Delivered on Facebook Live because of a snow event, for St. James the Less, Ashland
“Water and Promises”
Collect: Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
We see so much in something so simple. We saw it hear on December 23. There is water and promises. We have both water and promises every day. But there is something unique and singular about baptism, where the two collide and give import and meaning. It is a demarcation. It is a declaration. It is a dawning.
Baptism is a demarcation, what before is no longer. There are certain things that draw lines in the sand for us. Birth. First days of schools. First kiss. Driver’s License. Graduation. Marriage. Becoming a parent. And in all of these, baptism is one of those life moments. At the baptism on the 23rd, the beautiful Christening dress had been used in the family since the 30s. Wow. Talk about a demarcation. In the family this was a moment of portent, and has been for coming on a century.
In our prayer book, with the new prayer book there is an assumption of older baptism instead of infant baptism. The person who can speak for themselves comes before an infant in our rites. (p. 300) In fact, the amount of “cradle Episcopalians” continues to decline. I and my family are come-alongs, and gladly so. We chose to be a part of this Church through a call of God we felt strongly. Stephanie and I were received in one of the last visits of Bishop Lee. My girls were baptized the same day. In one of my favorite memories, when my youngest was baptized in the traditional Trinitarian formula, Abbott Bailey, our priest (who is now Canon to the Ordinary in the Diocese of California), was so positive and happy, our daughter thought it was a game. “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…” pouring and cleansing with each invocation. It was wonderful and beautiful, just like it had just been with our oldest just moments before. And then my daughter, reached in with as much authority as the Holy Roman Emperor crowning herself, got a handful of water and baptized herself. And blessed it with a loud, “Whee!” Bishop Lee looked shocked, Abbott and the rest of us just laughed. Our baptisms, while a demarcation, should be a “Whee!” That joy, enthusiasm, and sense of fun should mark our Christian walk, especially at the beginning.
Baptism is a declaration, before God and the whole world we are declaring which side we choose to be on. I have talked about this before. I am one of the few people in our society that can make declarations. Kings, Presidents, Judges, High Officials, and ministers can pronounce and upon utterance it is so. I declare marriages. I declare blessings. I declare pardon. I declare one “marked as Christ’s own forever.”
It is not just me, though. The baptized are making a declaration. In other countries, missionaries often face the problem that there could be many coming and worshiping and fully participating with their work, but they will not be baptized. In countries where the majority faith is opposed to Christianity, families are often fine with people checking out a Church, and maybe even believing, but once one is baptized all recognize their child is no longer part of their faith, forever. By being baptized, believers must often renounce traditions and connections; they often are rejected by their family and seen as “dead.” In the most extreme cases, this warrants an “honor killing” like the woman from Saudi Arabia stopped in Thailand on the way to Australia was afraid of. (She denounced Islam, not that she embraced Christianity, but the outcome was the same.)
When we are baptized, we are making a statement to ourselves and to the world, what was before has passed away, what is to come is new. Do we do it perfectly? Of course not, but try. That is what in the covenant we respond, “I will, with God’s help.” Perfection? No. Attempt? Yes. “Till turning, turning, we come round right.”
Baptism is a dawning, a rebirth. Now this is what we often emphasize because it is the predominant symbol. The world baptizo in the Greek means immersion. To dunk. So, in that, our full immersion brethren literally symbolize the burial and resurrection. In the early church, the symbolism was layer upon layer upon layer. Three years of training ended with an Easter morning ritual. At dawn, they faced the rising sun and declared their choice to join in the light. They would turn to the dark west and renounce Satan and the forces of darkness. In living water, flowing that is, not some pool in a church, the candidate was stripped like a corpse, and placed in the living water and buried to the old self with full immersion. When they emerged, they were given new clothes and often a new name. Hence, they were “Christened.” Fully new. Fully alive.
I hear a lot of naysayers and worrisome comments lamenting the demise of the Church Universal (especially in the USA), but perhaps the social Christians feel safe enough to no longer go through the motions. Reading the paper and drinking coffee is now more of the norm instead of dragging oneself to church. Taking the kids to sports or whatever give folks more meaning. Perhaps this winnowing, this pruning, will keep the core healthy and vibrant. We will see. And for those of you who came out in this weather to be here, and those who paused at home to see it online, I pray you will be blessed and think through your Baptismal vows today as we remember the willing submission of Jesus to enter the waters of baptism.
In the Episcopal Church, a huge part of our baptism leans back on ancient traditions. Part of that is vows we take, or promises in how we will try to raise those who cannot speak for themselves. Let’s remember those this morning...
Question: Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?
You hear here the promises from the early Church, turning to the Light, rejecting the Dark.
Question: Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
Answer: I renounce them.
We do not think about that when we “do something bad.” Sin is something more than making a mistake. It is something done, or left undone. And in these conscious acts, we corrupt and destroy others and ourselves.
Question: Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?
Answer: I renounce them.
C. S. Lewis described our desires in an interesting way. We all have desires. We all have wants. He said not that they are too strong, it is that the ones that draw us to the Good and the Right, the ones who draw us unto God, are not strong enough. We give into the desires to love God, to love our neighbor, and to love ourselves fully.
Question: Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?
Answer: I do.
In our country where our predominant national story is the self-made person, it is hard for us to say that we need help, and that we need to be saved from anyone or anything. Even worse, to have a named Savior. But at some point we have an Epiphany, we cannot do it alone. We cannot do it by ourselves. “Y’all need Jesus,” and I do, too.
Question: Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?
Answer: I do.
And naming him is the first step, embracing his grace and love is the fulfillment of this relationship. We do not get married for the wedding, we get married for the life together. We do not claim Christ for the checkmark of being baptized, we get baptized to embrace the life, the abundant life, described by Jesus as the way to be fully ourselves.
Question: Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?
Answer: I do.
The only way to life, a Jesus life, is for him gradually to turn down the Savior knob, and turn up the Lord knob. If Jesus is saving us all the time, we are not trying very hard. As he increasingly moves into the chambers of our heart and of our life, he gets to clean and rearrange, and make himself at home. That is what these words mean.
In the Baptism of Jesus, he was claimed and given the heavenly “Atta-boy!” In our baptism we are claimed and named as Christ’s own forever. In our Isaiah reading we have such a promise. We see it fulfilled in Christ’s baptism, and we see it fulfilled in our own. Isaiah 43:1c “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Such love. Such truth. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Whee!