On Baptism

Sermon preached January 7, 2018 on the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ

Based on: Genesis 1:1-5, Acts 19:1-7, and Mark 1:4-11

“In the beginning when God created the
heavens and the earth, the 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.”

The Hebrew word translated as “wind” is ‘ruah’ the same word used for spirit. So the Spirit of God moved over the earth even at creation.

It was that same Spirit of God that descended on Jesus and proclaimed him as God’s beloved. In fact John the Baptist claims that Jesus will be the conduit for the Holy Spirit. John says, “I have baptized you with water; but he (Jesus) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

In the early church the Holy Spirit played a prominent role. From the conception of Jesus, his baptism and the empowerment of his disciples the Spirit was part of the believers experience with God. And so, when we get to our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Paul is amazed when he comes across the disciples in the region of Ephesus that have not even heard of the Holy Spirit.

Baptism was seen as an outward sign of acknowledging one’s sins. John the Baptist and apparently Apollos also, brought people to the conviction that their lives needed to be changed. After repenting of the wrongs they had done they would be baptized as a mark of the new direction their life would be taking. Baptism as a sign of repentance is still part of our tradition.

Jesus commissioned his disciples to go into the entire world baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Baptism would, also, be used as an outward sign of a commitment to Jesus.

Baptism as a sign of initiation into the Jesus movement is still part of our tradition. Forgiveness and initiation both are part of what we understanding baptism. Baptism is full initiation into the Body, the Church. There are no partial members of the church. Baptism is the rite of incorporation. You may not be an active member or a practicing member, but you are still a member.

“The bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble.” BCP

The waters of baptism are rich in symbolism. Our prayer book tells us Over it [the waters] the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation. Through it God led the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt into the land of promise. In it Jesus received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ.

Through the waters of Baptism we are buried with Christ in his death. Through these same waters we share in his resurrection. We, too, are reborn by the Holy Spirit. We are cleansed from sin and born anew. These are all words from our baptismal liturgy. As a sign of this in the early church you would strip away your old clothes before you were baptized and then put on a new white robe after baptism.

But because we are so civilized about our baptisms, we usually simply pour or sprinkle a little water over the recipient’s head. This “neatness” can sometimes cause us to miss the power of Baptism; which is the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. Baptism is mystical, not magical.

In today’s busy world, we often don’t do much preparation of the candidates, their families or sponsors for this new way of life into which they are being born. Sometimes this is for pastoral reason, but whatever the reason, we often we get in return that which we have expected, nothing. Baptism becomes getting a child “done” instead of getting a child “begun” on a life with Christ. Baptism is the sign that we embrace the Christian life. We publicly proclaim ourselves to be Jesus followers, kingdom bearers. It is not fire insurance, or hedging our bets, just in case this God thing is for real. Baptism is the mark of new birth. It is the opening of yourself or our child to receive the Holy Spirit; to receive the power to witness to, and live a new life; a God centered life, a hope filled life, an empowered life.

The Holy Spirit empowers us to witness by word and deed to God’s intent for humanity and all of creation. When we receive the Holy Spirit we are empowered to forgive even when we would rather hold a grudge. We are empowered to seek the forgiveness of God and those we hurt when faced with our own brokenness.

We are empowered to seek help when afflicted by that which keeps us from being whole; like addiction, depression, obsession, anger, illness, or whatever it is that keeps us from being fully who God calls us to be. We aren’t always cured, but we are given the strength to accept those things that we cannot change and change those things we can. We are empowered to reach out to the poor, the powerless, and the vulnerable even when we are among the poor, the powerless, and the vulnerable. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we are given new eyes to see the difference between what the world values and what God values. We are given ears to hear the cries of those who suffer. We are given hands to reach out in love to others. We are given the ability to follow the way of our Lord Jesus; the way that leads to life, the way that leads to wholeness. We are given a community of faith, the church to support us in the journey.

The Holy Spirit given to us in baptism enables us to live as children of God. We should not take it lightly, we should expect no less than to be transformed and changed and enlivened.

This is why St. Paul was surprised by those believers who had never heard of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit in Baptism is God’s great gift to those who believe.

+John