Tag Archives: Baptism

The Way

A Sermon for 14 May 2017 – 5th Sunday of Easter

A reading from the gospel of John 14:1-14 (NRSV).  Listen for God’s word to us.

“’Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.  And you know the way to the place where I am going.’  Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going.  How can we know the way?”  Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you know me, you will know my Father also.  From now on you do know him and have seen him.”  Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”  Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?  Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.  How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?  The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.  11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.  12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.  13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.’”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!

Little Ziggy is about to get baptized.  A bundle of wonder, the adventure of his life unfolds before him!  He’s been born into a loving family, with a great big sister, and parents doing all they can to provide for his every need – including his every spiritual need.  In just a few moments he’ll be brought.  Promises will be made – not just by his mom and dad, but by you all too.  Until the day he’s old enough to claim Christ for himself, we’re doing it for him today.  And every day hereafter he will be a brother of ours in Christ.  It’s important that we remember that he’s not too young to be experiencing faith already.  From the time we are born into this world, the nurture we experience from the adults of our world is our first experience of a loving God.  To the extent that he’s surrounded in love by his family at home and his family of faith here, his trust of God is being formulated before he even has words to exclaim how amazing God’s grace feels!  . . .  Baptism days are big days for us all in the Church of Jesus Christ.  . . .  I hope we don’t forget what it first was like, when the Risen Christ’s followers underwent the sacrament for themselves.  As the radical movement was spreading, people who had been raised according to other religious practices were drawn to the water.  They were schooled in the message of the abundant love of God as shown to us in Jesus, the Christ.  They were asked if they were ready – ready to enter into a new family.  A new covenant community where they would walk with one another, helping each other not only to understand what this disciple of Christ thing all was about, but also to live as one initiated into the covenant.  One engrafted into the group.  They were entering – as is Ziggy today, as have we all at some point in our lives.  Baptism is about entering into the Way of Christ.

Episcopal priest Cynthia Bourgeault presents it beautifully in her book, The Wisdom Jesus.  She reminds that Jesus isn’t just Savior.  That is only part of his work among us – to save us from the cycle of our sins that can make life now a living hell.  Western Christianity has emphasized this as Jesus’ role.  Meanwhile, we’re discovering that the Eastern Church initially understood Jesus as Life Giver.  As one who invited others unto the path of wisdom.  Life Giver, Bourgeault writes:  is one “whose life is full, integrated, and flowing.  Jesus’ disciples saw in him,” Bourgeault explains “a master of consciousness, offering a path through which they too could become . . . enlightened.”  Ones whose primary task on earth is to “put on the mind of Christ.”  To live the Master’s way.  (The Wisdom Jesus, Cynthia Bourgeault, p. 21).

The gospel of John describes this way . . . the Truth that leads to Life.  Jesus is desperate at the last supper with his friends to teach them that he is one with the Father.  In him, the one laying down his life, Jesus teaches that the Father can be seen.  One commentator writes:  “In John, Jesus himself embodies the way to God and therefore the way of discipleship” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. A Vol. 2, Donald Senior, p. 469).  His life, death, and resurrection show the path of how we are to be in this world – disciples of his who follow in like manner.  . . .  And what do we see when we look at him?  He shows us that his way is the way of being so fully united with God that one is at one with God’s will for the world.  It’s the only way, says Jesus the Life Giver, that we will find ourselves with God.  . . .  This is the way described right before this four-chapter Maundy Thursday monologue, when Jesus gives the new command to “love one another” (John 13:34).  This is the way “by which all will know we are his disciples,” he claims, “if we have love for one another” (John 13:35, paraphrase).  Thankfully, all are invited to this path.  Everyone’s welcome to follow in the way of emulating our Savior and Lord, thereby finding ourselves saved.  Given Life now and forevermore.

