Last year I had some major FOMO when all my friends were preaching Baptism of Christ and doing amazing remembrance of baptism liturgies and I was on the Year of Mark and didn’t get to join in on the fun. It didn’t work out this year that I was able to do a big baptism remembrance (which honestly, I’m not sure how you do logistically that with 160 people in church anyway!) but we did do a liturgy in between concerns and celebrations where I offered a blessing from the font and then that led into the pastoral prayer. It was lovely! And, after receiving a lot of positive feedback, it reminded me that sometimes less is more and simple things really can make a difference in people’s lives.
Rehoboth Congregational Church
January 12, 2020
Remembering That We Are All Worthy
In the church year, the second Sunday of January is typically the Sunday where we remember Jesus’ baptism. The year begins with the Advent season, then moves to Christmas and Epiphany, which we celebrated last week on Star Sunday. Jesus’ baptism kicks off the season after Epiphany – or, “Ordinary Time” – before Lent eventually starts and begins our journey to Easter.
The thing about this particular Sunday, however, is that it is not so much officially part of the church calendar as it is a staple in the Revised Common Lectionary. Now, for those of you who do not know, the Revised Common Lectionary is a preaching calendar that a lot of preachers and churches follow, myself included for many years. I wandered away from it in 2018 and started taking a sermon series approach to worship planning and preaching and to be quite honest, have not really looked back.
With the exception of the second Sunday in January last year.
It was on this Sunday when it seemed like all of my friends were not only preaching Jesus’ baptism, but also doing really cool remembrance of baptism liturgies with their congregations and I was just preaching like it was any old boring Sunday. To make worse, it was, of course, the Sunday after Star Sunday, so I was not only just preaching like it was any old boring Sunday, but I was doing so in an empty sanctuary without the 150 three-dimensional paper stars that had suspended from the ceiling the week before.
That night I logged into Facebook and a friend of mine had posted photos of the children in his church running around the sanctuary during worship with tiny spray bottles spritzing everyone so they could remember their own baptisms and it was at that point that I decided I did not care what were in the middle of the next year, we would pause and reflect on Jesus’ baptism.
Now thankfully for you all, the fact that we had an actual baptism this morning put a moratorium on the whole spray bottle thing.
However, God’s timing is a funny thing, because little did I know last year when I promised myself I would take a Sunday and reflect on baptism this year that, in that same week I was planning on doing so, we would also have a baptism is worship. And, more than that, in the week leading up to that Sunday, I would not only schedule three more baptisms for the upcoming weeks, but I would also begin to have a conversation at a Deacons meeting about creating an official baptism policy at RCC that talks about what the sacrament means to us at church, as well as outlines our process and answers frequently asked questions.
Suffice is to say, I have thought about baptism a lot this week.
The story of Jesus’ baptism appears, in some way, in all four of the Gospels. The stories are similar in all four accounts: Jesus goes to the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptist. The heavens open when Jesus is baptized and the spirit of God descends like a dove and a voice from heaven says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
The intriguing thing to me about the account we just heard, from the Gospel of Matthew, is that John the Baptist actually tries to prevent Jesus from having John baptize him. John essentially says, no wait a minute, I need to be baptized by you. But Jesus says, no, it’s okay; this is how it is supposed to happen – and then John baptizes Jesus.
I have been thinking about this exchange between John and Jesus this week, because it is one of those moments where the Body of Christ is called into being and we are reminded that we are all worthy of God’s grace. John says to Jesus, I can’t baptize you, you need to baptize me and Jesus says, no I need this, too and you are worthy of baptizing me.
In doing this, I think Jesus sets the stage for what baptism now looks like in the 21st century. Like so many other parts of our faith, everyone does it a little bit differently and it means a little something different to everyone, as well.
And that’s okay.
Some parents bring their children to be baptized as infants and small children and some choose to wait until their children are older and can decide for themselves that they would like to be baptized. Some churches have infant dedications and then practice believers’ baptism. Some churches invite godparents to stand with the candidate for baptism and others invite sponsors. Some churches require godparents to be members of their church and others do not. Some churches allow parents to choose if they even want godparents or not. Some baptisms take place around a font or basin where water is splashed or poured on the candidate and some take place in a larger body of water where candidates are submerged.
My point is this – I do not think there is a right or wrong way to baptize. Do we have our way of doing it here, at RCC? Of course we do. But I think the important thing to remember is that we are all worthy, both to be baptized and to baptize. And, as the Body of Christ, we are called to welcome anyone to the font so that they can feel the redemptive powers of those living waters, so that they, too can be claimed as God’s children and called beloved.
Like I said, I have been thinking a lot about baptism this week, particularly as I began to work with the Deacons to prepare a policy for RCC that outlines not only our own process for baptizing, but also what we believe baptism means. And I want to close out my sermon this morning by sharing something I wrote as an introductory.
Baptism is one of the two sacraments we recognize at the Rehoboth Congregational Church (the other is Holy Communion). We believe that baptism is an outward and visible sign of the grace of God. It both God’s gift and our response to that gift. It is a tangible act where we use water to symbolize the cleansing of our sins and the emergence of a new life in Christ. It is a sacred moment where we not only welcome an individual into our church and community of faith, but we also where bear witness to the life-changing truth that, just like when Jesus was baptized and the spirit of God descended like a dove and God said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well-pleased,” we are all claimed as God’s own children when the waters of baptism touch us and that God loves each and every one of us.
In baptism we make a promise to the one being baptized – and, in the case of infants and young children, their parents – that we will create a space for them here, at this church to learn and grow in their faith and love and support them on their journeys.
When we remember Jesus’ baptism, we are also invited to remember our own. And so this morning, before our time of prayer, I will bring us through a brief remembrance of baptism liturgy. Have no fear, there will not be any spray bottles involved! But instead I will offer a blessing from the baptismal font and invite you to use this time as you need it today …
… to remember your own baptism.
… to remember another baptism in your life that was special to you.
… to think about what it means to be baptized in the same way Christ was.
… to know that you are claimed as God’s own child and that you are beloved.
… to feel connected with the people you are sitting with in worship today.
… to feel welcomed to gather around the font, even if you have not yet been baptized yourself.
May you remember that you are worthy, that you are claimed as God’s child and that you are beloved – and that you are loved.
Thanks be to God!