Baptism of Our Lord Sunday

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 3:15-22.

Joshua loves water.

He loves water when it splashes. He loves water in mustaches. He loves water in his sock. He loves water ‘round the clock. He loves water in his cup. He loves water with rubber ducks! He loves water through a straw. To Joshua, water has no flaw!

*pause for effect*

I often joke that Joshua is remembering his baptism whenever he interacts with water. He is so curious. He is so joyful. He is quite messy. And he is oh so proud of himself.

The more I think about – I think he is teaching me about our ongoing relationship with our baptisms through his love of interacting with water.

  • After baptism I believe God hopes we have curious spirits that will continue to seek and nurture our relationship with God.
  • After baptism I know God wants us to be joyful. Our baptism draws us into the largest family on earth as it is in heaven – a family that, yes – at times, lets us down – and a family that, yes – apologizes, encourages, and supports one another.
  • Baptisms themselves can be quite messy because the water goes where it wants – what a beautiful thought about God’s grace, which the water symbolizes in this sacrament. That the water is abundant and messy reminds us that God’s love and grace are abundant and messy – especially in the moments in our lives when we are our messiest and need help being made whole.
  • And lastly I do think we can be proud of our baptisms. Not to lord them over others but in recognition of the faith claim we make through them or that our families made on our behalves. Our baptism acknowledges that we are not God – that we are coming under Christ’s Lordship – and that we are ready – excited – to be part of something greater than ourselves.

I am proud of that. So is Joshua. We hope you are, too.

Join us in worship this week as we celebrate remembering or anticipating our baptism in our worship services. And if you are interested in being baptized or have questions about this sacrament, please connect with me for conversation!

I’ll see you Sunday; that’s a fact. I’ll see you Sunday and that is that!

Prayer: “Wash, O God, our sons and daughters, where your cleansing waters flow. Number them among your people; bless as Christ blessed long ago. Weave them garments bright and sparkling; compass them with love and light. Fill, anoint them; send your Spirit, holy dove and heart’s delight.”* Amen.

*”Wash, O God, Our Sons and Daughters,” The United Methodist Hymnal 605.

 

Messiah: His Yoke Is Easy

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 11:28-30. 

Remember your baptism, and be thankful.

Last year on Baptism of Our Lord Sunday I worshipped as I watched our church family approach the baptismal font, touch the water and remember for themselves, and for most, to touch the water again and share the gift of grace the water represents with their spouse, child, or sibling in Christ. 

Remembering this moment brings tears to my eyes. 

As I watched our church family return to their seats I prepared to conclude our worship service when movement caught my eye. Half way back in the sanctuary, Phil Detmer rose to his feet to help his beloved Beverly Joyce – the girl of his choice, he told me – into her wheelchair and together they came to the font. Without thinking I lifted the bowl of the font off its stand and knelt with it. I watched Bev touch the water and touch her forehead. Then she touched the water again and touched Phil’s hand – a hand she knew so well. Every crease. Every callous. Every kindness created for her and the beautiful daughters they share in their over fifty years of marriage. 

Remembering this moment tears fall down my face. 

Commitment. Unity. These words join beautifully in Community

Ephesians 4:5 affirms the community we have with and because of Christ – “one Lord, one faith, one birth.” Our birth to new life through the waters of baptism is also our birth into the family of God, a family whose foundation is grounded in the covenant of God being our God, our being God’s children, and our responsibility to care for our brothers and sisters. 

I believe the care we are called to give is the care that is articulated in the marriage covenant – to have, hold, and honor – in all times and in all circumstances. 

I see commitment and unity to this belief in the family at Tuskawilla. I see community of this belief in the family at Tuskawilla. I saw it last Baptism of Our Lord Sunday as our family remembered our baptisms and expressed thankfulness. I saw it in the love between Phil and Bev. I see it in each face as we fellowship, study, serve, and worship as God’s family. 

We return to our regular worship service and small group times this Sunday – Morningsong at 8:30am, Small Groups at 9:30am, Worship at 11am. Both Morningsong and our 11am Worship Services will include opportunities for Baptism Remembrance. Peace, friends. See you Sunday!

Prayer: “Father in heaven, at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan you proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit. Grant that all who are baptized into his name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, One God, in glory everlasting. Amen.*”

*”Baptism of the Lord,” The United Methodist Hymnal 253. 

What Will Be

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 3:15-22

A little over a month ago I had the privilege to baptize my niece, Addison, during our weekly worship service. And as many of you will remember, she was…quite vocal…about the whole experience.

Baptizing someone is always an incredible experience. Through this sacrament we welcome a new sibling into the Body of Christ and covenant to walk with them as they are raised in the faith. Whenever I baptize someone I strive to make as much eye contact with that person as possible. I want them to know that I mean what I say to them. “I am with you. I will help you. I will encourage you. I will hold you accountable. And I hope you will do the same for me.”