It’s not the path that ends at the baptismal font.  It’s the way that’s just beginning.  As Ziggy grows, it will be up to his parents and us too to show him the way.  To teach him how to use the personality, skills, and time he’s been given in such a way that his life is united with the One whom Jesus called Abba, Father.  . . .  Listen to the words that soon will be proclaimed at the font:  “In baptism, God claims us, and puts a sign on us to show that we belong to the very household of God.  . . .  By water and the Holy Spirit we are made members of the church, the body of Christ, and joined to Christ’s ministry of love, peace, and justice.”  . . .  We’ll plead to God in prayer today that Ziggy will be “a new creation through these baptism waters” to “preach good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, and set at liberty those who are oppressed.”  It’s a tall order for such a little guy.  So we’ll ask God to “strengthen him to serve  . . . with joy” until all is made new (PCUSA Book of Common Worship, WJKP, 1993; pp. 403-415).  Before it’s all over, we’ll see the water on his brow and hear the proclamation that he is a child of the covenant . . . one to whom God will keep the promises made here today forever!  . . .  But this day is not just for him.  It’s for us all too!  In a moment, I will remind you to remember your baptism.  To remember and be grateful!  For you too are a child of the covenant, marked in your own baptism, no matter how long ago, as one who also has promised to follow in Christ’s way.  To embody the path of Love for as long as you shall live.  . . .  It means we’ll get busy now – ensuring we too continue to grow in the knowledge and love of God.  We’ll nurture one another and pray we’re strengthened always to live the good news.  To embody in word and deed that the Way of God is the path of showing love to one another AND to those in this world who are in any kind of need.  We’ll lay down our own desires to be united with God’s will for a world so deeply cherished.  We’ll live as new creations serving with joy until ALL at last is re-newed.  The light of our lives growing as we follow in the Master’s Way.  . . .  Brothers and sisters together, let us always give thanks to our Savior and Life Giver Jesus, the Christ who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen!

© Copyright JMN – 2017  (All rights reserved.)

The Disruption of Christmas

A Sermon for 1 January 2017

A reading from the gospel of Matthew 2:13-23. Listen for God’s word to us.

“Now after they (the wise men) had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” 16When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 18“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” 19When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20“Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.””

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

This text leaves me wondering if Joseph and Mary had any clue about how disruptive the birth of Jesus was going to be. What parents-to-be ever do? If you’ve had children – or maybe just had a few grandchildren stay at your house over the holidays – then you might know how such sweet little ones can absolutely turn your world upside-down, inside-out, and backwards all at the very same time! Little ones come into our lives as such vulnerable gifts. When first they are born, they can’t do anything – you remember, don’t you? They cannot do one little thing for themselves. But they sure can cry. They sure can let out plenty of nasty stuff from the other end too. And they sure can make their presence known – especially when one of their mysterious needs is not being met! I remember when first my sister brought my nephew here for a visit. He was crawling around by then and nothing could be left in its regular spot. He reached for it all. And had a little schedule all his own to which us grown people just had to adjust. And he came with so much stuff! Blankets and bottles and sit-up chairs and special beds. Not that it’s not totally worth it, but man do little ones entirely disrupt life! Again, if you just had one or two of your precious grandchildren or other special little ones in your life – if you just had a few of them around for the holiday week, you might find your house still completely out of order and yourself totally exhausted! But, of course, it’s absolutely worth it!

Which is why we’ve got to wonder if Joseph and Mary had one inkling of an idea of how disruptive the birth of little Jesus was going to be! Look at how their lives change – especially according to the gospel of Matthew’s details regarding the story. For something like the first four years of his life, keeping him alive meant incredible disruption. From Bethlehem to Egypt they have to move. Flee, actually. This little one is a perceived threat to the whole kingdom. Herod goes nuts – as was a routine Herodian response. He absolutely losses it when this little one is born, and the wise ones from the East fail to return to smoke-out where the precious darling is being kept. In a dream, Joseph is warned and doesn’t waste one minute, moving himself and Mary and the baby all the way cross-country to a foreign land. It’s kinda unbelievable because Joseph knew the land of Egypt was the land of enslavement. There his people had been treated terribly way back when. Of course, others had fled there over the years too. Some escaped exile in Babylon by returning to Egypt. Joseph had to trust that it was going to be ok. They had to hope that one day they’d also be able to return home. . . . It might have been nice, though, to remain in Egypt his whole childhood long. You know, get him started in the right pre-school, then kindergarten through twelfth at least in the same school system so he’d grow with his childhood friends. And Joseph and Mary would be known in the PTO to have the support of the other parents too. But another dream comes; and just about the time they’ve settled in as a family: disruption once again. Back to Judea they head. Until Joseph realizes Herod’s son now rules and is known as being more brutal than his father before him. They don’t want to chance it and another dream confirms it. So instead of heading back to the place of the child’s birth; they make the trek to Nazareth, way far north in the district of Galilee. They must have surmised that nothing big ever had come from there – certainly the family would be safe. . . . The gospel of Matthew tells it as if Joseph and Mary had never before been to Nazareth and just randomly chose the sleepy little town to set up shop. The gospel of Luke locates them there from the start – with relatives to be built-in family support. However it might have been, it could not have been easy moving around that much the first few years of the child’s life. Re-establishing themselves all along the way. Trying to protect this little bundle of joy God had given. Wanting to be able to feed and clothe him well. Teach him all he needed to know for the special work instore for his life. It couldn’t have been easy to have given over control of their own life plans for another way to be made. Indeed, this little one born to them in Bethlehem was a disruption from the start!

