So we’re thinking about Baptism this morning.
I was watching an old favorite last night,
The Cohen Brothers film O Brother, Where Art Thou.
George Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson
Play three escaped convicts trying to get to the treasure
That Clooney stashed away following some robbery
Before the whole area is flooded to make a new lake.
It’s a goofy modern satire, based somewhat on Homer’s Odyssey.
And in one scene they’re standing around on a trail arguing about something
When out of nowhere, it seems, they’re surrounded all of a sudden
By a chorus of voices.
And these people, scores of them
step out of the trees of the forest and walk right by
Oblivious to them and their troubles.
The voices are headed down to the river, which is what they’re singing about:
I’ll go down to the river to pray
Studin about that Good ol way
And who shall wear, the starry crown
Good Lord, Show me the way
So the three escapees follow the crowd down to the river
Where they witness several people getting baptized.
And, so moved by this, one of them rushes in to get baptized too…
Take a look…
Its such a great scene. The look on Clooney’s face when these two dive right in.
It reminded me of another video I showed you once
Though I was asking around this week many of you didn’t remember it
So I’m going to show it again,
Maybe the most joyful baptism I’ve ever seen:
Now how fun was that?
The waters of baptism just weren’t enough for the first dunking.
Did you see how the water just got EVERYWHERE?
They’re drenched, the boy, the pastor,
The congregation, the escaped hapless vagabonds in O Brother.
So we’re thinking about Baptism this morning.
I have a story I want to share,
But first lets talk a bit, theologically, about Baptism…
This is appropriate, because every year we transition
from the birth of the newborn Jesus at Christmas
into the season of reflection about what Jesus’ life and ministry were like
by looking at his Baptism. Jesus’ Baptism.
The Baptism of Our Lord.
Baptism is this sacrament of welcome we offer
Not our welcome, lets be clear
But God’s welcome.
It’s a way we point to the grace God already gives each one of us
And say, yes sir, yes please, that grace is mine too.
When we baptize someone,
we are making a public declaration
Of God’s care and compassion and love for them.
We are asked to remember our own, too.
It’s the same baptism whether out in the river or in a big pool or sprinkled from a font.
Now matter how its done
the water always gets stirred up. Or troubled, to use that more ancient term.
You might remember the words of that great African-American Spiritual
Wade in the Water.
Wade in the water
Wade in the water children
Wade in the water
God’s gonna trouble the water….[i]
What does that mean, God’s gonna trouble the water?
What is it about God that stirs, maybe that troubles,
that moves, that captivates
that ultimately connects us together as a family, as a church…?
Baptism is our entry into the church.
Its is an out front, public act. It’s a bit bold, too.
Recent surveys on American religion are fascinating.
More than 85 percent of the Americans polled say they believe in God.
…But only HALF of those say they are ACTIVE in any organized religious group.
That’s probably being generous.
As the Gallop organization observed:
“Americans are more religious than ever.
They just don’t care for churches
and religious organizations.”
Well, looking at some churches, how they act and what they preach
I think I can see why some people are turned off. I likely would be too.
But even so, the reality is that
the Christian faith has always been experienced in community.
It has to be.
Any one of us would get too much wrong on our own
And more importantly we would miss out on something fundamental.
The New Testament Church
didn’t see faith as a set of lofty ideals and noble propositions,
which you could understand, see, on your own…
It wasn’t just a system of ethics and guides for behavior.
They experienced the Christian faith as a CORPORATE endeavor—
–a way of life TOGETHER, following Jesus.
Faith that was formed not so much by the notions or the ideas
But in and through friendships, the relationships that we have, because of Jesus.
It is the experience of belonging, despite our differences,
A belonging that is rooted in God’s acceptance, not ours.
Jesus NOT ONLY preached, taught, healed, and acted—
–Jesus formed a community, a koinonia is the fancy word for it
He gathered disciples,
bringing together the most unlikely of people,
and made them a FAMILY.
There really is NO such thing as a solitary Christian.
There IS no way of doing the faith by a online course.
