What Kind of Baptism is Your Baptism?, January 10, 2021

What Kind of Baptism is Yours?

Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11

Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler

Catskill, Palenville, Quarryville UMCs; January 10, 2021

 

This is the first story Mark tells.  He begins his gospel with the pronouncement – The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  He then moves immediately to John the Baptist. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord!

 

John appeared in the wilderness, says Mark, proclaiming a baptism of repentance.  Baptism in Jesus’ time wasn’t a new practice, nor apparently an uncommon one.  John used the ritual of baptism, cleansing, washing, to mark a decision to turn one’s life around, repentance, an active decision to turn away from old sinful ways and toward better ways, lived by God’s laws and commandments.  Today’s story in Acts tells us that John’s call to repentance wasn’t only heard by the Jordan river.  Years after Jesus, Paul runs into a community of disciples in Ephesus who are living in a community held together by John’s preaching and baptism.  They know of John, but not of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  Paul tells them exactly what all the gospel writers tell us.  John is just a warm-up act for Jesus.  Jesus, and the Spirit of Jesus after his resurrection and ascension, is the center of the new thing God is up to in the world.  Jesus’s baptism is the baptism that marks all of what God is about in Jesus. 

 

From the beginning of the Jesus movement until now, baptism is mark of the beginning of a disciple’s new life in Christ.  Jesus tells his disciples to go make new disciples, all over the world, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Paul insists that it is baptism that unites us all and makes us one body in Christ. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is no longer Jew, Greek, slave, free, male and female.  Because you’ve been baptized into one body, Paul writes in Galatians.  Paul also chastises followers of Jesus who try to draw distinctions among themselves by who baptized them.  Look, he tells the church in Corinth, you were all baptized in the name of Jesus, not in the name of Paul or Apollos or Peter.  Only Christ was crucified for you, not any of us.  Jesus’ baptism is what matters.  It’s what unites us as followers of Jesus, those who are called to walk in his ways.

                                                                                                  

Over the centuries the church has agreed that baptism is central to being a follower of Jesus, but different traditions emphasize different aspects of baptism.  Methodists follow the practice of infant baptism.  We begin our lives beloved of God and claimed by God as precious, from our birth.  Baptism is a mark of the covenant that God calls us into, a covenant grounded in the love of God for each one of us.  Infant baptism frames our whole lives as a response to God’s love and call.  We embrace the word from Ephesians that there is only one baptism.  Since baptism is God’s blessing on us, it doesn’t need to be repeated if we go astray.  God doesn’t break the divine side of the covenant, even as we need to come back again and again and remember who we are and whose we are.  So we can re-affirm our baptism, as we will later in the service.  But we are not re-baptized.  God’s still making good on our original baptism, whether that happened when we were 4 months old or 40 years old.  God’s got you.

 

Baptism, however, is not a magical raincoat that keeps sin away from us.  Nor is it a vaccine that keeps sin from causing the pain, suffering, and destruction in our lives and in the life of the world that sin tends to bring.  We watched in horror this week as people stormed the Capitol building, with expressed intent to stop the proceedings of our government.  Many of those people claim the name of Jesus as their Lord, most of those who claim Jesus were baptized into the church of Jesus Christ as you and I were.  They allowed a lie to take hold of their hearts and lives to such an extent that they were part of a mob chanting ‘Hang Mike Pence,’ when there was a gallows erected on site that could have served that purpose.  They were part of a mob that wanted to get their way at any cost, including undoing the workings of the government of the country many of them claim to love.  Those who gathered in hate and anger at the Capitol on Wednesday are not the only ones complicit in the sins that culminated in the storming of Congress.  Over and over again, leaders of our country spoke the lie that the election this fall was fraudulent.  They encouraged their followers to believe it, even though they could not gather enough evidence to prove anything in court, over and over again.  Their baptisms did not inoculate them from the power of sin.  Lying, including refusing to see truth because we don’t want to accept it, is sin.   Words matter.  What we say matters. We witnessed the destructive and dangerous power of sin in Wednesday’s events.  The sin of racism, embedded deep in our shared society, was also on display on Wednesday afternoon.  It cannot be denied that if the mob had been filled with people of color, they would not have gotten as far as they did.  Security personnel have stated that they simply don’t perceive mobs of white people as being as dangerous as mobs of black people.  That’s racism at work.

