Sunday, January 10, 2010

You are baptized, what did you expect?

Luke 3:15-22, Westminster Pres, Santa Fe. Jan 10, 2010

[Much of the ideas and outline for this sermon came from Joanna Adams sermon broadcast Jan 10, 2010 on entitled "God Believes in You". This is the date of her retirement after an admirable faithful life in ministry.]

Last weekend many of you had a chance to meet my friends, Jeff and Renee, who were in town visiting from Colorado Springs with their energetic and wonderfully curious four-year old twin girls, Lela and Karis. On Saturday, we went to what is becoming one of my favorite places in town: The children's Museum. Fun with face paint, bubbles, giant Costa Rican cockroaches…. It was great. It must have been just after the cockroaches that Jeff approached me: "Hey Topple (that's what my old friends would call me), Renee and I were wondering if you would baptize our kids tomorrow?" I was a little taken aback: What an honor and a privilege! Participating in people's baptisms are some of the most sacred and treasured moments I have as a minister. But, tomorrow? Don't I need session approval for something like that? Doesn't the family need to be part of the congregation? All of these things that come to my mind as a pastor in a church when all I wanted to do is say: YES! I'd love to and what a joy to know that you want them to be baptized, to claim their inheritance as beloved children of God, and that you want me to do it! [Note: Margaret Sandoval, a beloved elderly elder, said to me after the service..."It probably would have been alright for you to baptize those girls." I love her!]

Well, we didn't have a baptism here last Sunday....perhaps the opportunity will come sometime in the future, decently and in order… I certainly suggested as much.

The way baptisms are done in many churches these days is a curious thing. Some churches baptize tiny tiny infants and make all these proclaimations.. Others have a pool in their buildings, as if that really replicates a river baptism: Submersion! I have done several baptisms since I entered the ministry; from infant to a baptism in an ocean where I almost got swept away by the tide!

In this church, with the person to be baptized, we gather around the font, and I say: "Hear the words of our Lord Jesus Christ: 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.'" During the sacrament, everyone present is invited to:"Remember your own baptism and be grateful." Remember our baptism…? Well, I was just 6 months do this, I had to go to my mother and father to ask for some details... They remembered that Matt Moore lifted me up above his head, and I promptly spit up on his suit. Fortunately that was before the service began.

I suppose it was for this reason that Jeff and Renee wanted their girls baptized at the age of they could remember. Of course, it is with good reason we baptize infants in the church: to acknowledge that they are loved and claimed by God before they can utter even a word—"A visible sign of invisible grace" as the ancient catechism puts it so well. And, with good reason we baptize children and adults.

We are listening to the voice of John THE Baptizer who said: “Repent and be Baptised!” By the time we are children and adults, we are aware, to varying degrees, that we have messed up in many ways…and we want forgiveness…to be washed and made clean.

The adult Jesus heard that voice of John the baptizer, and although we believe he, the Messiah who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire—had no need to experience a baptism of repentance, he still joins the back of the line with those gathered waiting for their turn to take a bath in the Jordan river. And when his turn comes John dips Jesus into the cool water, the rush of the river flows over his head. He comes up from the water and prays. He prays….

Suddenly heaven itself opens, the Holy Spirit incarnate—a dove— flies down; a voice from heaven that all who are gathered can hear: "You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well-pleased." Words any son or daughter would cherish like none other from a parent….imagine this coming from God....

There was an actor in Atlanta named Tom Keys who produced the play, "Cotton Patch Gospel."[2] And in the play, Tom Key played favorite part to play if I can get it... Tom stood on a ladder on the stage. The actor playing the just baptized Jesus stood below him looking up with hope and perhaps a little bit of anxiety in his eyes. But he needn't have worried. God speaks in a voice loud enough to be heard all the way down St. Francis Dr.: "You are my boy, Jesus. I am so proud of you!" (J. Adams)

And doesn't something similar happen between God and us in our own baptisms. We are made one with Christ and God says: "This one is mine! I see my image in her! Don't you see my image in him? And here comes my Spirit, my Spirit to sustain and guide as you go about doing what I put you on earth to do." (J. Adams). It was after all God who chose to bring us into the world. And God's grace claims us and reclaims us over and over again. Sometimes, I get worried…maybe all of us do…whether or not I’m good enough or worthy of God’s love, of anyone’s love. And the Apostle Paul reminds us, we are all unworthy and without hope save in God's grace and mercy. We who are baptized struggle, just like everybody else, to be decent human beings. We are tempted, just like anybody else, to be less than God created us to be. But in Jesus our Lord, God gives us the spiritual power to choose a higher and better way.

