Matthew 3:13-17 “I Need to be Baptized..” JUMC 20140112

baptism3:13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.  And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” [NRSV]

Baptism Text: The text from Matthew focuses on the relationship between Jesus and John and the fulfillment of scripture. It also describes the humanity of Jesus and affirms that baptism is not simply a cleansing ritual, but rather a presence and claim experience between us and God.

We celebrate and practice communion on a monthly basis. Each month we have the visual and tangible experience of finding Christ’s presence and it is a refresher or booster of our baptism.

Our communion table is Christ’s table and it open to all persons, for we are all in need of that grace and power of God’s claim on our lives.

Baptism is not a hoop to be checked-off as a membership requirement, although baptism is a sign that we are indeed members of the faith and joint heirs with Christ.

In Jesus’ baptism, it was not proof of his divinity, it is affirmation that we all need to be claimed by God.

Have you been baptized?

Do you remember?

I do not as I was only three months old and wore a linen dress on a hot south Georgia Sunday. Some strange man took me from my mother’s arms and poured cold water on my head and dress. Messed up my hair and caused me to scream and cry my eyes out. Finally I was returned to my father’s arms and was soon blinded by flash bulb from my grand parents who were then scolded for taking pictures in the sanctuary.

When I was thirteen I wore my sued chuck-a-boots, lime green leisure suit and parrot-paisley knit shirt to gather at the alter with my confirmation class lead by Sergeant Elizabeth Smith. I don’t know if she was ever in Uncle Sam’s army but she was certainly in the Lord’s Army and she prepared us to answer the perfect answers to the questions of examination of the faith. I don’t know if anyone at that altar that morning had a Paul-on-the-road-to-Damascus experience, but we were well dressed, well prepared and knew exactly where to stand.

It was more likely that I felt the presence of God’s Spirit in a recognizable way, for the first time, while a camper at Camp Glisson a year after my confirmation.

Divine Divide of Grace and Time

In the Matthew Text the timing between the human-to-human conversation and ritual of coming to John at the river is not about a confession of sinfulness for Jesus.

  • 1. John’s invitation to believers and followers was to turn toward God, repentance. It is a spiritual alignment.
  • Placing ourselves aimed toward God, from where ever we are and face where we are going and becoming in God’s grace.
  • 2. There is the response of Jesus accepting the ritual and practice of belonging to those who need God’s claim of their lives.
  • There is a transformation from John’s invitation to get cleaned-up to Jesus’s choosing to commit his life to the ministry of God’s choosing. So the water becomes not only cleansing; it also is a preparing for part two of our lives.
  • 3. Is God’s claim of our willingness to place our lives and trust in God’s hands and heart.
  • This is my child. When we are baptized, we also become child of God.

This is My Child

The most powerful part of the text is the claiming part of baptism. God declares, this is MY child. This person that John baptize is claim by God, not by John. Baptism is not so much a church ritual as it is a divine parental defining of our identity and relationship with God. We are the kids, God is the parent. We are the family together.

Questions and More Questions:

So are we not Children of God before we are baptized?

The simple answer is no, but that is not a completely helpful answer.

Yes we are children of God’s creation, filled with grace and hope of becoming one who chooses God’s heart to guide our lives. But God does not force the inheritance upon us. But it is ours for the taking.

The Door is Open

Think of Baptism as a doorway. You can walk in and see the life God has prepared for us. And once you have seen it you know what life God has for you. It is reflected in the life and teaching of Jesus.

We might think we can walk through that door, but the only way to undo awareness of coming of age is to choose rejection or apathy. But the Door of Baptism never closes.

There are those who would teach that you better utter the magic words, “I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior” before we draw out last breath because then it is too late. But they does not actually follow with a Gracious Parent who crosses the chasm of death to make a way for us.

A View from the Lap of God.

