WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
Upper Rogue United Methodist Church January 8, 2017, Baptism of the Lord
Today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. Every preacher has stories about baptisms gone awry. I remember the first baptism I performed. It was the family of a single dad who was in recovery from alcoholism. To be polite, they were a bit rough around the edges. I arrived at the church two hours before the service and filled the font with tap water. It was a warm day and I figured the water would warm to room temperature by the time of the baptisms. It did not. When I poured the water over the head of the six year old, he hollered for all to hear: “Damn that's cold!”
Our friends in the immersion traditions have their own set of baptismal stories. You may have heard about the inebriated chap who was stumbling through the woods on his way home when he came across a Baptist church holding baptisms in the creek. Overcome by the smell of alcohol, the preacher turns to the drunk and asks: “Are you ready to find Jesus?”
“Yeth, I am.”
Grabbing the drunk, the preacher dunks him in the water. Pulling him up, he ask: “Have you found Jesus, Brother?”
“Nope. Haven't seen him.”
The preacher dunks him again, and asks: “Have you found Jesus?”
“No, I haven't.”
The preacher dunks him a third time, and this time holds him down for a full minute before pulling him up and asking again: “Have you found Jesus?”
The drunk wipes his eyes and catches his breath before replying: “Are you sure his is where he fell in?”
With all the stories and jokes about baptism, we may be tempted to think it isn't all that important. Nothing could be further from the truth. While it is not a requirement for salvation, baptism is important; vitally important.
First, Baptism is important because it marks us as claimed by Christ: as a member of Christ's family. It is not a guarantee of health and wealth, but it does mean that we are part of the God's covenantal relationship with humanity. The God of Abraham, Isaac, Moses, as well as Simon Peter, Paul, and Jesus, himself, that same God, is our God, and we, like they, are his people.
Baptism means we are called by the name Christian. And that is an important concept,” though it is a hard one for us to grasp.
Vincent Carroll and David Shifflet contend the spread of early Christianity was due in no small part to plague and disease. Among the Romans, it was common practice to abandon sick and dying family members in order to spare the healthy ones from contagion. Victims of epidemics were thrown out into the streets and left to die. But the Christians did just the opposite. Rather than abandon the sick and dying, they took them in, nursed and cared for them, often becoming infected and dying themselves. This sacrificial love astounded the Romans, many of whom were so moved that they became Christians. The historian Rodney Stark quotes a letter from a Roman citizen Dionysius, to a friend.
“Most of our brother Christians shown unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of any danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains.”
If you've been baptized, this is your tradition—willingness to lay down your life for another, just as Christ lay down his life for you. Your baptism signifies you are a disciple, a student, a follower of the Great Physician who went about doing good. It signifies that you are a part of Christ's family.
In other words, Baptism means you are a part of the church. You weren't baptized into the PTA. You weren't baptized into the Republican or Democratic Party. You Weren't baptized into Square Dancing or the Kiwanis. You weren't baptized Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, or Baptist. You were baptized into Christ's Universal church.
In our tradition, when we baptize and infant or small child, we ask the parent's and sponsors:
“Will you nurture this child in Christ's holy church, that by your teaching and example they may be guided to accept God's grace for themselves, to profess their faith openly, and to lead a Christian life?”
I truly wish more parents would take that promise seriously. Too often it's like the three preachers who were talking about ridding their church buildings of bats. One said he had installed a electronic device that emitted a shrieking sound that only the bats could hear. “It was guaranteed to drive them out.” he said: “And it did. For a week.”
The second pastor told of sealing the belfry at night so the bats couldn't return. They clawed their way through the chicken wire and came right back.
The third pastor reported he no longer had and problem with the bats. “I baptized them, put them on the church roll, and I haven't seen them since.”
But all kidding aside. Christianity is, at the core of it's being, a communal faith. You cannot separate Christian discipleship from involvement in the church. Yes, it is true that you can worship God on a mountaintop, waist-deep in a trout stream, or even at a football game, and I hope that when you are in those places you do praise and worship God. But when you attach the word Christian to your name, you are acknowledging your baptism into the faith. And while, I know, Church may not always be the most exciting hour and a half of the week, it is the most important. And while a lot of preachers go to great lengths to keep their congregations entertained, that's not why we gather. This is the time to reconnect, recharge, and revitalize your faith. This is not a country club for the self-righteous, it is a hospital for sinners. And if, like, me, your discipleship is less than perfect, it is the place to know and experience love and forgiveness.
I will not even attempt to argue that the church is always what it should be. But
what I will argue is that if you are a baptized Christian, you are part of the church; either a building block or a stumbling block. What you cannot do is abdicate your responsibilities. It upsets me to read that about 80% of Americans identify as Christians, but less than 40% are meaningfully involved in the life of a church. You can't have it both ways. You're in, or you're out. I know that sounds harsh, but this is serious stuff. If you are not a part of the church, just what do you think your baptism means?
Baptism means we are part of God's family. Baptism means we are part of Christ's church. But best of all, baptism is an acknowledgment of what God has done in Jesus Christ. Baptism is an act of grace. It signifies that we are loved and accepted by God—not because we deserve it (we absolutely do not), but because it is God's desire all should be saved and none should perish. “(Joh 3:16) For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life. (Joh 3:17) For God did not send his Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its savior.”
William B. McClain, former professor of preaching and worship at Wesley Theological Seminary once met with a South Korean tailor in Seoul. He was surprised when the tailor introduced himself as Smitty Lee. Fascinated by his non-Korean name, McClain asked how he came to be called Smitty. The Korean told him how, many years before, during the Korean War, his life had been saved by a courageous American GI from Virginia name Smitty Ransom. He went on to explain a familiar custom in that culture in two simple sentences. “He save my life. I took his name.”
And that, my brothers and sisters is what it's all about. That's what makes our response to our baptism so vitally important. Christ saved our lives. We took his name. We are claimed by Christ, we are part of his family, the church. We have been called to his service. Remember your baptism, and rejoice,