Anyone who does NOT engage others, in faith, in some sort of community
—does not fully know its Lord.
…And baptism is the door.
But the door to what, exactly?
BAPTISM reminds us that from beginning to end,
our salvation and our identity are bound together—
–with EACH OTHER.
It’s a group event.
But, its NOT just ANY group event…
We might be able to agree on what the church is NOT:
–The church is NOT the social club of the like-minded and the similarly disposed.
–The church is NOT the chummy gathering of people who are simply
socio-economically or ideologically or politically alike—
–OR even persons who nurture one another in a “support setting”.
The church is held together by something so much more substantial.
All this gives US way too much credit, anyway.
And doesn’t give God much of any.
The church is NOT what WE bring to it OR what WE make out of it—
No! The church is what GOD brings and makes out of us.
And so, in other passages about Baptism in our Bible
the Apostle Paul, who often dealt with communities
that were diverse and fractious,
told the bickering Corinthians,
“For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into ONE body.”[ii]
He proclaimed to the Ephesians:
“There is one body and one Spirit,
just as you were called to the one hope of your calling—
–one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God of all.”[iii]
His point: The church’s unity is a gift,—it’s NOT an achievement.
How else could anyone explain how so diverse a people as US
could come together—EXCEPT that our togetherness is grace?
We at the Kirk are fortunate that we don’t experience many differences
That is true.
We recognize that all of us are engaging God honestly, truthfully
But that may look different for you than it does for me.
I mean, in this church today…
…we have people who dwell in lavish homes,
and those who are recovering from foreclosure.
…we are a group of people who, if polled, would split 10 different ways
on the pressing issues of our day;
…we have those who have known God their whole lives,
and those who are just getting around to God after some struggle;
…we have those who are here largely because of GUILT
and those who are here motivated instead by GRATITUDE.
Seriously, look at you. Look at us!
What an AWKARD collection we are, to be brought together
under ONE ROOF for WORSHIP!
But here we are, all of us, beloved.
All of us welcome, part of a family.
And like any family—one cannot really join the family of God.
One must be adopted.
Joining the church is NOT simply a matter of joining a voluntary society
of religiously inclined people.
We do not join the church, so much as we are JOINED into it.
Welcomed to it by our Lord.
From the earliest times,
Christians spoke of their salvation in terms of “adoption.”
BAPTISM—as initiation into the church—
–was compared to adoption,
being made a child, an “heir” of God.
To use the language of the reformers,
it meant we Put on Christ…like a garment, a robe.
Now, this is important,
because it describes in part what God is doing in the world:
God saves us through the love we share in Christ
The way we feel that love, experience that love,
How we let it shape and change who we are.
A love that GOD just gives away,
to all of us, free, overflowing, unconditional.
So we, in our tradition, extend baptism to all:
to adults who, having not been part of the church,
sense God’s love and God’s movement in their lives
and desiring to become part of the way of Jesus…
to infants, too young to understand
much less respond to God in their lives
but who nonetheless ARE surrounded by the love of God.
Our sacrament of baptism isn’t magic. WE aren’t doing something FOR God.
It points to something that God is ALREADY doing and has ALREADY done.
God has already welcomed people into God’s kingdom. All people.
Baptism simply is a sign and a seal of that reality.
A ritual of welcome.
Ok, so now the story:
A friend who pastors a church in Boise
was reflecting on her first Baptism of the Lord sermon eight years ago.[iv]
In that sermon, Marci was making this point:
when WE are baptized,
whether as infants or as cannonballing youngsters or as adults,
we talk about being engrafted into the body of Christ.
We talk about being JOINED with Christ in HIS baptism.
Therefore, she said, in her sermon,
That God is speaking to US when God’s voice shreds the heavens apart to yell:
“This is my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased…”
After worship, an eighteen year old came into her office,
shut her door,
and asked her, in all seriousness: Is it true?
Is what true? she asked.
When God is saying ‘you are my beloved Child’
is God talking about me?
She replied, without a moment’s hesitation: Yes!
Are you sure? Even for the gays? Even for me?
