Baptized Into What?

DISCLAIMER: I believe sermons are meant to be heard. They are the word proclaimed in a live exchange between God and the preacher, and the preacher and God, and the preacher and the people, and the people and the preacher, and the people and God, and God and the people. Typically set in the context of worship and always following the reading of scripture, sermons are about listening and speaking and hearing and heeding. At the risk of stepping outside such boundaries, I share sermons here — where the reader will have to wade through a manuscript that was created to be spoken word. Even if you don’t know the sound of my voice, let yourself hear as you read. Let your mind see as you hear. Let your life be opened to whatever response you begin to hear within you.

May the Spirit Speak to you!

A sermon for 11 January 2015 – Baptism of the Lord Sunday

Click here to read scripture first:  Mark 1:1-15 (NRS)

Acts 19:1-7 (NRS)

And so the gospel of Mark begins: pretty much starting with the story of the baptism of Jesus. John has been out in the wilderness. Baptizing any who would listen. Leading them to repent that their sins might be forgiven. He literally was taking them from the wayward life in the wilderness, through the Jordan River, and into the Promised Land. It was the same journey made by their ancestors of old – the journey needing renewal for the hearts and minds of God’s people to be turned back to the ways of God.

But what to make of Jesus being baptized by John? He didn’t need to repent – he was God in human flesh. Always living in complete right-relationship with God and everything else. Admittedly something a bit different happens at his baptism – at least I’m guessing this didn’t happen for any of the rest of you and I know it didn’t happen at mine. Just as the strapping Nazarene is rising up out of the waters of the Jordan, he sees the heavens torn apart. The Spirit descending upon him – much like the birds all around the Jordan River dive-bomb from high up in the sky down to the water to scoop up whatever fish they can find. Though we may not have heard it at our own baptisms, I hope we’ve heard it since: “You are my Beloved” whispers God. “With you I am well pleased!” (Mark 1:11). Jesus is baptized. And immediately driven into the wilderness where he undergoes a relinquishment of self so that he eventually can come forth to say: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news!” (Mark 1:15). Then off he goes. All over Israel seeking to complete the work God gave him alone to do.

I keep thinking about rush. Did any of you go through it? That whole process in college when you, or maybe your child, decide to be a part of a fraternity or sorority. It’s still going on, because I recently heard about a frat house that was closed for the horrible ways they were hazing their new pledges. Do you all know what I’m talking about? That whole I have to be a part of THIS group if my college career and subsequent life are going to be complete? Now, I know there’s a lot of good these groups do and some of you still may be connected as it’s typically a for-life kind of sister or brotherhood. Rush is the whole thing of trying to get them to choose you, then doing the crazy things they want you to do in order to prove you can be like them. Finally, you are accepted by the other sisters or brothers with some sort of formal act. A ritual by which you pass from the outside into the inner circle of being one of them. From that point forth you go to all their meetings, wear the letters, work their charities, and maybe even move into their house – I guess so you don’t have as far to get home after wild weekend parties. Next go round, you’re on the inside seeking to bring others through the very same process.

Doesn’t that sound a little bit like baptism – ok: minus any meanness and debauchery? It’s an initiation process. Most all groups have one. Some sort of steps you go through in your process of belonging. The difference is baptism really is open to all. And unlike the baptism John was performing, at least according to the example of Christ and the words of Paul we hear in that little story in Acts, we’re not just baptized to be cleansed from our sins – it’s not just about repentance and forgiveness. That’s only the first step. We’re baptized for the Holy Spirit to be stirred up in us in order to be driven into the start of our own ministries. Like Christ, to do the work God has given us alone to do. Proclaiming in word and deed the good news of a kingdom that appears when love, compassion, forgiveness, healing, and right-relationship is enacted. When the ways of God are lived among us. . . .

