Do You Remember Your Baptism?

Do You Remember Your Baptism?

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

The Testing of Jesus
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tested by Satan, and he was with the wild beasts, and the angels waited on him.

The Beginning of the Galilean Ministry
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the good news of God and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Mark 1:9-15 (NRSVUE)

Friends, I had a strange realization this week, and to be honest, I am still trying to process it in my mind. But it came to me when I turned on the TV and heard of all the horrific things happening in the world. As a person who likes to fix things and comfort people, I sat for a few minutes thinking about what might need to change in our society to improve things. Do we need tighter gun laws or more access to mental health services? Is it universal stress management, or periodic psychological check-ins? Is all this happening in the world because of a lack of religious upbringing, education, or empathy for fellow human beings?

Then I started to think about how few baptisms we have had in the church over the last five years, and how churches are closing every day across the country. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to take a bowl of water and march down Main Street sharing baptismal blessings with everyone I saw. Now, please, let me be clear: my heart was not calling me to do that so that everyone would become Christian because that is not the answer. And I wouldn’t be doing it because I want everyone to come and attend church here in Oldtown every Sunday, though, don’t get me wrong–that would be nice! The urging that I felt actually had nothing to do with faith or religion and everything to do with caring for one another as human beings. Because I think there are lots of people out there in the world who have no idea that they are beloved and that they are loved just the way they are, whether they are here in church or not. Because my friends, I believe that is the important part of baptism. It’s a reminder that you matter, that you belong somewhere, that God created you and loves you just the way you are, and no matter what you have done or left undone, you can always wash those things away and start again, because that’s what grace is all about!

Folks, if we take a look back at today’s story, Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, He was told that he was beloved, and then sent out into the wilderness for forty days. What if the baptism hadn’t happened first? What if the story starts with Jesus in the wilderness? What if Jesus doesn’t know that he is beloved? Would he react differently? Folks, I believe that through his baptism, Jesus was given a fresh new start, and reminded that he was truly loved, and that gave him the strength to spend those forty days in the wilderness.

Whenever we baptize infants here in Oldtown, we give the family a candle and encourage them to light it each year and tell their child about what happened that day. Because as an infant or a small child, you don’t often remember your baptism. Speaking of remembering your baptism, I wonder, how many of you remember your baptism? Do you know where you were baptized? Were you baptized by immersion (being put under water) or by water sprinkled on your head? Were you baptized at a church, a camp, or a lake? Were you baptized with a group of people or by yourself? And was there something that you remember that was special about that day?

As you may or may not know, I was baptized right here in Oldtown. I was about ten or twelve years old, and I wore a long white dress with a pink bow. I don’t really remember the water on my head, but I do remember finally feeling like I belonged. All my friends had been baptized as infants, but when I was born, my parents attended the Baptist church that my dad grew up in. In the Baptist tradition, infants are dedicated to God in worship, but people are not baptized until they are old enough to request it. Growing up here in Oldtown, and knowing that I wasn’t baptized, I always felt like I wasn’t good enough yet, like I was missing something and like I didn’t quite fit in. I wonder if that is how some people out in the world feel, like they are not good enough, like something is missing, or like they don’t quite fit in.

Folks, every week here in Oldtown, I remind all of you that you are amazing! And that God loves you just the way you are, and so do I. But there are hundreds of thousands of people out there in the world who never hear those words. They are never told that they are beloved so they simply don’t know. How might knowing that they are beloved impact how they live in the world, the choices they make, and how they treat others? And what would it mean to all of us if we actually looked at those around us as beloved children of God, too?  

Folks, a baptismal blessing is such a gift. It is a reminder of the blessing that you are to the world around you! And a reminder that you are a part of something so much bigger! But I think over the years, the church universal has lost sight of the gift, and instead they have used it as a tool to name who is in and who is out when it should really be used to encourage everyone!

When I was a student minister, the church that I served would often have what they called a renewal of baptismal vows. A Statement of Faith would be printed in the bulletin, and when instructed to do so, the congregation would read it aloud together, claiming to believe all that it held within it. Then the pastor and I, using pine branches would dip them in the water and flick the water out into the crowd, And as we did, we would say, “Remember your baptism and keep it holy.” I always had a hard time doing that. What if someone didn’t want water thrown at them? I felt like it was intrusive and impersonal. And what exactly are we supposed to do to keep our baptism holy?

Folks, in just a few moments I’m going to invite you to come forward to receive a baptismal blessing. This can be whatever you make of it. You may look at it as a renewal of baptism, or you may use this time to remember your baptism. Maybe you haven’t been baptized in the past and this will be a preview of something you possibly decide to do in the future. All I hope you take away from this experience is the knowledge that you are beloved and that God loves you unconditionally.

Friends, as I told you a few weeks ago when we baptized Brooks and Tate, the water that we use for baptism is nothing special. It’s simply North Attleboro tap water, but it is made special by us because as children of God when we come together and bless it, it becomes something more, something sacred.

For those of you who don’t know, in 2001, we had to take our steeple down and replace it. Our baptismal font was made by Jim Brinson out of the old steeplewood. The bowl inside the font is the bowl that has been used for generations here in Oldtown. So, this morning, we are going to fill it with plain old North Attleboro tap water, and then I’m going to ask you all to help me bless it.

So would you please repeat after me? “Loving God, bless this water and make it holy, that in sharing it we might be blessed as well. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen!”

(We then invited the congregation forward, touching their head with water, looking them in the eye, and saying, “Know that you are a beloved child of God and the world is a better place because of you!”)

Friends, the Gospel of Mark begins in chapter one with Jesus’ baptism, when Jesus claims his own belovedness. Then, the rest of the gospel is about Jesus trying to help others claim their belovedness, too.

So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, remember that you are a beloved child of God, and the world is a better place because of you! And then, do what you can to help others claim their belovedness too.

My friends may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!


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