If you are seated in God’s lap, embraced in arms of love and mercy, kneely at the feet of the one who breathed breath from your first and last, if you look into God’s eyes and say: “I want no part of you, let me go.” I believe God lets us go.

If you are face to face with God in judgement and God asks, “Do you love me” and we reply “I hate you.” God does not force us to love.

If we are faced with the full picture of our life filled with failures, fears, sins and struggle and we say “Lord have Mercy” Why would God of Grace revert to the ways of the Law? God will have mercy

SO WHY NOT WAIT UNTIL THEN?

It is the power, life, claim, assurance, comfort, peace, grace, love that we live without if we wait.

God wants for each of us to be part of the family, why would someone want to just be a guest when they could be kin?

Salvation is a process. (Baptism is the start)

We are claimed and saved so that we can grow in relationship with God and God’s people.

This is why we are a church.

To claim the outsider, the orphan, the widow, the forgotten, the rejected, the proud, the hard-hearted, that together we grow together toward God.

When there are those outside the family, how can we celebrate in the house?

(The unwritten part of the Prodigal Sons story: The father can’t be in the party when there are those on the outside looking in with anger, jealousy, fear, division, confusion, hate, etc.)

Baptism is our entrance into the party of salvation.

Come on in, the Party is on!

 

 

 

Notes from UMC.org and GBOD.org

In all forms of Christian baptism, God claims those being baptized, whatever their age or ability to profess their faith, with divine grace. Clearly an infant can do nothing to save himself or herself, but is totally dependent on God’s grace, as we all are — whatever our age.

Most traditions that practice or recognize as valid the baptism only of believers — those who have professed faith in Jesus Christ for themselves in some public way — practice baptism not as a means of grace by which God saves and claims us, but rather as a further act of public profession and/or an act of obedience to the command of Christ that his followers be baptized. That is why these “believer’s baptism only” traditions generally refer to baptism as an ordinance — an act ordained or commanded by Christ — rather than a sacrament. The term sacrament means “an oath” and refers to God’s covenant with us (first of all) and ours in response to God’s gracious provision of salvation in Jesus Christ.

United Methodists recognize the baptism of “believers only” traditions, provided those traditions baptize people in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as generally understood in historic Christianity. We offer baptism to people of all ages who have not previously received Christian baptism in any form. We do not rebaptize those who have already received Christian baptism in any form. Even when the people being baptized are believing adults and are ready to profess their faith, our first emphasis is upon the gracious action of God who establishes the covenant of baptism with us rather than upon the individual’s decision.

Who tells you who you are?
We receive our identity from others, from the expectations of friends and colleagues, from the labels society puts upon us, and from the influence of family.

To become Christian is to receive a new identity. You no longer allow others to tell you who you are. Christ now claims you and instructs you. A Christian is one who has “put on Christ.”

Baptism celebrates becoming that new person. That is why the church’s ritual begins with putting off the old, renouncing sin and the evil powers of the world, and pledging our loyalty to Christ.

God Initiates the Covenant
We also believe that in baptism God initiates a covenant with us, announced with the words, “The Holy Spirit works within you, that being born through water and the Spirit, you may be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.” This is followed by the sign-act of laying hands on the head, or the signing of the cross on the forehead with oil. The word covenant is a biblical word describing God’s initiative in choosing Israel to be a people with a special mission in the world, and Israel’s response in a life of faithfulness. The baptismal covenant calls us to a similar vocation.

God Has Chosen Us
Christians have also understood the baptismal covenant in light of Jesus’ baptism. At Jesus’ baptism, God said: “This is my son.” While Jesus’ relation to God as Son is unique, for Christians baptism means that God has also chosen us as daughters and sons, and knows us intimately as a parent.

So the most important things about us, our true identity, is that we are now sons and daughters of God. That is why the introduction to the United Methodist Baptismal Covenant states, “We are incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation and given new birth through water and the Spirit.”

The introduction also says, “Through the Sacrament of Baptism, we are initiated into Christ’s holy church.”