I love the prayer I’m told was prayed at my baptism, when I was just five and a half weeks old. It’s part of the keepsake I brought today: “Almighty God, giver of life; you have called us by name and pledged to each of us your faithful love. We pray for your child, Jule Madeline.” (That’s my middle name, but only my grandparents and parents are allowed to use it!) “Watch over her. Guide her as she grows in faith. Give her understanding and a quick concern for neighbors. Help her to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ, who was baptized your Son and servant, who is our Risen Lord.” (Quote from my Baptismal Keepsake). It’s that beautiful – and not just as words to me but to us all!? A blessing and a charge we’re given in our baptisms. And if you were an infant like me, then we claim this for ourselves when we are confirmed to profess the Christian faith as our own.

In the PCUSA, we now use words like this: “Creator God, send your Spirit to move over this water that it may be a fountain of deliverance and rebirth. Wash away the sin of all who are cleansed by it. Raise them to new life, and graft them to the body of Christ. Pour out your Holy Spirit upon them, that they may have power to do your will, and continue forever in the risen life of Christ” (PCUSA Book of Common Worship, WJKP, 1993, p. 411).

Typical words used after the baptism during the laying on of hands go like this: “Uphold all who have been baptized by the power of your Spirit. Give them such love and trust of you, O God, that darkness may never overcome them. Give them such strength and courage that they may grow to be witnesses for you. And may your blessing be upon them now and forevermore, Amen.”

That act – which every active member of this congregation underwent somewhere, somehow – your baptism was your initiation into the life of our Risen Christ. It was the sign of God’s promises to you AND it was your commissioning into living each day the way of Christ. It’s why you now worship and study and serve and belong among other baptized Christians – here in this place and around the world. . . . It’s why we’re doing something a little different today that you may never have experienced before, but is called for annually on this Baptism of the Lord Sunday: renewing the vows of our baptism.

To get us ready to do so, I’m inviting you to let down your guard a little bit for the next few minutes. I realize some of you might find this the perfect time to escape for a bathroom break or something because you think it’s too far out of your comfort zone. But just for the next few minutes in our time together, I want you to find the insert in your bulletin.  (See questions below.)   . . . You will see there some questions for reflection. You are welcome to just do this on your own, quietly reflecting and maybe writing out your answers. Or, if you prefer, turn to someone near you and talk with each other about your responses to these questions. Panic, I know: this preacher’s going to rest her voice and let you use yours during the sermon! Yikes! But no worry. We’re all sisters and brothers here. If you feel you don’t have anything to say, maybe just be in quiet prayer with God listening for whatever message you need to hear. Or turn to a chatty neighbor and listen to them.

The first one hopefully is easy and perhaps you either brought something with you today or have been reflecting upon your baptism already this week. . . . I want to tell you that on the second page you all have at least one answer. The question is: What ministries are you a part of now and why? And because you’re here today, worship is at least your first answer. Worship is one of the primary ministries in which we all participate. God is our audience as we engage in the pageantry and drama of weekly worship. We all might play different roles in the ministry of worship but together I hope we’re putting on a marvelous performance that makes our God stand up and cheer bravo! . . . You also might find yourself reflecting on the ministries you are about beyond these walls. Maybe you are the one in your office who always is reconciling others. Maybe in your neighborhood you look out for the needs of children. Maybe in your family you go out of your way to love unconditionally. Those all are ways you are fulfilling God’s work too – as are the kinds of ministries we undertake together here.

Ok, go ahead. Take a few minutes now to either reflect on your own or talk with someone else about your responses to these four questions. . . . And if you do run out right now for a bathroom break or something, please come back in about eight minutes because after this we’ll move into a liturgy to remember and renew our baptisms. Ok: begin.

(Time for reflection together using the following:)


  1. Using the keepsake you brought or just your memories of it, reflect upon your baptism. How old were you? Where were you baptized and how? What do you remember from it or have you been told about it?
Galilee, Israel. Photo by JMN, March 2014.

Galilee, Israel. Photo by JMN, March 2014.

  1. What ministries are you a part of now?  Why?
Jordan River in Galilee.  Photo by JMN, March 2014.

Jordan River in Galilee. Photo by JMN, March 2014.

“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” (Mark 1:9)

3.  What gifts or abilities do you have for use in these ministries (or what gifts have you discovered in  yourself through these ministries)?