For most of us, these past few weeks have been a disruption from the regular routines of life. We spend the whole season of Advent preparing – if not our hearts, at least our homes and refrigerators and rituals of the season. For many of us Christmas disrupts our diets and our bank accounts and our sleep patterns. Hopefully we’ve had a little time out from our typical daily tasks and have been able to relax a bit with family and friends. Work can wait until the celebrations are over and everything gets back to normal. . . . But I wonder: how will his birth disrupt the days that lie ahead? Wouldn’t it be an absolute shame if we let all the preparations for his birth disrupt our Decembers, then leave us heading into a new calendar year tucking the little one tightly into a box along with the shepherds and wise men and animals of our favorite nativity scenes? It really would be terrible if we rolled right back into tomorrow without anything at all in our lives being much different. If we let the celebrations of a birth disrupt us more than the actual child. . . . He wasn’t meant to be relegated to holiday moments. He was meant to truly open us to the re-birth of God in us. He’s meant to disrupt the way we’d like things to be, in exchange for the wild adventure that Christ’s Way gives to us.

It starts with our baptisms, which we’ll be remembering next week when we gather for Baptism of the Lord Sunday. From the moment our lives are given over in the sign and seal of that sacrament, we no longer belong to ourselves. We are engrafted into a new family – children of the covenant, members now of the household of God. Disruption, disruption, disruption! We promise to work against evil and all its powers in this world. To take on the ways of Christ – which are summarized best in willingly living the path of self-giving love. We’re ambassadors, after baptism, for the very ways of God. Here to live peace. And joy. And hope. Which means not just in our thoughts, but in the actions of our lives too. We are to model the actions of that disruptive little baby! Posing a threat to those who want to live by force and fear and corruption. We’ll go wherever we must, according to the disruptive Spirit of that child, to protect the goodness that is to emanate from us out into this world. We set up shop among strangers, turning those we’d never otherwise encounter into family because that’s the way of the disruptive baby born in Bethlehem. We’ll learn new ways and adjust to what’s around us now so that the Spirit of God within us has an opportunity to be seen by all. That’s how disruptive Christmas is to be for us – leaving us, alongside Joseph and Mary, to give up our own life plans in order to nurture in us the one of Love. Disrupting, disrupting, disrupting the regular ways of this world for the ways of God instead. . . . And you know what? Whether we realize it when first it begins, it’s likely we’re going to find it’s worth it. Like the disruptive little baby himself, absolutely worth it! . . . Welcome to life disrupted, brothers and sisters of the covenant. Get ready to experience the bundle of joy God gives!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

 

© Copyright JMN – 2017  (All Rights Reserved.)

 

Great Expectations

A Sermon for 5 July 2015

A reading from the gospel of Mark 6:1-6. Listen for God’s word to us.

“Jesus left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. Then he went about among the villages teaching.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

Where do you turn when you have a nasty noise in your car engine? A mechanic, right? Who do you call about that achy pain that just won’t go away? Your doctor. Quandaries about the Divine? Well, you might expect a pastor would be your best bet. . . . Whether we realize it or not, we live according to a lot of assumptions. We suppose particular people are best suited to help us with certain things. We wouldn’t want a lawyer doing our open-heart surgery. Or a plumber pulling our teeth. How about a carpenter opening us to the mysteries of God? It doesn’t quite fit with our expectations of the expertize required.

But sometimes the most unlikely of candidates can turn out to be the exact ones needed. A couple years ago, it was baptism day at the church among which I was serving. Sweet little Caitlin was being brought. And man that kid had lungs! From the moment her parents got her from the nursery to be baptized until the moment they took her back out, that child was NOT happy! She screamed throughout her entire baptism. . . . During the sacrament, we did all the usuals – including asking members of the congregation “do you promise to nurture this child in the faith?” In that church, all the children were gathered up front for baptisms so we asked them to make promises too. We questioned the peering children: “Do you promise to be good church friends, loving Caitlin, and teaching her about Jesus?” . . . Well you know how it is when questions like that get asked in our worship rituals. Whether we mean it or not, we say aloud the words printed in the bulletin. But how seriously, really, do we hold to such vows? So that there are eager lines out the sanctuary door of folks jumping to help out with children’s Sunday school and Wednesday night classes too. Does anyone really mean: “Yes! I promise! I heartily will nurture this child of God!” Or is it just another something to which we mindlessly, passionlessly ascribe?