Baptism Is the Door
From the beginning, baptism has been the door through which one enters the church. It was inconceivable to many that one could respond to God’s grace by reciting the renunciations, affirming one’s faith in Christ and loyalty to the Kingdom, without joining the fellowship of those who are committed to mature in that faith. As the “Body of Christ” in the world, baptism commissions us to use our gifts to strengthen the church and to transform the world.

Why Baptize Babies?
From the earliest times, children and infants were baptized and included in the church. As scriptural authority for this ancient tradition, some scholars cite Jesus’ words, “Let the little children come to me…for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs” (Mark 10:14). However, a more consistent argument is that baptism, as a means of grace, signifies God’s initiative in the process of salvation. John Wesley preached “prevenient grace,” the grace that works in our lives before we are aware of it, bringing us to faith. The baptism of children and their inclusion in the church before they can respond with their own confirmation of faith is a vivid and compelling witness to prevenient grace.

Baptism Is Forever
Because baptism is a sacrament of God’s grace and a covenant that God has initiated, it should not be repeated. However, God’s continuing and patient forgiveness, God’s prevenient grace, will prompt us to renew the commitment first made at our baptism. At such a time, instead of rebaptism, The United Methodist Church offers the ritual for the reaffirmation of baptismal vows, which implies that, while God remains faithful to God’s half of the covenant, we are not always faithful to our promises. Our half of the covenant is to confess Christ as our Savior, trust in his grace, serve him as Lord in the church, and carry out his mission against evil, injustice, and oppression.

Baptism Is the Beginning, Not the End
You have heard people say, “I was baptized Methodist,” or “I was baptized Presbyterian,” which could mean that in baptism they got their identity papers and that was the end of it. But baptism is not the end. It is the beginning of a lifelong journey of faith. It makes no difference whether you were baptized as an adult or as a child; we all start on that journey at baptism. For the child, the journey begins in the nurturing community of the church, where he or she learns what it means that God loves you. At the appropriate time, the child will make his or her first confession of faith in the ritual the church traditionally calls confirmation. Most often, this is at adolescence or at the time when the person begins to take responsibility for his or her own decisions.

If you experienced God’s grace and were baptized as an adult or received baptism as a child and desire to reaffirm your baptismal vows, baptism still marks the beginning of a journey in the nurturing fellowship of the caring, learning, worshipping, serving congregation.

What Is a Sacrament?
The word sacrament is the Latin translation of the Greek word mysterion. From the early days of the church, baptism was associated with the mystery that surrounds God’s action in our lives. That means that at best our words can only circumscribe what happens, but not define it. We cannot rationally explain why God would love us “while we were yet sinners” and give his only begotten Son that we should not perish but have eternal life. That is the most sacred and unfathomable mystery of all. We can experience God’s grace at any time and in any place, but in the sacrament of baptism we routinely experience that amazing grace.

From A United Methodist Understanding of Baptism by Mark C. Trotter.

Q. Does The United Methodist Church now have an accepted understanding of baptismal theology and practice?

A: Yes. Our church’s position is expressed in the services of the Baptismal Covenant (especially Baptismal Covenant I) in The United Methodist Hymnal, 1989, and The United Methodist Book of Worship, 1992, and in By Water and the Spirit. All of these have been approved by the General Conference — the only body that can speak for the whole denomination.

Q: What does United Methodism fundamentally believe about baptism?

A: Baptism is a sacrament. In a sacrament, God uses common elements — in this case, water — as means or vehicles of divine grace. Baptism is administered by the church as the Body of Christ. It is the act of God through the grace of Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Q: What is the difference between infant baptism and believer’s baptism?

A: In all forms of Christian baptism, God claims those being baptized, whatever their age or ability to profess their faith, with divine grace.Clearly an infant can do nothing to save himself or herself, but is totally dependent on God’s grace, as we all are — whatever our age.

