I preached this sermon in the middle of a really hard season at the church. We lost a dear couple unexpectedly and the loss really hit us all hard. It is amazing, however, how these texts speak to us even in some of our hardest moments. I continue to stand in awe at the ways God can use a sermon series to speak to what we are going through. Here is the sermon. Enjoy …
Rehoboth Congregational Church
July 22, 2018
Upholding The Promises Of Baptism
So here’s the thing about life – it’s fickle sometimes. We do not always know what is coming next, what the next phone call will bring or when a conversation with someone might be our last.
I was heartbroken to have to share with you all on Tuesday morning that Paul and Kathy Lumbra had passed away. To be quite honest, I spent our silent prayer time last Sunday asking God for strength, wisdom, guidance and the right words to speak in the difficult conversations that I knew were coming.
This is a really hard loss. It is a hard loss for us, as a church. It is a hard loss for Paul and Kathy’s friends, coworkers and community in North Attleboro. And it is a hard – devastating, unimaginable – loss for Cassandra and the Lumbra family.
But at the heart of this loss lies a promise. A promise of the Good News of resurrection to new life. A promise that Paul and Kathy are not only together, but with God. A promise that they both have been freed from their earthly bodies that were failing them and released into the Kingdom of God where they feel no pain, sickness, worry or sadness.
In this morning’s scripture reading, Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. After he was baptized, Jesus went to Galilee and he proclaimed this Good News of God’s love, light and grace. He said, in verse 15, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Sometimes that Good News is hard to believe. There are moments in our lives when our faith is put to the test, when something happens that we cannot explain, when we feel pain and heartache on a deeply human level.
But Jesus did not tell us to repent and believe in the Good News after a grand celebration that followed his baptism. It’s actually funny, because I was talking to a five-year-old this week about his baptism that is coming up in August. And he was a little nervous about the process, but I told him that we are going to celebrate his baptism, because it is a really happy occasion in his life (and I may have promised him confetti if he behaved). And I wasn’t lying – it is a happy occasion and we aregoing to celebrate. But that is not exactly what happened when Jesus was baptized, was it?
After Jesus was baptized, the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness and for 40 days he was with wild animals and tempted by Satan. It was not a celebration, it was a time when his faith was put to the test.
And yet, despite this test, he still came out of the wilderness and called us to believe in the Good News.
He knew the depth of what he was asking us to do.
And yet he also knew the grace that we might find.
One of my favorite lines in this passage is the second half of verse 13:
He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
And the angels waited on him.
I love this line, I think, because it reminds me of a song from the musical production of The Secret Garden. The young girl, Mary Lennox, was distraught thinking she was doing harm to her sickly cousin, Colin and her chambermaid, Martha sings a song called, Hold On, and in it there is a line that says, “Hold on; there’s angels on their way.”
I have always loved that image of holding on, even in my darkest, most difficult of moments, knowing that the angels were coming for me; that, like Jesus in the desert, the angels were waiting for me and that I had not been forgotten.
But, as I was writing my sermon, I was looking at a different translation of our scripture for this week. The NRSV says, “And the angels waited on him,” but The Messagetranslation says, “And angels took care of him.”
And angels took care of him.
I have to be honest – this completely changed the meaning of the text for me. I always had this image of Jesus alone in the desert, being tempted, while the angels waited for him on the other side, but no, no, no! Jesus was not alone! The angels were there; they were taking care of him.
And therein lies the promise of baptism – that we will never be alone, that we will always be taken care of. This is a promise that God has always and will always uphold.
The story of Jesus’ baptism teaches us that when we emerge from those living waters, we are protected by a grace that never leaves our side. We, too, hear God calling us beloved children and feel the presence of the Holy Spirit surround us. We, too, wade through these waters, knowing that they bind us together through the highs and lows of life, that they wash over us when we need to be restored and buoy us up when we need to be strengthened. We, too, feel the rush of these waters enter our lives and reach every crevice of our being, uniting us with our brothers and sisters in Christ and making us whole. We, too, see grace reflected in these waters in the most unexpected ways and places.
And so even though our grief and our sadness might be strong right now, I want to remind you that the living waters of baptism are stronger. We are not alone. God is with us. God is taking care of us.
One more thing: When we baptize children, we, too make a promise. We promise the child being baptized and their parents that we will surround them, as the Body of Christ. Our liturgy says, “People in the congregation will be teachers, mentors, surrogate grandparents, and role models in a young person’s faith journey.” You, the congregation are asked, “Do you, who witness and celebrate this sacrament, promise you love, support, and care to the one about to be baptized as they live and grow in Christ?” and you respond affirmatively by saying, “We promise our love, support, and care.”
This is a promise that we now have to uphold.
There are going to be a lot of ways to help the Lumbra family in the coming weeks and months and years, even. But I think we should also be reminded in this moment that the promises we make in baptism should be upheld all the time, not just in the dark moments of people’s lives. We had eight children under the age of three in worship last week (in the middle of the summer, nonetheless!) and that is a gift that a lot of churches do not have. And it is a gift that comes with great responsibility.
Friends, as we remember Jesus’ baptism, may we remember that we, too, have been washed over by those waters and that those waters are drawing us together, as a community, as we reel from this hard loss. And may we also remember that the covenant that we make in baptism is ongoing and ever present. It matters. It matters to the children that we baptize, to their families and to us, as we listen to what God is calling us to do in our lives and here at this church.
So may we all hear, believe and proclaim the Good News.
For it is, even in this hard moment of grief, Good News.
Thanks be to God!