When I held Addison that day, I felt like I was holding the future. I was holding her future, my future, and the future of the church in my arms, all enclosed in her little 12-pound squawky body. In that present moment we – her parents, her extended family, and her church family – we made promises about her future and promises that will shape her future. We promised to raise her in the knowledge of the faith. We promised to nurture her in God’s grace so that she may be guided to accept God’s grace for herself. We promised to pray for her as she walks with Jesus in the way that leads to eternal life. We promised that present day as we hoped for the future.

As we hoped for what will be.

When I think about the future of all baptized Christians my hope is that we are encouraged more than we are challenged in our walks with Christ, though I welcome challenges that will purify us with our God’s refining fire. I also hope that as we walk together into God’s future that we walk so as to make the walk of those beside us and behind us – friend and foe – easier, with the ultimate hope that any foe would become a friend as a result of our walking together.

When we walk together into what will be, the possibilities at our fingertips are endless. The church, the kingdom are our oyster – not to make into what we want them to be but to make them into what God wants them to be through the application of our passions, prayers, and praises.

Some perceive the Christian life as overtly legalistic and confining. “Do this; do not do that or that…or that.” A few years ago one of my colleagues described the Christian life this way, “Imagine a football field: 360 feet long, 160 feet wide. That’s 57,600 feet of available space to be in play. Yes, there is out of bounds. And there are penalties or consequences if you go out of bounds. But why would you need to go out of bounds? There is so much room in bounds. There is so much room on the field. And that’s where God wants you. God does not want you at a specific place on the field because that will change throughout your life. God wants you on the field. Baptism gets you there and that is where God desires you to stay.”

This image continues to be life-giving to me as I walk in my Christian life and walk hand in hand with others in theirs. I give thanks for my parents committing to my future through my baptism. I give thanks for all those who have walked and continue to walk with me through all the fields in God’s kingdom. I give thanks for the privilege to look into what will be for my siblings in Christ and to be in the fields of passion, prayer, and praise with them. I do not feel confined. I feel liberated to discover what will be.

I am looking to what will be with hope and great joy.

Prayer: “Wash, O God, our sons and daughters, where your cleansing waters flow. Number them among your people; bless as Christ blessed long ago. Weave them garments bright and sparkling; compass them with love and light. Fill, anoint them; send your Spirit, holy dove and heart’s delight. We who bring them long for nurture; by your milk may we be fed. Let us join your feast, partaking cup of blessing, living bread. God, renew us, guide our footsteps; free from sin and all its snares, one with Christ in living, dying, by your Spirit, children, heirs.”* Amen.

*”Wash, O God, Our Sons and Daughters,” The United Methodist Hymnal 605.

 

Something Old to Something New

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 1:9-11

Last January on a particularly blustery day at the Life Enrichment Center in Fruitland Park I interviewed for elder in full connection status in the Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church. This interview would be my last in a long line of interviews, written essays, recorded sermons, discernment, and constant prayer in pursuit of my call to ordained ministry – though I have learned that ordination is not the end – it is a new beginning.

In the interview any question about the applicant’s understanding of theology, leadership, proclamation, and/or personal development is up for discussion. I studied. I prepared. I knew my answers backwards and forwards. I had even prepared extended answers to what I had submitted as evidence that I am still seeking, still discerning, still discovering what God will reveal next in my understandings in these areas.

The interview went well – especially after one of my interviewers told me to take a breath! – and then my friend Melissa asked me about baptism. I had been discussing my understanding of the sacraments; I said quite a lot about Eucharist, which probably prompted curiosity about my understanding of baptism. So she asked…and all my studying and preparation and knowing answers backwards and forwards and extended answers flew out of my head faster than students fly out of school at the end of the year.

I stumbled for a minute or so, remembered again to breathe, and started piecing my answer together. Baptism is a rite of Christian initiation. Baptism is an outward sign of an inward and spiritual grace. The water of baptism symbolizes God’s grace being poured out upon us to cleanse us from our sins and incorporate us into Christ’s Body the church. At some point I think I gave a brief history of the theological and biblical roots of baptism from the First Testament…what exactly was Melissa seeking in my answer? She raised her hand to stop me and said, “Sarah, remember the devotion I led in worship before the interviews started; it was on baptism. What stands out about baptism and Jesus?” And the answer dawned on me. The baptism of Jesus was by water and the Spirit. The baptism of Jesus was something new and through the grace of baptism we are invited into this newness.

(Thanks, Melissa, for leading this nervous horse to water…what a drink!)

In the baptism of Jesus we experience something new. Baptism was a typical initiation rite for many religious and military sects throughout the Holy Land. It was an act through which a person would pledge their allegiance. The initiate would pass through water, or some other liquid, leaving the life before and starting the new life right now. John the Baptist called people forth for baptism as an outward and visible sign of repentance from sin, drawing, I believe, on the mikveh tradition from Judaism. This baptism rite drew the people away from the world so they would be prepared for the coming of the Lord.