“And just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.” (Mark 1:10)

4.  What Bible stories or verses come to mind as you reflect upon your involvement in these ministries?


“And a voice came from heaven,

‘You are my Son, the Beloved;

with you I am well pleased.’”

(Mark 1:11)

Invitation to Renewal of Baptismal Vows

Come now in these moments to hear God’s word to you. Join me in the Reaffirmation of the Baptismal Covenant. The litany is found in the bulletin.

Reaffirmation of the Baptismal Covenant

(Portions of this liturgy are adapted from Seasons of the Spirit, 2004-5.)

Litany of Belonging

Leader: God creates all beings; God created you!

People: We are the delight of God’s life!

Leader: God delights in all beings; God delights in you!

People: We are the delight of God’s life!

Leader: God breathes the divine Spirit into all beings; God breathes divinity into you!

People: We are the delight of God’s life!

Leader: God calls the baptized to live justly, seeking fairness, walking in paths of right-relationship.

People: We are the delight of God’s life!

Leader: Before all time, beyond all time:

People: We are the delight of God’s life!

Leader: Hear these words from Holy Scripture: “Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we all were baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Cor. 12:12-13,27).

Sisters and brothers in Christ, baptism is the sign and seal of our cleansing from sin, and of our being grafted into Christ. Through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ, the power of sin was broken and God’s kingdom entered our world. Through our baptism we were made citizens of God’s kingdom, and freed from the bondage of sin. We were set free to follow faithfully as Christ’s disciples, taking up our own ministries in God’s re-creation of the whole world. Let us celebrate that freedom, redemption, and purpose through the renewal of the promises made at our baptism. I ask you, therefore, once again to reject sin, to profess your faith in Christ Jesus, and to confess the faith of the church, the faith in which we were baptized.


Leader: Trusting in the gracious mercy of God, do you turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and its power in the world?

People: I do.

Leader: Who is your Lord and Savior?

People: Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.

Leader: Will you be Christ’s faithful disciple, obeying his Word and showing his love?

People: I will, with God’s help.

*Profession of Faith         The Apostles’ Creed

Leader: With the whole Church, let us stand as we are able to affirm our faith together. We are using the words of the Ecumenical version of the Apostles’ Creed as found in the bulletin:

All:   I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy catholic church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.

(pour water)

Thanksgiving for Baptism

Leader: Let us join in a litany of thanksgiving for Baptism. God calls us again to the water to find a new way: a new grace, a new hope, a new faith, a new life.

People: God calls; we come.

Leader: Come to the water and let go of the outworn: outworn habits, outworn pains, outworn angers, outworn burdens.

People: God calls; we let go.

Leader: God blesses the water and it heals us. It cleans us. It renews. It refreshes.

People: God blesses; we praise.

Leader: Come to the water and again receive blessing, freedom, mercy, everlasting love.

People: God gives; with thankful hearts, we receive.

Leader: Let us pray . . . Gracious God, your Spirit moved over the waters of chaos to bring forth cosmos. Your Spirit moves in the waters of the womb to bring forth life. Your Spirit rains and pours and floods in rivers and oceans and veins cleansing, purifying, anointing all creation for your service. Bless this water with your presence that we might remember who we are, to whom we belong, and how we are to live in this world each day. In Christ’s name, Amen.

(lift water and make sign of cross over people)

Brothers and Sisters in Christ: Take this water, a gift of God, and remember God names you Beloved!

People: Amen! Children of the Covenant, we are God’s Beloved!

In just a moment, we’re going to pass bowls of water to each other. When one comes to you, you are invited to place your fingers in the water then touch your forehead, making the sign of the cross if you so desire. In this act, we are to remember that we are God’s Beloved, children of the covenant, who are sent out to live in the likeness of our Lord. As you pass the bowl to the person next to you, I invite you to say to them: Remember your baptism and be thankful!

© Copyright JMN – 2015  (All rights reserved.)

1 thought on “Baptized Into What?

  1. Carla Khan

    Was baptism a common practice in the Jewish community at that time? For us, it is one of the sacraments but I have always wondered, why was John the Baptist in the river Jordan, who were the other people who wanted to be baptized and why did they want that?



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