 

Baptism does not protect us from sin, unless we live the life we say we’ll live in our baptismal vows, a life closely connected to God and God’s love and grace in Jesus.  Baptism reminds us that God cleanses us of our sin, and has the power and the will to guide us on the way that leads to life if we’re willing to let of our sinful ways.  But that takes effort on our part.  The first question in the baptismal covenant asks us “Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?”

 

That is, are you willing to recognize that there is evil in the world and that that evil invites us to participate in its ways regularly?  It takes deliberate effort not to be taken in by lies, especially when they speak of things we wish were true.  Renouncing wickedness and evil begins by acknowledging that they are real.  And repenting of our sin entails deliberately choosing to turn away from sin and walk again in the ways of God’s love, truth, and grace.

 

The next question of the covenant: “Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?”  John’s baptism was focused on repentance, recognizing that the wrong we did yesterday was wrong and the evil we encountered in the process was evil.  Resisting evil turns our eyes toward the present and the future and calls us to commit to keeping our eyes open and ready to confront what’s wrong in the world.  Dealing with past, present, and future are all part of Jesus’ baptism, all part of our lives as disciples of Jesus in the world.   This is hard work.  How do we manage to do it?

 

Ah, the third question gets us there.

“Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior,
put your whole trust in his grace,
and promise to serve him as your Lord,
in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?” 

The answer to how do we manage this is that we don’t do it alone.  We have Jesus by our side as we head into the fray, and we have each other.  We gather together, not to participate in evil, but to resist evil and oppression.  The church is the gathering of disciples of Jesus to live out their baptisms together.  Yes, it’s harder to do that when we can’t be together.  But we’re doing it, friends.  We’re hosting a blood drive that added over sixty pints of blood to the work of caring for our neighbors who are sick or injured.  We share food and diapers with neighbors in need through our Blessing Boxes and through gifts to Food Pantries.  We send mission money to UMCOR and Smile Train and local families who are struggling with medical bills.  We’re seeing each other on Zoom for meetings and Bible studies, laughing and learning and looking together into our future as the church.  We’re connecting with one another through phone calls and cards, praying for each other, and signing up to get a vaccine when it’s available so we can hope for a time when we can gather together again.  We can renew our baptismal vows to be part of Christ’s churches in these places because the Spirit is among us, encouraging us, teaching us, binding us together in love. 

 

Sin and evil are real and close by in our lives.  Resisting evil means that we will examine our own hearts in the light of what happens around us.  The New York Annual Conference is committed to becoming an actively anti-racist community of churches.  We are invited to take that call seriously, to engage in the hard work of opening our eyes to our own complicity in the racism that stains our society.  As we reaffirm our baptismal vows this morning, I invite you to commit to choosing to be actively anti-racist in the year ahead, walking with others in the New York Conference to examine our ways and our patterns of life together that we might come closer to the Beloved Community of God’s love where all our sisters and brothers are appreciated, respected, and treated as precious.  May it be so.  Amen.

 

 

Genesis 1:1-5

1In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.  3Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

 

Psalm 29

1

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

 

2Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name; worship the Lord in holy splendor.

 

3The voice of the Lord is over the waters;

    the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over mighty waters.

 

4The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

 

5The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.

 

6He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.

 

7The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.

 

8The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;

   the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

 

9The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,

    and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

 

10The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.

 

11May the Lord give strength to his people!

   May the Lord bless his people with peace!

 

Acts 19:1-7

19 While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. 2He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” 4Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied— 7altogether there were about twelve of them.

 

Mark 1:4-11

4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

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