Sermon January 11: The Start of Things

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Faith United Methodist Church

January 11, 2015

Baptism of The Lord

Rev. Krista Beth Atwood

Scripture: Genesis 1:1-5, Mark 1:4-11

Prayer of Illumination:

Holy Spirit, descend upon us this day as you descended upon Jesus on the day of his baptism. Heal our brokenness and seal us once again into the fullness of your love. May the words that I speak and the thoughts that we form reflect our identity as people of water and the Spirit. Amen.

Sermon:                                        The Start of Things        

Eternal Father:

When nothing existed but chaos,

         you swept across the dark waters

         and brought forth light.

Water. It’s more than just something that’s bottled in Poland Spring, Maine. It’s more than that with which we wash our clothes and dishes and selves every day.   At the very start of things, when nothing existed but chaos, God swept across the waters.

In the days of Noah

         you saved those on the ark through water

After the flood you set in the clouds a rainbow.

When you saw your people as slaves in Egypt,

         you led them to freedom through the sea.

Their children you brought through the Jordan

         to the land which you promised.

Water. We let it run from the faucets when we brush our teeth. We get annoyed when it falls from the sky ~ which it can do as rain or ice or even snow. Yet none of us can live without it. It makes up something like 60% of our bodies. It is one of the most ordinary things on earth, yet an instrument of God’s extraordinary grace.

In the fullness of time you sent Jesus,

         nurtured in the water of a womb.

He was baptized by John and anointed by your Spirit.

He called his disciples

         to share in the baptism of his death and resurrection

         and to make disciples of all nations.

These are the things we affirm about water every time we prepare for Baptism. God created the water. God works through the water. God calls us to the water. I was one of those kids at swim lessons who didn’t want to put her face underwater. I had to practice at home in the tub. Holding my breath. Putting my face in the water. Turning my head to breathe. I finally got the hang of it, and was eventually even able to dive to the bottom of the pool, but there is something a little scary about the water. When we’re in it, the usual rules don’t apply.

That can also be said about the waters of baptism, it seems to me. The usual rules don’t apply. Baptism isn’t just a pretty ceremony or ‘the thing to do.’ As one pastor put it, Christian baptism isn’t just some water being splashed. It is water and the Word.

The Book of Acts tells us of several folks who found this out for themselves. In one case, recorded in Acts 19, some believers gathered with the Apostle Paul and Paul asked them what they knew about the Holy Spirit. They responded truthfully, “We have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit!” Upon that, Paul filled them in and, for them, everything changed. They were baptized in the name of Jesus ~ immersed in the water which has flowed from God since the start of things ~ and filled with the Holy Spirit. Water and the Word.

The Scripture tells us that, upon their baptism, these believers began speaking in tongues and prophesying. Not something we often see at United Methodist baptisms these days. At Jesus’ baptism we are told that the heavens were torn open, a dove descended and God proclaimed, “You are my son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased.” Our own baptisms are often more modest affairs. A few prayers in front of a smiling congregation and a little water followed by a nice brunch. But this doesn’t mean ours are any less significant.

The sacrament of Baptism is an affirmation that the usual rules don’t apply. Being born through water and the spirit, we are claimed as disciples of Jesus Christ, members of God’s own family. It’s a sign of new life, a cleansing, a renewal by the Spirit. It symbolizes our presence to God and God’s presence in us as beloved daughters and sons. And ~ get this ~ we can’t do a single thing to earn it because it’s a gift. A gift from God through Jesus Christ to us. And through this gift we are given the power ~ however it may manifest itself in our lives ~ for witness and service.

Yet baptism is not a magic potion for solving life’s problems. The truth is, there may be times we feel so dry we wonder if the water has touched our skin at all. Times when we feel wrung out and forget our beloved identity. There may even be times when we feel like the disciples in Ephesus, saying, “I didn’t even know there was a Holy Spirit!” And that’s okay. That’s okay. But then, thank God, there are other times. Times when something or someone calls our name to remind us we are blessed and beloved. Times when we remember our baptism through water and the Word.

Many of us don’t remember our actual baptisms. They took place when we were just babies, our parents answering the questions on our behalf.   Some of us may have been baptized as older children or teens or even adults. Some of us probably weren’t even baptized Methodist, but in another church or denomination. And some of us may not have been baptized yet. But guess what? None of that matters ~ not one bit.

What does matter is that God has claimed us, not because of who we are or what we have done, but out of love because God wants us as part of the family ~ beloved sons and daughters in the name of Jesus Christ. And that, I would say, is pretty good news.

Water. It is more than just something that’s bottled in Poland Spring. It’s more than snow or sleet or freezing rain that gets in the way of our travel plans. These are the things we affirm about water every time we prepare for Baptism: God created the water. God works through the water. God calls us to the water. And every time we prepare for baptism ~ water and the Word ~ we are given the opportunity to remember our own.

As I began this sermon with words from the Baptismal Covenant, words we will revisit in a moment as we remember our baptisms, let us close with this prayer:

Pour out your Holy Spirit,

and by this gift of water call to our remembrance

         the grace declared to us in our baptism.

For you have washed away our sins,

         and clothe us with righteousness throughout our lives,

         that dying and rising with Christ

         we may share in his final victory. Amen.