?
And say kingly things?
And elevate himself above the common folk,
saying “Don’t touch me! I am the SON of God, the King,
and I say Kingly things and make pronouncements,
Now I am going to the palace and will have a nap and a banquet.”
No. The last part of the quote:
“my son, my beloved, in whom my soul takes pleasure…”
That’s a quote from Isaiah 42.
It is a line from the description of the so-called “suffering-servant” of God.
It describes the ONE who works, night and day,
to redeem what is lost
to recover what is abandoned
to make whole EVERYTHING that is broken…!
THIS is the one who gives his life—
giving, doing, caring—
–that ALL may know the wonderful ways of God!
And so it was, still wet from his baptism,
that Jesus left the Jordan…and he went about God’s business:
Every crying person,
every diseased person,
every broken person,
every lost person,
every alienated person,
every suffering person—was his BUSINESS!
Sure, he was the Son of God,
he was the KING—but what that MEANT was—
simply this: Jesus’ business was GOD’s Business.
And what is God’s business?
To see that the broken are made whole,
the alienated are welcomed home,
and all people are redeemed in JOY and in HOPE,
in LOVE and in GRACE!
Throughout his life,
the great Protestant Reformer Martin Luther
kept saying “Remember your Baptism.”
He said it on Sunday, he said it through out the week.
He said it all the time.
Which I always found kind of silly.
How could they possibly do that?
In Luther’s church, like ours, most of the people who were baptized were infants—
–they were brought by their mothers and fathers and they were baptized.
How could they remember their baptism?
WHY did Luther say that?
To make you feel guilty?
For all the times I have forgotten my baptism?
Is he scolding here—for all the ways we have strayed
from our baptismal promise?
Everyone of us strays from our baptism
forgets out baptism
denies our baptism.
What Luther had in mind was this:
Remember your baptism so that you can CLAIM YOURSELF a child of God
so you can be about God’s business!
God’s business: serving other people,
binding up that which is BROKEN
redeeming that which is lost,
making things WHOLE.
What’s your business?
Do you think much about that?
What is YOUR BUSINESS?
Fred Craddock tells the story from when he was a pastor
in Custer City, Oklahoma—
–a small town of 450 people in the southwestern part of the state.[i]
He describes the down by saying there were FIVE churches in town—
the Baptist Church
the Methodist Church
the Nazarene Church
the Christian Church (or we’d say the Disciples of Christ)
AND, the café, down on main street.
On Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings, Craddock said,
the café more than held its own in attendance with the four churches.
In fact, the BEST and most consistent attendance was at that little café—
–where all the pick-up trucks were parked,
and where all the men gathered to discuss the weather and the cattle
and the hail, and the wind,
and the wheat bugs…
Most of their wives and children were in one of those four churches—
but a majority of the MEN held forth in the café.
They were always there.
Now, once in a while, they would LOSE a member there at the café–
-because their wives or kids would finally go to them—
–and they would sheepishly go off to one of the churches.
But, the men at the café still felt strong.
The patron saint of the group that met at the café was named Frank.
Frank was 77 when Craddock met him for the first time.
He was a good man,
a strong man,
a pioneer rancher and farmer—and he had prospered too.
He had been born in a sod house.
He had earned his credentials,
and all the men at that café considered him their patron saint.
“Old Frank—he’ll never go to church!”
Craddock, the minister of the Disciples church in town,
met Frank on the street one day.
It was NEVER his custom to ACCOST people in the name of Jesus—
–he just shook hands with Frank and was chatting.
But FRANK took the offensive.
He was NOT offensive—but he took the offensive.
He said, “I work hard. I take care of my family.
and I mind my own business.
If you ask me, everything else is FLUFF.”
Did you see what he told him?
“Leave me alone—I’m NOT a prospect.”
That’s why Craddock was SURPRISED,
the church was SURPRISED
the whole town was SURPRISED
and the men in the café were absolutely DUMBSTRUCK—
–when old Frank, at 77 years old,
presented himself one Sunday morning…for BAPTISM!
And Frank was BAPTIZED.
Now, some of the talk in the community was:
“Frank must be sick.”
“I guess he’s scared to meet his maker.”
“They say he has heart trouble…”
“Never thought Frank would do that—
–but I guess when you get sacred…”
And there were all kinds of stories like that…
But this is the way it was, as Frank told it:
Craddock asked him:
“Frank, do you remember that saying you used to give me all the time—
I work hard.
I take care of my family.
And I mind my own business…”
And he said: “Yeah! I remember that!
I used to say that a lot.
I still say it, as a matter of fact.”
And Fred asked Frank: “So what is the difference?”
And Frank said: “I did not know then…what my business was.”
Frank: He discovered…what his business was.
He NEVER ONCE said what exactly it was that turned him—
–what focused him on what his business really was.
ONLY that one day, he appeared to realize that his business was:
to help redeem the lost,
to help recover what is abandoned,
to help MAKE WHOLE everything that is broken…!
So, Frank stood there, before the congregation, and was baptized.
With liberal application of the cleansing,
living water of God—the words were spoken:
“In the presence of those who have gathered
and upon your confession of faith in Jesus Christ,
and in obedience to his command—
–I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son,
and the Holy Spirit. Amen”
So today, we have a big day.
each of them pondering some of the basic questions of our faith
and imagining where they fit in God’s big story.
Five adults, set apart for ordered ministry
Ordained, some of them, and installed, all of them
to our session
who also have been asked to think about where we as a church
fits into God’s big story.
All of these wonderful things
growing out of our baptisms, where we are celebrating
how God claims each of us as God’s very own
and gives to us the joyous work of loving others in his name.
Remember your baptism. Remember our business.
It is so powerful to know that we are loved, simply and plainly loved.
And we are. That’s what our baptism signifies: we are beloved.
And it is likewise so useful to know what we are meant for,
what we are made for.
To be about God’s business.
Thanks be to God for this incredible gift.
[i] Fred Craddock, Craddock Stories, (St. Louis, Missouri: Chalice Press, 2001) p. 67-69. The flow of this sermon and some other content closely adapted from an earlier work of Craddock entitled “Attending a Baptism”
Image: The Baptism of Christ, found at https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1f/Baptism-of-Christ.jpg