A wonderful morning at worship indeed! We remembered Jesus’ baptism and celebrated our own. Here is my sermon!
The Spirit At Work In Baptism
Hear these words from our baptismal liturgy:
The sacrament of baptism is an outward and visible sign of the grace of God. We baptize with water as a literal representation of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River. And we baptize with the Holy Spirit, because John the Baptist testified that he saw the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus and was told that whoever the Spirit descended upon was the one who would then baptize with the Holy Spirit. Baptism with water and the Holy Spirit connect us all as one in the Body of Christ.
Last December I baptized the Rutko children – Bella was three and Zackary was two. Because of Bella’s Rett Syndrome, Holly and I were concerned that she would be anxious during the baptism itself and spent a lot of time talking about her needs and how we could make most her comfortable.
So the morning of the baptism arrived. We had a plan in place for Bella and our worship service began. When it came time for the baptism, I baptized Bella first. Much to all of our delight, Bella was perfect. She never got scared and received the waters of baptism like an angel.
Zackary on the other hand – well, that we never saw coming. In all of our preparation for Bella’s baptism, the thought never really crossed my mind that two-year-old boys can be somewhat unpredictable as well.
Especially when those two-year-old boys have already seen you pour water on their sister’s head and know that they are next.
Zack would have no part of the baptism. Any time I got even the slightest bit close to him he flung his head from side to side shouting, “No! No! No! No! No!”
What is the old saying, “We plan; God laughs”?
After church was over, Bill Cute – who was the Deacon of the Month and leading worship with me that morning – came up to me and asked, “So, did you get any water on that kid?”
I looked at him and kind of shook my head no. “I don’t think so,” I said, sheepishly laughing. “But that’s why we also baptize with the Holy Spirit!”
Baptism means different things to different people; it is expressed in different ways in different churches around the world. People are baptized as both infants and adults; baptism can take place both inside and outside; some churches baptize next to small fonts and sprinkle water on the believer’s head and some churches baptize in large fonts and pools and completely submerge the believer. But despite all of these differences, I do believe that there is one similarity in the way that Christians around the world practice and experience baptism – the Holy Spirit is always, always alive and at work in the midst of it.
“When Jesus had been baptized,” the scripture says, “the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.” The Holy Spirit that descended upon Jesus in his baptism is the same Spirit that – generation upon generation – descends upon all of us.
It is usually noted that the Holy Spirit is what unites the Body of Christ. But I think more than that the Holy Spirit is what ignites the Body of Christ as well. Throughout the years, I have been part of many discussions about baptism and membership retention. So often families bring their children to the church to be baptized, but then feel as though their obligation has been met. But scripture says something different.
The scripture that we looked at this morning – Jesus’ baptism – is located at the end of the third chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. In the fourth chapter, Jesus was led into the wilderness; and after resisting temptation, he began his ministry in Galilee.
So what happened after Jesus was baptized? His ministry began.
For Jesus, baptism wasn’t simply a ritual that completed something, it was the beginning of something; the beginning of his ministry that touched, moved and changed the world.
When we baptize infants, children, youth or adults, we are not just going through the motions of an ancient ritual. We are creating a space for the Holy Spirit to move through that person; we are signaling to the world that the Body of Christ is growing; we are commissioning that person for their ministry in the world.
Baptism is an opportunity for a new beginning; an opportunity for a new beginning infused with the Holy Spirit. And this opportunity for a new beginning is not just for the child or adult who is being baptized, but for all of us who are witnessing it as well. Scripture confirms this; when I read this morning’s passage from the Prophet Isaiah, I was struck by two verses in particular.
The first was verse six:
I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
Right away, I saw the image of God taking me by the hand.
I saw God taking me by the hand in my own baptism so many years ago and leading me down my path in life, faith and ministry.
I saw God taking others by the hand in their baptisms as well. I saw God taking you all by your hands and leading you down your paths of life, faith and ministry.
I also saw God taking me by the hand and leading me to be a witness to the baptisms that are still to come; to be a witness to the new beginnings that the Holy Spirit has yet to ignite.
The second verse that stuck out to me was verse nine:
See, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare
before they spring forth,
I tell you of them
Baptism reminds us of the continual evolution of the Body of Christ – and of God’s hand in all of it. God is constantly creating and baptism is really only the beginning. Every time we are baptized or we take part in a baptism or we witness a baptism or we even recollect Jesus’ baptism through scripture, we are experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives. We are allowing God to take us by the hand and lead us forward.
From now on, when you witness a baptism – and you will have the opportunity to witness three baptisms at RCC over the next few weeks! – I implore you to think of it as a new beginning for yourself as well as for the child who is being baptized. Remember that baptism is an opportunity to see a tangible and visible reminder of the grace of God. Allow the Spirit to open your eyes and see how God is still creating in our lives. Allow God to take you by the hand as the waters of baptism wash over the newest member of the Body of Christ and rejoice in a God that is creating, redeeming and sustaining – and give thanks for a God that is still speaking in our lives.
No two baptisms will ever look the same. There is something different and unique and special about every single baptism that happens in the world throughout the generations. So whether a child is screaming or an adult is being submerged, remember that through baptism the Holy Spirit is at work; the Holy Spirit is at work in the sacrament of baptism itself and the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives.
Thanks be to God!