Beginning with baptism—that real, wet, cold, sometimes frightening experience—we live into the promise that we will have a strength that comes from another world that enables us to desire and to work for God's good purposes here on earth. And as we walk the road of discipleship, imagine God standing on a ladder somewhere or even better, sitting on a star in the heavens, saying, "Do you see my girl down there? I am so proud of her. She's not perfect, but she's mine." (J. Adams)

Maybe that’s why Church Reformer Martin Luther, so often worried by a sense of unworthiness and despair, kept an inscription over his desk that read, "Remember, you have been baptized." He used to touch his forehead and remind himself, "Martin, you have been baptized." I don’t do that often enough, but I did it as I was preparing for this sermon... I touched my forehead and said, “Chester, you have been baptized—you’re a beloved child of God.” Take a moment, touch your own forehead, and remember: baptized or not yet baptized, you are a beloved child of God. (J. Adams)

I shared with all of you whose email address I have of Ruby Gene's struggles this week. It was Thursday afternoon. Her second full day with a fever...her eyes were weak; smiles, infrequent. But, still she had enough strength when I got home to show some emotion. She stood up to walk, something new to her and us...and she walked from the living room in our house into the kitchen, but before she could reach the kitchen she tripped over the small half-inch rise in the floor. She fell to her hands and knees... Sobbed a bit, but got back up... And walked through the kitchen headed toward our dinner table, but before she could get there, she tripped this time the floor descended just one half inch. She fell to her hands and knees, sobbing a little longer this time. She got back up a third time...and headed past her toys to the ottoman in the living room, completing a full circle. But before she could get to the ottoman, she tripped over the shaggy carpet....She fell to her hands and knees...and lowered her head between her sad little shoulders.  This time— frustrated, sick, momentarily defeated—she cried.... I went to her and picked her up and held her in my arms and said, “I'm so sorry my precious one. It’s going to be okay. How I love you so.”

God has compassion and love for us far beyond anything we can imagine, more than anything we have experienced from anyone else!

When we are told, when we can accept, when we can remember that we are God's child... by touching our foreheads, by washing our hands or taking a shower, when the rain falls on our faces....Baptism!—
we are free from all that would attempt to defeat us...

In his book Craddock Stories, Fred Craddock tells of an evening when he and his wife were eating dinner in a little restaurant. A strange and elderly man went over to their table and introduced himself. "I grew us just down the road from here," he said. "My mother was not married, and the shame the community directed toward her was also directed toward me. Whenever I went to town with my mother, I could see people staring at us, making guesses about who my daddy was. At school, I ate lunch alone. In my early teens, I began attending a little church but always left before church was over, because I was afraid somebody would ask me what a boy like me was doing in church. One day, before I could escape, I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was the minister. He looked closely at my face. I knew that he too was trying to guess who my father was. 'Well, boy, you are a child of. . .' and then he paused. When he spoke again he said, 'Boy, you are a child of God. I see a striking resemblance.' Then he gave me a pat on the back and said,

'Now, you go on and claim your inheritance.' I left church that day a different person," the now elderly man said. "In fact, that was the beginning of my life." (as told by J. Adams)

You, queridos todos, are Children of God...What did you expect? Remember that you have been baptized and rejoice. If you never have been baptized, then find a church…maybe this church, I love to do baptisms…and claim your inheritance.

[1] Jesus got in line to be baptized, like everyone else, he didn't have to I suppose...He went under the water, like everyone else..he didn't have to I suppose...He came up out of the everyone are my beloved are my beloved daughter...I'm so pleased with you.

[2] Clarence Jordan


  1. I liked the reference to Martin Luther, being raised in the lutheran church myself :) Loved the story about the kid going to church and finally being told he was a child of God. Sometimes when I get down on people, I try to remind myself that they too are a child of God and usually trying to do their best.

  2. That Luther story is one of my favorites...have you been touching your forehead? There is something special about that, which is why maybe many women in the Hindu tradition dot their foreheads. I'd be interested in you sharing more about that from your experience if you'd like.
    Since you're from the Lutheran tradition, I'd imagine you were baptised as an infant as well?

  3. I'm going to ask my parents about the dot thing and get back to you on that. I was baptized as an infant and definitely don't remember it.

    At the pentecostal church I used to go to they baptized adults with full immersion. A lot of those churches have a big tub for those ceremonies. You wore a white robe over your clothes and came out completely soaked. Lots of singing and music going on at the same time and some people speaking in tongues. As you can imagine, its quite a different experience/atmosphere from the lutherans :-)