The baptism proceeded. Still screaming, baby Caitlin was handed over. The water trickled down her brow. The prayer, the blessing, Amen. Caitlin’s parents and all the church’s children were released from the front. . . . There, children didn’t stay in the sanctuary for the rest of worship but went to their own children’s worship back in a classroom. The stampede was underway. I went along that morning, trying to wrangle the running children. Outside the sanctuary door, I nearly knocked into 8 year-old Christopher. He stood motionless, his back to me. Heading down the hall, I instructed, “Come on, buddy, let’s go on back.” He didn’t move. “Christopher, come on,” I insisted. Still no response. I finally returned to where he stood, face to face with him. His eyes were closed — nothing. Suddenly, his eyes popped opened. I asked: “Christopher, what’s up? You okay? It’s time to go on back to Children’s Worship.” I was preparing myself to have to handle some sort of why-I-don’t-want-to-go excuse. By that time, he and I were the only ones left in the hallway. “I know,” he said. “I was just saying a prayer for that little baby. She was crying so much I thought she really might need one right now.” . . . And a little child shall lead them, Isaiah records. . . . No sooner did Christopher tell me what he was up to, than he took off to Children’s Worship. I was left standing astonished by his instantaneous commitment to baby Caitlin. He definitely took his “I do” seriously! In my haste to smoothly chorale all the kids back to their classroom, I nearly missed it. I wasn’t expecting such a profound wisdom from one so fresh in the faith.

That’s kinda how it was another day long, long ago. Folks gathered for worship. Sabbath rest in the synagogue. Perhaps they were hoping the priest would have a reviving lesson that day. But they didn’t quite get what they were expecting. Instead their neighbor Jesus got up. Him they knew well: the little boy who grew up down the street. Mary and Joseph’s kid – the eldest of their clan. Five boys and who can remember the scads of sisters according to Mark’s gospel. I have a feeling that visions of the boy Jesus playing with the other neighborhood children ran through the worshipers’ minds. A couple could recall the time the child got lost on the trip back from Jerusalem. And when he’d come to call on their pretty daughters. But then this Jesus went off the deep end. Not long ago he ran out on the family. Left his carpentry work to meet up with that rabble-rousing John the Baptist. Out yonder in the wilderness John was stirring up a heap of trouble. Proclaiming folks needed to repent for sins to be forgiven. But that’s not the way sins get cleansed! The priest makes our sacrifices, the gathered synagogue-goers thought. Jesus had gotten messed up with that John guy. Next thing you know, he too was out shouting all sorts of stuff. Like the kingdom of God being near and other such nonsense. Jesus had become a disgrace to his family – not to mention an embarrassment to his hometown. No one wants to get on the map as the generators of the latest lunatic. Supposedly he had denounced his family the last time they tried to take him home – away from crowds that believed he had gone mad. He said his mother and brothers were the ones gathered with him – the ones doing the will of God (Mark 3:34-35).

Now here he is back in town. Joining in Sabbath worship. Yet, it isn’t just some announcement about the up-coming mission project that he stands to make that day. Rather, this lowly, un-trained carpenter gets up to unlock ancient mysteries about God. Not quite what any is expecting! After all, assumptions about who does and who doesn’t know what run pretty deep. If some completely unqualified handyman gets up to start teaching something new about God – something never before named – something revolutionary, like say a kingdom in which all the tables are over-turned. Power, prestige, and privilege completely reversed? Well, we might not be too keen on listening either. . . . Homeboy Jesus doesn’t fit their expectations. So they shoo him off center stage.

How often do we do it? How often do we miss the marvelous lessons of God because our minds are made up already? We can’t imagine anything good coming from that kind. So, instead of listening, we walk away. Mumbling, “what do they know anyway?” We keep ourselves comfortably in our pre-conceived worlds. Not having to stretch too far. Not opening ourselves to something different. Because it’s scary, and it’s challenging, and to be honest: too often, we’re too tired to try. . . . It’s nothing new really. Human beings have rebelled against the unexpected since the beginning of time. All the while, at least according to what we learn from Scripture and from our own lives too if we’re paying attention, God has been using the unexpected to do the most marvelous of things. From Father Abraham and barren Mother Sarah, to the scoundrel Jacob who becomes Israel, to that little exiled nation, to a child miraculously born to a betrothed young lady, to first followers who were totally unqualified in the eyes of the world. Right down through history to you and me: regular ole’ people who come together to worship the God whom Jesus embodies. . . . The double-edged, good news for us is that God does use the most unlikely of candidates. It’s the best way to see the unleashed power beyond us: the strength of God, who always makes something out of what seems to be nothing. Who turns death into new life. And makes a way where there seems to be none. It’s the God beyond all our expectations who won’t let our limited imaginations have the last word.   . . . Thanks be to the One who always will exceed our ingrained expectations!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2015  (All rights reserved.)

