Only A Beginning

“Get this one Done.”  That is the theme of a commercial currently running. It suggests that if eating one piece of broccoli, one carrot, or completing one yoga position, or one push up would protect us from health threatening situations we would do it.   The marketing tool is encouraging us to obtain a vaccine which is said to protect us from a certain kind of pneumonia.  However, in some ways, it leaves us with the message that there are actions in our lives which can be “One and Done”

As I worked through this morning’s passage on the baptism of Jesus, it struck me that all too often there is an element of viewing our own baptisms as a “one and done” vaccination which saves us.  A “nothing else required,” “eternal-life time guarantee,” “freedom to live life however we choose” – “one and done” event in our faith journey, checked off our “important to complete” list.

I have no idea if it is has ever been true here, but I have witnessed in other congregations, as a family faithfully attends worship until all have been baptized and then somehow, being among the faith community seems to become less pressing, and their attendance become more and more sporadic. Sometimes that doesn’t happen until all are confirmed, but I have witnessed families abruptly invest their time in other priorities once they feel their “one and done” faith journey protection is in place.

As a church, we revisit the Baptism of Jesus each year after Epiphany. It is an opportunity for us to remember our baptism and the commitment we made or which we affirmed at our confirmation, to renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of our sin.

Our commitment to accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves and to confess Jesus Christ as our Savior, putting our whole trust in his grace, and promising to serve him as our Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races.

Revisiting this covenant can easily become routine, annoying, or just another part of the church year.  A nice something to remember, but offering little in the way of changing anything in our day to day lives.  After all, most of us here have been baptized and we may be thinking baptism is an outward sign of God’s work in us, we do only need to be baptized once, so it is “One and done,” Let’s move on.

This year I suggest we take a closer look at the example Jesus set for all of us who follow Him and open ourselves to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit creating something new within us as we remember His baptism, and our own.

Jesus didn’t need to be baptized by John.  John was calling people to repent of their sins, to turn directly toward God, focusing on God’s priorities and perspectives rather than their own as we considered in the Advent message “Turn.”

Jesus was without sin, already focused on God’s call on his life.  John clearly understood that it was Jesus who should baptize him, not he who should baptize Jesus.  Martin Luther offered this statement as a way to understand Jesus’ own baptism, “Not water alone, but the Word of God ‘in and with the water’.”  Jesus – The Word made flesh – in and with the water of the Jordan.  Jesus didn’t come to be baptized for his own repentance; he came offering himself as the answer to John’s call for all people to repent[1]. Experiencing the fullness of what it means to be human, he showed us how to respond to God’s call on our lives.

His ministry and saving actions on our behalf did not end with his baptism. In Matthew’s text, the baptism of Jesus is the beginning of his ministry. His launching. His commissioning to begin the public ministry for which he was created and to which he was called.

His identity was affirmed as John and all those gathered at the river heard God’s words, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”, and saw the Spirit of God descend like a dove out of the heavens which opened to him.  But, His baptism was about more than offering himself for God’s purpose and having his identity affirmed, it was about the journey ahead, the developing, deepening identity of Jesus as he fulfilled the promises of God to all of us.  It was about staying focused on becoming all the Father had called him to be.  It led him on a journey which took him to the cross, to the depths of evil, resurrected, and now interceding on our behalf.

As the prophet Isaiah reflects God’s ideal of a good spiritual leader, Jesus was a righteous spiritual leader whose life changes the world.  A leader who leads with God’s direction, bringing healing, hospitality, and justice.  We see Jesus, who has all the power, willingly take on the role of servant, giving us a definition of leadership which reflects love rather than domination or supremacy, which encourages all to be who God calls us to be, affirming and unifying rather than dividing and conquering.

Our identity as children of God is affirmed in our baptism as we are initiated into Christ’s holy Church, incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation and given new birth through water and the Spirit.   Christ’s body, the Church, agrees to nurture one another in the Christian faith and life, reaffirms both the rejection of sin and commitment to Christ; Promises to proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ with God’s help.  The covenants made at our baptism include the church surrounding each of us with a community of love and forgiveness that we may grow in our trust of God and be found faithful in our service to others.  Promises are made that we pray for one another that we may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life.

Baptism is not an end to our faith journey, it is only a beginning.  The water symbolizing that even when we do not recognize it for ourselves, God’s grace is within us.  Encountering the living Lord may happen at the time of our baptism, or sometime later.  That encounter, or encounters ,coming differently for each of us, but coming to us as the heavens opening up and the voice of God speaking directly to us.  Every person is different, and God speaks to each of us in the way that we can most easily hear. God continually reaches out to us in love, at work in our lives.

As we hear that claim on our lives, hear the words “this is my son or daughter, my beloved in whom I am well pleased,” our response should be to cultivate our lives so there is good soil in which our seeds of faith can grow.  We need to bear fruit that is so heavy and sweet with God’s love that everyone who meets us is able to see we are disciples of Jesus Christ.[2]

Every aspect of the life of Jesus reflected God’s call on his life even when different choices would have made him an earthly king or would have saved him from the cross.

It should be the same for us.  With the teaching of scripture, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the nurturing we have promised one another as members of the body of Christ, we can develop and deepen our identity in Christ, becoming all God has called us to become, casting aside the distractions of the world.

I suspect that those gathered this morning are disciples who recognize that our spiritual lives are not a “One and Done” event, and as such we are called to continually deepen our response to God’s call on our lives, and to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others.  We are called to name and claim our own personal faith stories and to practice sharing those stories with those who are in our faith community as well as those we come in contact with outside of these walls.

Just as the baptism of Jesus was only the beginning of his ministry to and through us, our baptism does not complete our spiritual journey.  Our call to follow Christ’s example in all areas of our lives is stronger today, than when we began the journey.  Let us remember our baptism with grateful hearts that we are joined with Christ and through Christ can share God’s love with all.

We begin the Church season after Epiphany with a new series: “Come and See.”  We will come together to see what following Jesus means and what he teaches about life that is truly life.  It is designed with the hope we will strengthen our life and ministry, as well as begin to invite others to consider walking this journey with us.  That we will invite those once connected who haven’t been here in awhile, as well as those who have no faith community, to “Come and See” what Jesus is about and what following him with you might mean for them.

Some of you have already begun that inviting.  On more than one occasion as Ken and I have had an opportunity to introduce ourselves to people in the Medina area, we have heard the words, “Oh, you are the new pastor, I’ve heard good things about you.”  It is great we are generating a positive feeling about our congregation, and thank you all for the kind words, however, it is so much more than comments about Ken and I.  How each of us act and talk in the community can draw people to “Come and See” the Christ we serve, or it can push people away.  My prayer is our lives will so reflect the work begun by God in each of us, that others will be drawn to “Come and See,” and we will begin to actively invite them.

As we prepare for the New Year and this new series I am inviting you to join me in the Wesley Covenant prayer which John Wesley encouraged all Methodists to share as a new year began, to remind us of the covenant we made at our baptism.  You received a copy with your bulletin.  Please join me:

“I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.”

 

[1] (Feasting on the Word, Loc 8543)

[2] Dawn Chesser Baptism of the lord Preaching Notes page 6 of 7

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