Most traditions that practice or recognize as valid the baptism only of believers — those who have professed faith in Jesus Christ for themselves in some public way — practice baptism not as a means of grace by which God saves and claims us, but rather as a further act of public profession and/or an act of obedience to the command of Christ that his followers be baptized. That is why these “believer’s baptism only” traditions generally refer to baptism as an ordinance — an act ordained or commanded by Christ — rather than a sacrament. The term sacrament means “an oath” and refers to God’s covenant with us (first of all) and ours in response to God’s gracious provision of salvation in Jesus Christ.

United Methodists recognize the baptism of “believers only” traditions, provided those traditions baptize people in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as generally understood in historic Christianity. We offer baptism to people of all ages who have not previously received Christian baptism in any form. We do not rebaptize those who have already received Christian baptism in any form. Even when the people being baptized are believing adults and are ready to profess their faith, our first emphasis is upon the gracious action of God who establishes the covenant of baptism with us rather than upon the individual’s decision.

Q: May we have our baby dedicated instead of baptized?

A: No. The theological understandings of the two services are very different. Dedication is a human act — something we pledge or give to God. Baptism is a divine act, a pledge and gift God gives to us. Baptism of infants includes the reaffirmation of the vows of the baptismal covenant by parents, sponsors, and the congregation; but chiefly it celebrates what God is doing and will do in the life of the infant.

Q: Isn’t it better to wait until they are older and let our children decide for themselves whether or not they want to be baptized?

A: No. We no more wait for our children to decide about being in the family of God than we wait for them to decide if they would like to be a part of our human family. As parents, we make many decisions — in matters of health, safety, education, for example — for our children. Of course, they may later reject what we have done for them. But this possibility does not relieve us of the responsibility to do all that we can for them spiritually, as we do in other aspects of their lives.

Q: How about christening?

A: Christening is not a separate ritual, but rather historically part of the ritual of baptism. The use of the term christening for the sacrament probably comes from two sources: chrism is the word for the anointing oil traditionally used in baptism as a sign of the sealing by the Holy Spirit; second, in the past, children were sometimes actually given their (Christian) names in baptism. In our current ritual, parents are not asked for the name of the child, but the pastor does baptize with that name and without using the family or surname. This meaning of christening is expressed, for example, in a ceremony for the naming of a ship. Unfortunately, the term christening has been used sometimes in our history as a way of diminishing the significance of infant baptism or of indicating that it is something different from and less than the baptism of an adult. This view is completely inconsistent with the Wesleyan understanding as expressed in By Water and the Spirit, the Services of the Baptismal Covenant in our hymnal and book of worship, and The Book of Discipline.

Q: Is sprinkling the only way that United Methodists baptize?

A: No, our church has always offered to people being baptized and to the parents of infants the choice of sprinkling, pouring, or immersion.

Q: May I be baptized again if I feel the need?

A: No, baptism is an act of God, and God does it right the first time.Our side of the covenant relationship with God will need recommitment and reaffirmation, but God always remains faithful to the divine side.

Q: How can I “remember [my] baptism and be thankful” when I was baptized as a baby?

A: What we are called to remember in reaffirmation is the gift of God’s grace, not a particular event. Through appropriate remembrances and celebrations, our children can be enabled to “remember” their baptism as much as they “remember” their physical birthday.

Q: May a person who has not been baptized participate in Holy Communion?

A: Yes, our church does not seek to close God’s Table, although the historic and normal Christian order of the sacraments is baptism first — as birth into the family — and Communion following, as continuing nurture at the family table. Pastors and congregations reach out and encourage those who partake at the Table to share fully in the life of God’s people, including coming to the font after appropriate preparation.

Q: Should every baby be baptized?

A: No, the baptism of a baby assumes that the child will be nurtured and formed in the faith at home and at church.

Q: How do we express our own decisions to be Christian disciples if we have already been baptized as infants?