Yes. There are plenty of things I am unsure of,
but of this I am positive. You are God’s beloved Child.
In you, Christopher, God is well pleased.
How can that be? I’m a mess.
Yes. Well, that may be. We are all a mess at one time or another.
Doesn’t change the game at all.
You, Christopher, are God’s beloved child.
How could God be pleased with me? I’m a disaster!
Marci said: Chris, I’ve since learned, is prone to head to the worst
But at that moment, I recognized his concern:
He had family trouble.
He had school trouble.
He was struggling to come to terms with his [identity]
in a very conservative place.
So Marci asked him:
Have you ever made anything before—
a painting, a piece of pottery, whatever?
Well, how do you feel about those things you made?
Well, they aren’t perfect, but they are mine, and I am proud of them.
There you go. That’s how God feels about you.
You are God’s creation. You aren’t perfect. But you are God’s.
God made you and loves you. God is well pleased.
Chris said: I want to be baptized then! I want to join in to THAT.
Talk about troubling the waters!
AND, IT GETS BETTER:
In baptism, once God has adopted us as God’s own—
we are adopted. Period.
–God does not kick us out, even when we wander.
God reaches out.
God searches until we are found.
God heals our brokenness.
And…God NEVER lets us go easily!
Fifteen years ago, on a brief excursion looking into chaplaincy programs
at a state penitentiary,
I caught a glimpse of mothers and fathers come, day after day,
and call on their jailed sons,
only to be sent away because the sons refused to see them.
But the mothers and fathers kept returning each day—in spite of their refusals—
–hoping that someday they would receive them.
God’s love is like that—even more so.
Baptism reminds us that God’s love never ends
and that nothing we do
can ever separate us from the Love we have in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This is a wonderful morning for us at John Knox Kirk.
Baptism not only incorporates us into the church but also reminds the church—
–again and again—
–of who we are and what we are supposed to be doing.
ALL of our nurture and education—for adults and youth and children,
EVERYTHING we do in mission—
from justice to advocacy,
to feeding, caring, housing—and reaching out..
all the singing and playing and sermons
care of those in need,
times of sharing and learning together,
the weddings and funerals and Lord’s Suppers—
—ALL are part of the church’s continuing baptismal work
of proclaiming God’s all encompassing love
for the world.
Its part of our work of troubling the waters.
Of helping God shake up this world where people feel left out, unloved, unwanted.
We’re building a church where we live out
God’s welcome in the world.
In a few moments, we will be ordaining and installing our new Ruling Elders
to a three year term on our church session.
We have two new Ruling Elders, ordained for the first time.
And four who are ready for another round of leadership.
God has given each of them all the gifts they need to do their work
to guide and nurture and uplift and govern and dream.
When they are ordained and installed, we all are given a chance to remember
that God gives each of us work to do, and gifts to do it
that each of us have a place in THIS community
that you MATTER here
that YOU are loved and in you, God is WELL PLEASED.
That the waters of baptism are meant to drench you in joy and in hope
So thoroughly soaked that you can’t quite ever get dry.
The promises of baptism,
the burdens and responsibilities given,
the hopeful word of grace,
the loving action of God,
the demand for lifelong response…are the same for all—
–no matter what the age.
As we wade in the water, all of us are welcomed and loved
and accepted and challenged to be part of GOD’S STORY
which is unfolding before our very eyes…
So, at whatever age or circumstance we enter those graceful waters,
from wherever we come,
and to wherever we are going in this life,
with whatever values we hold dear,
and whatever SCARS we bear—
—when we wade into those graceful baptismal waters—
–we emerge rising from darkness to light,
from loneliness to community,
as fragile and dependent as a newborn baby,
needing the love and warmth of God’s human family,
of THIS family of God…
We can live with NOTHING LESS.
Here—in this place—we should live EXPECTING nothing less…
May it be so
[ii] 1 Corinthians 12:13
[iii] Ephesians 4:4
[iv] Recounted by the Reverend Marci Auld Glass at http://marciglass.com/2014/01/11/the-grace-of-baptism/