Water and Ash

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!
RevJule
______________________

A sermon for 22 February 2015 – First Sunday during Season of Lent
Click here to read scripture first: http://www.biblestudytools.com/nrsa/mark/passage/?q=mark+1:9-15

I know we Presbyterians prefer to have it all decently and in order, but thanks to the weather of this week, we’re a bit out of order today. It’s the first Sunday during the season of Lent, but before all’s said and done today, it’s going to feel a bit more like Ash Wednesday/Sunday. . . . The act of the ashes traditionally begins the season of Lent. Having the cross traced on our foreheads in the stuff that symbolizes our mortality reminds us of the mystery of our faith. But for the grace of God: poof. We are just a pile of ash. Each year we are to remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return. But, thanks to the gracious love of God, that is NOT the end of our story. The gift of Ash Wednesday brings us back to our truth. And the gospel for the first Sunday during the season of Lent brings us back to our baptisms. It’s Jesus’ baptism actually, according to the gospel of Mark this year. So that, thanks to the turn of events in our weather this week, here we are today with water and ash.

One thing brings the two together. Oil. I know we don’t often use oil anymore in the Sacrament of Baptism. But it is called for according to the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship. In fact, it was an important part of baptism for early Christians. As far as we know, after an adult was fully immersed in the waters of baptism, they would kneel before the priest who would mark their forehead in oil with the sign of the cross. Laying hands upon them, the priest then would recite something close to what our baptismal rite calls for directly after the water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Marking one’s forehead in the sign of a cross – in oil if able – the pastor says something like: “Child of the covenant, you are marked with God’s sign and God will keep the promises made to you in this sacrament forever” (modification of PCUSA’s Book of Common Worship, 1993, p. 414). It’s why we likewise begin funeral services with a reminder of a person’s baptism. Even in death, we are marked as God’s own.

You don’t see the oil we mix with the ash of Ash Wednesday. But it’s there: to ensure the ashes stick to your head. Perhaps a more practical presence for the oil, but we know of biblical traditions that call for the use oil on our faces during times of penitential fasts. We’re not to call attention to ourselves in our faithful discipleship of Christ. Matthew 6, the gospel text assigned for Ash Wednesday every year, instructs not to fast as hypocrites who are trying to clamor for attention over their holiness. Rather, Matthew records: “When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your father who is in secret” (Mt. 6:17-18a).

Oil had another use in ancient Israel. For all we know, oil was how God’s kings were anointed. First and Second Kings both record the coronation of kings, Solomon and Joash. Trumpets are blown. Oil is used for anointing. And all the people shout: “Long live the king!” (I Kings 1:38-40 and 2 Kings 11:9-12). The kings were not God present to the people – they weren’t deified. But they were considered sanctified – made holy and empowered by God. Anointed with oil for the work to which God called them. (For further details, see http://www.jhom.com – Coronation in ancient Israel.)

The intriguing thing is: this one, Jesus, the Anointed One of God, isn’t anointed with oil – at least not at the start of his ministry. Unlike Israel’s ancient kings, this new King, Jesus of Nazareth, claims the sign of water as that which sets him apart. Along with the long line of sinners standing on Jordan’s banks, Jesus begins his work “with his descent into the waters of baptism” (Leah McKell Horton, Feasting on the Gospels, Mark; p. 9). As one commentator writes: “This (king), who has come to save God’s people is not marked for his role in the ordinary way (of kings). Jesus, the Messiah, takes on an unexpected identity right from the start. Rather than being set apart from the rest of us sinners, he partakes of the same baptism, joining all the unclean there in the waters” (Ibid., p. 11). And so the work God gave him to do begins.

We are called to meditate upon it. The season of Lent is the church’s annual, intentional period of reflection. Marked with these signs: the waters of baptism and the ash of our mortality, we are called to live out our roles as sons and daughters of the King. We are not mere mortals – the signs on our foreheads set us apart. So that whether we remember or not, when God gazes upon us, God sees it clearly. I like to think of it that if God had a thumb, then the Holy One has trace right upon each one of us: I love you (in the sign of the cross). Marked with God’s sign, we’re heirs of the covenant. Children of the kingdom whose lives belong in line behind the One who lived and died and lived again.
In a time of silent reflection, let us ready ourselves to receive again, and thereafter live, God’s sign . . .

© Copyright JMN – 2015 (All rights reserved.)

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!
RevJule
______________________

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:)

BAPTISM OF THE LORD SUNDAY

  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)?

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“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?

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“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.

Renunciations

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.)