A: In services of profession of faith and confirmation before the congregation, we respond to God’s grace by repenting of our sins, declaring our faith in Jesus Christ, and becoming professing members of the church.

Q: Does baptism mean that I am saved?

A: No, salvation is a lifelong process during which we must continue to respond to God’s grace. Baptism offers the promise that the Holy Spirit will always be working in our lives, but salvation requires our acceptance of that grace, trust in Christ, and ongoing growth in holiness as long as we live.

Q: Do I have to be baptized in order to be saved?

A: No, but baptism is a gift of God’s grace to be received as part of the journey of salvation. To refuse to accept baptism is to reject one of the means of grace that God offers us.

Q: How can I recommit myself to Christ when I have had a powerful spiritual experience?

A: Confirmation and profession of faith are only the first of our affirmations of faith. As we experience God’s work in our ongoing lives of discipleship, we can express our commitment through participation in services of baptismal reaffirmation (Baptismal Covenant IV).

Q: Does baptism make me a member of the church?

A: Yes, baptism is the act of initiation and incorporation into the universal church of Jesus Christ, The United Methodist Church, and the local congregation, as our ritual makes very clear.

Q: Is there more than one category of church membership, according to By Water and the Spirit?

A: Yes, all people who are baptized become baptized members. Those who are baptized at an age at which they are capable of professing their faith must do so and become professing members as well (they cannot choose to be baptized members only). Those baptized as infants or young children do not become professing members until they are able to profess their own faith.

Q: Does this mean that little children can vote and hold office in the church?

A: No, the governance of the church and other such matters will be the privilege and responsibility of professing members. A similar distinction operates in secular government: Children become American citizens when they are born, but they cannot vote or hold office until later in life.

Q: Will our church start counting baptized members and regain the membership numbers we have lost in the last several decades?

A: No. While other records will certainly be kept, only professing numbers are to be counted in statistics of church membership.

Q: How will our system of rolls and record keeping be changed?

A new system of record keeping designed by the General Council on Finance and Administration went into effect in January 2005. These new records and forms are in accord with actions of the General Conference regarding our theological understanding of baptism and membership. The most salient changes are the development of a “Record of Faith Journey” for each member and of a “Permanent Church Register. ”

Q: What is the difference between “full member” and “professing member”?

A: The difference is the distinction between an institutional orientation and a communal orientation. To be a “full member” is something anyone can be in any secular (or volunteer) organization. Being a “full member” usually means simply that “I have joined the institution; I have paid my dues.” To be a “professing member” is to make a statement of commitment and participation in a community of disciples. Being a “professing member” expresses continuing action both within the faith community and in the world. It is a statement about an individual’s ongoing relationship and commitment to God and the church through Jesus Christ.

Q: Is a “baptized member” and a ” preparatory member” the same thing?

A: No. “preparatory members” are people the church views as candidates for membership. That category includes “baptized children and youth of the church eighteen years of age and under who are not full members, and other persons who have been enrolled in confirmation preparation.” (2000 Book of Discipline ¶ 229.2 ) “Baptized members” communicates our sacramental understanding that in baptism people ” are initiated into Christ’s holy church.” (“Services of the Baptismal Covenant,” Service I and II)

Q: Why does The United Methodist Church so understand baptism, membership, and salvation?

A: United Methodism stands in the historic heritage of the Christian faith through the ages and, specifically, in the legacy of John Wesley.Wesley was an Anglican priest. As a result, United Methodism has inherited a “high” understanding of the church, the sacraments, and other aspects of worship. Wesley was also an evangelical revivalist. As a result, United Methodism emphasizes the necessity of conversion, personal relationship with Christ, and witnessing to others. Neither of these aspects alone represents who we are. As United Methodists, we hold the two together in our baptismal theology and practice and in our broader understanding of how God works in our lives for salvation.

Worship Resources with The General Board of Discipleship.

 

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