RENEWING WATERS – PASTOR DONNA DOUTT – 1/13/19
Come with me, and let’s take a walk. This day is stunningly beautiful. The deep blue clouds reflect on the river, and the dazzling sun makes the water appear as liquid sparkling sapphire.
Over there is a group of people, some are along the roadside, others are sitting on the embankment, and others are standing on or in the river at its edge. All eyes are focused on this scruffy guy who looks like a caveman. As we get closer, we can hear that he’s expounding about the coming messiah. Oh yeah! Right! This must be the guy I’ve heard so much about! He lives out in the desert somewhere, and they say he’s received a message from God.
Isn’t he the one they call John the Baptizer? He’s a big believer of the prophet Isaiah’s teachings of a coming messiah. Some say HE is the messiah. Some say he’s the prophet Elijah returned because the prophet Malachi said Elijah would come before the messiah. Will the real Messiah please stand up?
People say he’s going all around the country-side around the Jordan River preaching that baptism can be a life-changing event. It leads to the forgiveness of sins, just as Isaiah predicted.
This cluster of people must be the Baptizer’s groupies. They follow him around, going to his events. It’s the hottest ticket in town. Anyone who is anyone of importance is there.
John seems impatient today. He knows that some of the crowd are followers, for sure, but some are just truly these hanger-ons. He’s got no tolerance for these wanna-be followers. These are people who are just coming to hang out…his pseudo followers, so to speak. Just nebbing around.
He blows up and shouts at them, “You brood of snakes. What do you think you’re doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to deflect God’s judgment? It’s your life that must change, not your skin. And don’t think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as “father.” Being a child of Abraham is neither here nor there…children of Abraham are a dime a dozen. God can make children from stories if he wants. What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.”
He wants these people to understand that there’s more to it than just showing up. They must live lives of faithfulness. The crowd shouts to him, “Then what are we supposed to do?”
He lays down the rules to them. “If you have two coats, give one away. Do the same with your food.”
Then the tax collectors come to be baptized too. They also want to know what they can do. John really has no patience with that bunch. He tells them straight up, “Just do your job and only tax people what is fair and required by law.”
Then soldiers come, and ask the same thing. They all want to prove their not just hanger-ons. “Stop shaking people down,” he tells them. “And be content with the rations you receive. Don’t expect more than you need.”
So now the tensions building. All are anticipating what comes next. One of the men up by the road shouts out to him saying, “Hey buddy! Are you the Messiah?” It’s a fair question because everyone is abuzz with the same question.
John looks up at the people gathered there and says, “No, I’m not. I baptize you with water. I’m just the stagehand here. There’s another coming who is going to light up your life. He’s going to put the Holy Spirit in you and change your life from the inside out. He’s going to put everything in its place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.” This coming Messiah….well, I’m not even fit to tie his sandals!
So he’s telling all these people these things and more, and suddenly…we see him look up, and we all turn to see what he’s looking at. Here comes this handsome man. He’s not scraggly like John the Baptizer. He’s clean and his sandals are beautiful, and there’s a white light of energy emanating from him that makes my skin feel electrified, and the hair on the back of my neck stands up. Each of us are speechless as he approaches. Without being told, we know this man is special. The whispers start…”That’s Jesus from over at Nazareth.”
So we watch as all the people are baptized. Jesus quietly waits his turn in line. There’s no ego here. He’s patient. Finally, it’s his turn. John baptizes Jesus just like everyone else did, but here’s a twist. Jesus begins to pray. No others have prayed after their baptism. The Gospel of Luke is the only account of this event that states that Jesus prayed.
So Jesus begins to pray, and suddenly the atmosphere turns brilliantly bright with pure energy and light that we sensed around Jesus. Everything is glowing, and a dove descends from the sky, flutters over Jesus, and a voice from heaven declares, “This is my son, my Chosen; listen to him.”
The Gospel of John reports it even more dramatically by saying, “The crowd standing by heard it and said that it had thundered. Others said, An angel has spoken to him. Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.” Jesus is telling them HE KNOWS WHO HE IS! But what’s more important is that GOD wants them to know who he is.
So what’s just happened here? Ta-daaaa! It’s an epiphany! So many people remembered that unforgettable day…that special event…and they all became followers of Christ. WE are witness to the baptism of Christ!
So what about you? Do you remember your baptism? I know I don’t. I was probably fairly small when it happened. But some of you here have been baptized as adults. I’m sure you remember.
So now that you’re baptized, what comes next? If you were an infant, it was explained to your parents what the baptism meant for your life. But who ever really passed that on to you? What do you know about what baptism? Let’s take out our quiz questions in our bulletins. Let’s all have a teaching moment.
Question #1 – Do you know what the two sacraments or religious ceremonies are that UM churches recognize? It is baptism and communion. Some other denominations include other ceremonies, such as anointing the sick.
Question #2 In the sacrament of baptism, we are what? Initiated into Christ’s holy church, Incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation, given new birth through water and the Spirit…which one? All of the above.
Question #3 How many times can a person be baptized? Only once. You may have a service of remembrance as we will do here shortly, but you are only baptized once.
Question 4. The accepted age to receive the sacrament of baptism is …any age. Baptism is open to all ages.
Question #5 Water is used in baptism because it symbolizes what? The waters of creation, new birth, cleansing us from sin? Well, the answer is all of the above.
Question #6. The approved Methodist of baptism is: pouring, sprinkling, immersion? All of the above
Question #7 Following the act of baptism, the pastor then offers an invocation with the laying on of hands.
Question #8 If you are baptized as an infant you should be baptized again when older. True or false? False! Remember what we said in question #3. You’re only baptized once in your life.
Question #9 Those baptized in a United Methodist congregation are also baptized members of what? The Church universal, the denomination of the UMC Church, the local congregation? Well, the answer is all of the above.
Question #10 – When churches report membership statistics, they report the number of everyone baptized in their church; Everyone attending church throughout the year; everyone who was baptized and publicly professed both the baptismal and membership vows; everyone who enjoys coffee or tea “strangely warmed”. The correct answer is “everyone who was baptized and publicly professed both the baptismal and membership vows.
What do you think? Did you learn anything new? No matter how old we get, it’s never too late to learn something new about the church. A 93-year old woman called me last week to thank me for explaining “epiphany!” She said she never understood it until last week.
So as members of this Faith Community United Methodist Church, in remembrance of the baptism of Jesus Christ, our savior, if you have been baptized into our church, you have received the gift of salvation through your baptism.
We invite you all to now come forward to the fount, and take a stone from the water in remembrance of your baptism. As you touch the water, may it remind you of your baptism,
If you know you have not been baptized, and would like to be, you are also invited to come forward and take a stone. As you touch the water, perhaps you will consider taking the next step in your faith journey, and desire to become baptized. If you do, please see me after this service and we will arrange for that to happen next week or sometime in the near future.
All who are baptized and have renewed their vows are invited to come to the font to use the water as a sign of refreshing. As each uses the water, another says to her or him:
Remember that you are baptized, and rejoice!
 The Message