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Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 Baptism of Our Lord Sunday

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” [NRSV]

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts..

It is my prayer that we see Jesus showing up in St Louis next month to make clear the direction of our Methodist future.

With the same uncertainly AND hope the people were anticipating the fulfillment of God’s promise to show up and lead the people.

Our text is about John the Baptist’s ministry of repentance for preparation. I offer that the United Methodist Church has been kicking-the-can on human sexuality for over forty years without repenting for not being better prepared for the struggle, division and need for spiritual leadership in this year. In these generations have we been looking for the gifts of discernment? Have we been open to God’s way of communicating grace and boundaries? How have we prepared to express the eternal love of God in an ever changing world?

The people in Israel were waiting for a Messiah, a king, who would right the wrongs of their current reality and restore Israel. Many were gathering to be baptized by John in expectation that something would soon happen — the Messiah was coming.

Is in John’s message, we are acknowledging that we have been quick to point fingers of blame and drawn out lines in the sand, WITHOUT, learning how to show the power of loving all sinners.

Epiphany is a season of claiming our “Greater Gifts”, and today we will be exploring how baptism, as a “first gift” from God, leads us in life toward paths of discovering and rediscovering God-given gifts, activating those gifts through the Holy Spirit, understanding how our gifts are interrelated to the gifts of other disciples in the body of Christ, and how important it is to stay true to the heart of our God-given gifts — the love of God in Christ.

So what about this gift of baptism?

Some of you may have never been baptized. Later in the service, we want to give you an opportunity to sign up to be baptized next week if you feel God calling. Some of you were baptized more recently; some recently confirmed the baptism of your childhood; and for some, perhaps it has been many years since your baptism.

What do you remember leading up to that moment? Or, what did your parents or guardians tell you about that moment? Who was present? What did it mean to them?

I told him I wanted to follow Jesus my whole life and I thought it should start with being baptized. In those moments, the sanctuary became a thin space. The heavens did not open, but I felt God’s presence all around. As Wesley said, “my heart was strangely warmed.” On January 9, 1983, I received the gift of baptism and was forever changed. As a matter of fact, I remember telling my good friend Kevin about the experience right away. He was also a Christian, and he told about his experience of baptism, showing me a silver cross around his neck. In our young friendship, our faith was not something we talked about. In that moment, we shared God’s gift to us, and our joy was complete.

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