Happy New Year! I stood behind the pulpit and realized that I hadn’t preached on a Sunday morning in THREE weeks. Between the Cantata, Christmas and a mini-vaca, it had been awhile since I had a “normal” Sunday routine.
Here’s my sermon – a really great reminder to all of us as we are recharging ourselves for the 2016 year. Make it a goal to pray more! See what God has in store for you when you do.
Rehoboth Congregational Church
January 10, 2016
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Resolve To Pray
It will come as a surprise to no one that one of my favorite parts of ministry is baptism. There are few things that I love more in this world than to lay hands on someone; to pour over them the living waters of baptism and to tell them that they are – in no uncertain terms – unconditionally loved by God.
The church, I think, shares my sentiment, particularly when it comes to the baptism of infants and children. This congregation fills with joy when they have the opportunity to welcome children into the community, assure the parents of the baptized child that they are not alone and occasionally melt into a puddle when the child turns to everyone and waves. Witnessing a child’s baptism – aside from being wicked adorable – reminds us all of God’s love for us, of our own innocence and vulnerability and of the way that grace intercedes in our lives in those moments when we need it most.
This morning we remember Jesus’ baptism, the story of which appears three times in the bible, in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke; we just heard the story told from Luke. If you look at the three gospels side by side, you will notice a subtle nuance in Luke’s account of this story that is not found in Matthew or Mark, something that I think will be good for all of us to remember as we continue to make (and attempt to keep) our resolutions for the new year.
Jesus’ baptism was not just an experience in Jesus’ life; it was a pivotal and transformative moment in the life of our faith. John the Baptist had proclaimed that someone more powerful than him would be coming; one who would baptize, not simply with water, but also with the Holy Spirit.
That moment had arrived.
In all three versions of this story from the different gospels, after Jesus was baptized, the heavens opened and God’s voice was heard calling Jesus his Beloved and saying that, in Jesus, he was well-pleased.
This was our fresh start. This was our new beginning. This was not only Jesus’ baptism, but the institution of all of our baptisms. This was the release of the living waters that pour over us; that unite us, heal us and redeem us.
But here is where Luke tells things a little bit differently:
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened. (Luke 3:21)
After Jesus was baptized, he prayed.
An absolutely incredible thing happens in the moment of baptism, something that is sacred and powerful and filled with God’s grace. We are connected to God and to one another. We are cleansed and forgiven and renewed. We are filled with hope for the future.
But eventually – regardless of where our baptisms took place or whether we were baptized as infants, children or adults – we all have to walk away from those physical waters and re-enter the real world.
And the real world can be a really hard place to live in sometimes.
Sometimes all it takes is a devastating illness, tragedy, financial struggle or unresolved conflict to make us forget that these waters are unapologetically and continually life giving. We forget that God is with us, because we feel like we are alone. We forget that the power of our baptism is something that is still with us, because the world is starting to break us down. We question our faith, because we feel like there is nothing tangible to hold onto. We start to lose hope, because we think that things will never get better.
In the midst of the challenges of our everyday lives, we all need something that will draw us back to those living waters of baptism.
This is where Jesus calls us into prayer.
If you remember nothing else from church this morning, remember this: There is a powerful part of the story of Jesus’ baptism told in the gospel of Luke and it is that after Jesus was baptized, he prayed. Jesus’ actions in this story remind us that we are never that far from the waters of our baptism.
Because what he did in that moment is something that we can do every day in our own lives. Every single day we can stand in communion with God through prayer.
God’s work in our baptisms did not end when we emerged from the water and dried off. What began in those waters can and should be lived out every single day of our lives through prayer. The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in his baptism and that same Spirit not only descended upon us in our baptism, but also remains with us always. This is what connects us to God. Some of us may have been baptized a long time ago, but we have the ability to draw power from our baptisms every time we pray. We are tied to our baptisms every time we fall to our knees in prayer; every time we give thanks to God, every time we are angry, every time we experience joy, every time we scream and every time we can barely mutter a whisper.
Prayer is something that can never be taken away from us.
And this is why prayer needs to be a daily part of our lives.
Luke begins his telling of the story of Jesus’ baptism by saying this:
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts … (Luke 3:15)
Look at the ways that Luke describes the people who witnessed Jesus’ baptism: He says that they were “filled with expectation” and “questioning”. Those people were not all that different from any one of us; I am sure that – at some point throughout all of our journeys through life – we have shared these feelings. We all have expectations of what our lives are going to look like and we all question what the journey is going to look like to get there. Our faith is challenged when our lives do not live up to our own expectations and we struggle when we are staring into the darkness of the unknown and have more questions than answers.
This is why we need to remember what Jesus did after his baptism and incorporate prayer into our daily lives. The world is never going to be perfect and we are always going to face challenges in our lives, but we all have a powerful tool at our disposal that can and will make a transformative difference within us.
It is not too late to make a New Year’s Resolution: This year, resolve to pray. Pray when you are happy and pray when you are sad. Pray when you are scared and pray when you are confident. Pray when you are giving thanks and pray when you feel like you have nothing to be grateful for. Pray when you are fighting with your spouse, pray when your children are driving you crazy and pray when you are ready to throw your coworker out the window. Pray when you need patience and pray when you think someone else needs patience. Pray when you cannot fall asleep and pray when you wake up in the morning.
Pray your way through your day, every day. Bear witness to the way that God is still working in YOUR life, TODAY. Let yourself have God-sized expectations. Loosen up the grip that you have on the pieces of your life and let God come into your life and make those pieces whole.
So let us – like Jesus did as he was washed over by the waters of baptism – find strength, wisdom, hope, love and peace in prayer.
And let us continue to let those waters transform our lives.
Thanks be to God!