January 10, 2021 – First Sunday after the Epiphany
“While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied– altogether there were about twelve of them. [NRSA: Acts 19:1-7]
We begin the new year in a hope for something old and something new. We want to have the old way of life, our familiar habits and sense of order to return while looking forward to the innovation of change and opportunity of transition. But this is not a realistic expectation. The past is now the past and we are only left in the present to prepare for our future. And the only thing that we can influence is the present, this moment, right now… well now, no now!
Precious seconds have moved into that past of our history, memory, and shared remembering and we are still living only in the moment. Some take this living in the present and assume it comes without God’s expectation and hope.
We are blessed by the past, we are challenged by the experience it offers, but our calling is to live in this moment becoming God’s people, God’s persons. We are called to be God’s people in 2021.
With every year that the world view expands, the more discoveries, the more inventions, the more knowledge the more God’s people are challenged to live into the perspective that God has created, and blessed, and provided in the past, but has now left the rest to us to figure out.
Remember the God’s Good News: Mark Chapter 1
1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’ ” 4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” [NRSA: Mark 1:1-8]
Mark reminds us that the Good News is not about us. God’s Good News is about God. It is about God’s work in Jesus Christ. Mark is connecting the promises of the prophet Isaiah to the first century church. He recounts about John the Baptist just are Luke reminds us of Paul’s sharing the same story with yet a different time and community.
The Story of God’s goodness begins in baptism. What is the big deal about baptism?
Prior to John the Baptist, baptism was more understood as an act of purification, a spiritual bath. And just as often we might bathe to keep our physical bodies clean, to remove dirt, sweat, dead cells, we would have found the ritual of cleansing bathes to be the release of toxic spiritual thoughts, behaviors, and choices. But think about taking a bath to be clean and then going back out to the beach. No sooner does the wind blow and your skin is covered with sand and sweat again.
John is known as the baptizer because he took baptism and focused it one a way to spiritual prepare for the Messiah’s arrival. Getting our Soles/Souls ready for the Savior. [Cobblers sign at Easter]. It is the combination of spiritual cleansing as a sign that “I am ready for the Messiah to arrive and I want to be ready.” [The Promise that Jesus is Coming Soon and you better be ready, that we hear in traditions who continue to see baptism as the necessary step to assure salvation.]
But our look today helps us think about what Baptism is to us.
One bishop of the early church would immerse persons three times, holding them under the water to the near point of drowning, so that they might experience the death of Christ, and be gasping for the new life in the Spirit through baptism. By the 1500’s most who thought about Baptism, as only a physical reminder of either Jesus’s baptism, or even Jesus’s time in the tomb. It was simply a mental reminder with a ritual practice that might not even contained water at all. Martin Luther say baptism as this type of memorial and ritual. This Lutheran tradition influenced most protestant theologians and traditions.
Those who only think of Baptism as immersion, “going all the way under the water” as the only valid baptism come from a theologian named Zwingli, who required believers to not only be immersed, but also only accepted baptism when it also was accompanied one personal verbal confession/profession of faith. He did not recognize infant baptism, and objected from the practice of baptism being a mental affirmation, in his tradition it have to be full, all the way under, immersion. It is from this tradition that the Baptist, Mennonite, Amish, Church of God, Pentecostal and other find their understanding of baptism being a replication of John and Jesus’s baptism models.
United Methodist are a combination of the traditions. We see that baptism is not about the amount of water, but that through the water, we experience awakening as a spiritual person. We may allow a time between the act of baptism and the believers confession or profession of faith, to allow for infant baptism, that is later confirmed when we are older. We typically call baptisms a “Means of Grace”. That is to say that it is one of the times that we trust that God is both physically and spiritually connected with us. Just as in receiving Holy Communion, it is not simply a meal, but it is through that meal that receive the spiritual food, to claim, re-claim, forgive, bless, heal, and empower both our physical and spiritual journey.
So much for the History and Theology Lessons. What is Baptism to us in 2021?
Baptism continues to be a means of grace, but it is not repeated as with communion. Just as we much eat, and wash, and rest, and work communion is that which we might trust daily. Baptism, as a “Means of Grace” is our spiritual adoption into the Family of God. Once we are a claimed as heirs with Christ, God does not let us go, unless we reject or forsake that relationship. God does not force us, but once Baptized, God continues to make one of God’s Dwelling places in the world.
Baptism is the formal connection of God with Us.
Think the Lord’s prayer: We pray together, with all those in Christ, as we repeat and remind each other, to ask for both our daily bread, AND we ask for God’s Kingdom to be revealed, completed, available, and experienced in our lives, wherever we go, for everyone around us. “wherever you are, there I am also.” The more God’s baptized people are “In the world” the more of the world can experience the Salvation of God, the power of God, the love of God.
Baptism is our confirmation as Citizens of Heaven.
Baptism can also be thought of as the occasion that we are ‘naturalized’ as citizens of the Kingdom of God. Our citizenship is not just something we find when we show the passport to St Pete and the angels at the Pearly Gates, it is what we are called to do, how to live, and how to interact with the crazy, sinful, every changing, ever wooing world of 2021 and beyond.
Baptism is our Spiritual Birthday and birthright through Christ.
As heirs and joint-heirs with Christ, we are as the church, God’s living witness of life in a world focused on death and destruction.
Baptism is our receiving authority and purpose for our spiritual journey.
Baptism is being granted power of the Holy Spirit and the expectation to do even greater deeds than the first disciples.
Baptism is our gift of God’s promise that we unwrap and use every day for eternity.
We begin each day on God’s terms, in God’s time, for God’s purpose and we have God’s Counsel, Guide, Power, and Wisdom as our account, as our resources, and as our tool box.
Baptism is not just a ritual, it is not just words that we say, it is not just
If you have been baptized, I invite you to type in the chat or in the comments as an affirmation. “I have been baptized. I am a child of God.”
If you have not been baptized, please share your questions or hesitations. Not for judgement sake, but in the community of faith we would like to share what it means to be a child of God to help you know why our life, while it doesn’t take away the struggle, we live knowing we are on the winning team. We know God has won the championship. We know God has paid our way, and our part is to celebrate and share God’s blessing and guidance in our journey with one another.
Today we either remember and reaffirm our Baptism, our citizenship, our adoption, of God’s claim on our life
Or we encourage those who have not found God’s heart as your hope, strength, and salvation, then we help each other open the doors and make straight the paths to God’s heart.
Now hear this about BAPTISM in Jan of 2021:
At the moment, the world is in crisis and what we have hoped will be an end to the pandemic, and end to political distress, and a return to some place of comfort in the past.
- Baptism is our Life Vest, in the storm of chaos.
- Baptism is our Anchor when we are torn apart.
- Baptism is our connection to the God’s current work in the world.
- Baptism is our affirmation that God desires to be present with us more than anything else, and makes a way for all that is lost, hopeless, in despair, and torn asunder…
- Baptism is our lifeline to God and God’s placing us, equipped to win over all that evil can throw our way.
- Baptism is the certification of adoptions, the class ring, the wedding ring, the written covenant, and the passport for bringing the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.