Why then would Jesus present himself for baptism since we believe that he was without sin? Why is Jesus in need of repentance? I think that Jesus presented himself for baptism to connect humanity to God. Remember that Jesus is one person with two natures – fully human and fully divine. As fully human Jesus stands in solidarity with us who are in the line for baptism because we have some repenting to do. As fully divine Jesus connects us to God’s life-giving grace that is received through our baptism by water and the Spirit. At Jesus’ baptism a heavenly voice proclaims, “This is my son.” Jesus is publicly recognized as God’s child and so we believe in our baptisms we are recognized before the community of faith as God’s children. A bond is formed between the person baptized, the community of faith, and God that we are all in this together. We are family. We are called to something new and we will do it together.

We take time this week to remember our baptism not so we can parade our recent sins through our minds, but so we can remember the blessing of community that surrounds, the abundance of God’s grace, and that our dying to sin leads to new of life marked by union with Christ, receipt of the Holy Spirit, and inclusion in Christ’s Holy Church.

It is still early in the new year. What a wonderful reminder that God through Christ Jesus calls us to new life through our baptism. May we relish in this call this week and be strengthened for discipleship this year.

Prayer: “Father in heaven, at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan you proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit. Grant that all who are baptized into his name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, One God, in glory everlasting. Amen.”*

*”Baptism of the Lord,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 253.

Jesus: The Early Years ~ Authentic Grit

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 3:21-22

Last Friday I treated myself to a movie.

In a movie theatre.

I know…this could cost a person one’s entire paycheck if he or she is not careful!

But my local theatre has a great “early bird” showing price – $4.50 for any show beginning before 2:30pm every day.

To that I say, “tweet tweet.”

I saw “Les Miserables.”  I thought it was spectacular.  The music – the sets – the costumes – the casting.  I laughed – I cried – I hummed along.  I even sang in a few instances…the theatre was rather empty…it was an 11am showing.

I have seen other installments of the film (one day I hope to see a stage production).  I have read Hugo’s work…and portions of it in French.  But each time I see it I am still not prepared for the graphic and dire straits in which the people of France find themselves.

I find the words from We Three Kings fitting, “sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying…”

Driven mad by hunger, sickness, anger, grief, and guilt.  Feeling completely alone in a sea of people.  Wanting for companionship – true companionship.  Craving the chance for a fresh start.

Aching for hope.

Mind, Jesus was not a contemporary of the 1832 June Rebellion of Paris.

But

as he presented himself for baptism at the banks of Jordan River, the community gathered around him may have felt a kindred heart with the characters crafted by Hugo.

The Gospel according the Luke tells us that the baptism of Jesus occurred with “all the people.”  And who were these people?  We know they weren’t all “high society.”  Some of them may have been.  But most of them – most of them were characters the likes of Les Mis.

Robert M. Brearley describes it this way, “Jesus presented himself for baptism as an act of solidarity with a nation and a world of sinners.  Jesus simply got in line with everyone who had been broken by the “wear and tear” of this selfish world and had all but given up on themselves and their God.  When the line of downtrodden and sin-sick people formed in hopes of new beginnings through a return to God, Jesus joined them.  At his baptism, he identified with the damaged and broken people who needed God.”*

If you are familiar with Les Mis you know that a sort of line was formed among the townspeople that were recruited for the rebellion.  Leaders were appointed and they spearheaded the revolt until they met their fates through musket fire and canon blasts.  But the people who sought change fought for it and remained resilient.  The closing scene of the film is an image of rebirth – the townspeople emerging from the wreckage, claiming the newness of their lives out from under the regime, claiming their agency, claiming their destiny.

Jesus joined a line of downtrodden folk seeking new life through healing waters.  That new life also sparked a rebellion of sorts.  Some wanted it to be more of a political rebellion – perhaps along the lines of Les Mis – but what occurred first was more an ideological and spiritual awakening and realignment.  Jesus was and continues to be the leader, the shepherd, of this movement.  His leadership led him to his death, which is our threshold to eternal life, our truth rebirth.

Jesus got in line with humanity.  He got in line with you and me.  And all our mess.  He got in line with Les Miserables The Miserables and in his baptism, suffering death, and resurrection proved to us his unyielding commitment.

Prayer: Holy God, when Jesus was baptized in the Jordan the heavens opened, the Spirit descended, and your voice affirmed your love in Jesus for the healing of the human race and all creation.  By water and word you lovingly invite us into this same life-giving mission.  May your Spirit, moving like a stream of water flowing from its source, work in us this day to realize your vision of a world made new in Christ, in whose name we pray.  Amen.**

* Quote from David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting On the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, Volume 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 240.

** Prayer from Kimberly Bracken Long, ed., Feasting On the Word Worship Companion: Liturgies for Year C (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 46.