December 9, 2018
There are few things that most pastors look forward to more than baptisms. It is one of the things that we get to do in this profession that typically is pure joy, as we proclaim the promises of God made to the newly baptized and to each one of us. And I’m so thrilled to have had the honor of baptizing Grant this morning, as my first baptism as a called and ordained pastor. It is also such joy and a pleasure to remember Tripp’s baptism together. We rejoice as we proclaim that they are indeed united with Christ so that nothing can any longer separate them from the love of God found in Christ. Today, we welcome them as part of the body of Christ, of which we all are a part, and we as a church celebrate with their family this morning. And today, we welcome them into the reign of God.
It is a happy coincidence that, as we celebrate Grant’s baptism this morning, our Gospel lesson today turns to John the Baptist, as he was in his ministry of baptism in the wilderness region around the Jordan. It was not planned this way, but it works out well. John is called while he is in the wilderness and goes, interestingly, not to the synagogue or to the palace or to the marketplace (where one might expect to find a lot of people), but remains in the wilderness throughout his ministry. The wilderness becomes, then, for John his place of spiritual growth and development. It is here that John proclaimed a “baptism of repentance for t
Yet the wilderness is an important place, both for John and for the people of Israel. It is an in-between place. It is the place where Moses and the Hebrew people wandered for 40 years between slavery in Egypt and the promised land. It is the place between the Babylonian Exile and the return to Israel and Jerusalem. In other words, the wilderness is the place between captivity and freedom, the placebetween oppression and salvation. It is the in the wilderness that God leads God’s people on the Way (or road) of the Lord that brings wholeness and life back to God’s people. So while for some the wilderness conjures images of desolation, isolation, and fear, for others, it brings about the very hope that God is again acting on behalf of God’s people.
And it is no accident that it is here that John the Baptist has his ministry. John the baptist inhabits this in between place situated between the reign of Rome marked by its emperor Tiberius and the local governor Pontius Pilate and all the other names listed in the Gospel reading and the reign of God, ushered in by Jesus, John’s cousin and the Savior of all people. The wilderness is where John proclaims the coming of God and encourages people to prepare for that coming. It is here that the Word of God is let loose among the people of God. It is here that John proclaims that, Jesus, God is at work, bringing about freedom and releasing people from that which keeps them captive. Salvation is coming. And all flesh will taste the salvation found in Jesus. And it is coming in the very places that we least expect to find it.
Isn’t that what we see throughout the Gospel though? God, in Jesus, shows up where we least expect God to show up. And with Jesus, God shows up to bring release from sins and salvation to all people everywhere. In just a little over two weeks, we celebrate the arrival of God incarnate, not as a super-power or an emperor, but as a baby lying in a manger. The mother of that baby was not a princess or an upstanding wife, but a poor unwed mother. We proclaim a God in Christ that shows up among the people society doesn’t expect - among fishermen, among women, among the sick, among those struggling with demons, among Samaritans (and other foreigners), etc. We proclaim a God in Jesus who shows up in the wildernesses of our world and of our lives. We trust that Jesus shows up in the mundane, the simple, the everyday. We trust that in Jesus, God shows up in our in between places, leading us to wholeness, new life, and salvation.
Today, in particular, we proclaim that Jesus shows up in the everyday element of water. Something so simple that surrounds us. We turn on our faucets and water comes out (at least we hope). We have the York and the James rivers, as well as the Atlantic Ocean. In the ordinary, God promises the extraordinary. The water combined with God’s Word does the extraordinary. In this water, we trust in the presence of the Holy Spirit to bring about the gift of faith in each one of us. In this water, we are joined into Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Through water, God meets us in this in-between place of this world. In this world, we are living between the powers of this world that work to keep us and all people under the bonds of oppression and the powers of God that work to liberate all flesh from that which binds them. This world is an in between place where we are already living in the Kingdom of God, but we’re also waiting and hoping for that Kingdom to be fully realized in this world here and now.
In our baptisms, we trust that we are released from our the power of our sins. We trust that not even our sins can separate ourselves from the God who chooses us. Here, we proclaim a God who meets us in the in-between places and the wilderness of our lives and brings about freedom. We trust that it is our baptism that brings us the salvation and freedom. Because we are free and because the power of our sin can no longer separate us from God, our baptism frees us to live our lives out in service to the neighbor.
Baptisms are joyous. Baptisms are one of the biggest days - theologically speaking it is the biggest day - of our lives. Without my baptism - I wouldn’t be here as your pastor. Ordination into this ministry - which many of you attended - is one way in which people may live out their baptismal calling. The ordination doesn’t happen without the new life found in Christ in baptism. Yet, baptism is kind of this odd thing because especially for those of us baptized as infants, it is a day that we don’t remember. My brother and I were baptized in October of 1992 in Ebenezer Lutheran church in Greensboro, NC. Off the top of my head, I don’t know the exact date; I know I had to find it for my initial application for the candidacy process in order to become a pastor. We were somewhere around 4 months old. I obviously don’t remember anything about that day. I’ve seen a few pictures. I think I’ve seen my baptismal candle; it is likely somewhere in my folks’ attic. I even mix up my Godparents and my brother’s Godparents. My baptism just wasn’t something we talked about. It wasn’t something that was part of our family narratives. So not only do I not remember my baptism for myself, I don’t have the stories surrounding that baptism. I don’t blame my parents for that; it wasn’t part of their family narratives either. Baptism was something we just did because we were supposed to do it. And suddenly, in Seminary, I had to connect my baptism to my faith journey to my calling, not only in my mind, but also in writing - for my candidacy committee and academic advisors to see.
Parents - I hope that the baptism of your children are part of your family narratives. I hope you will talk with your kids about their baptism. Did they sleep through the whole thing? Did they scream at the top of their lungs? Who was there? More importantly, I hope you will tell them tha
t in that water, God claims them as God’s own beloved children. In this water, God promises to love them forever and that nothing can separate them from that love in Christ. I hope you tell them that their baptism ties them into the body of Christ and into work of God in the world. I hope that you will tell them that God meets them in the in between places and in the wildernesses of their lives. I hope that you’ll bring out the candles. I hope that you’ll light them periodically (perhaps on the anniversary of your kids’ baptisms), and I hope that you’ll rejoice together again at the Good News that God claims them.
I hope that each of our baptisms (whether we have remembrances or stories of the event itself or not) become part of our narratives. I hope that we all can tell the world - both in word and in action - what our baptism means for us - that we are claimed children of God. I hope that we can tell the world that we have been given the gift of faith. That, in our baptism, we have entered the new life found in the Kingdom of God.