MORE THAN A TECHNICALITY
SCRIPTURE: LUKE 3:15-17, 21-22

In the name of the God who creates us, redeems us, and gives us life. Amen!

The father in Charles Day’s Life with Father does not have much interest in

religion or the church. His wife is concerned that he has never been baptized, and keeps

insisting that he be baptized. At one point in the story, he asks why she is so interested

in his being baptized. She replies that she is determined to get him into Heaven some

way. He responds, “They won’t shut me out on a technicality!”


Unfortunately, that is exactly what baptism is for many people; it is viewed as a

technicality rather than a sacrament. Baptism is like a giant onion with many layers of

meanings and traditions, interpretations and customs. The origin of the ritual of baptism

is somewhat unclear. It is thought that baptism came into the Hebrew tradition and

religion as a rite from the Babylonians while in exile.


Over the years the meaning of baptism has been blurred by early theologians

who saw baptism as a gate through which one must pass in order to get into heaven.

Some of that thinking slipped into our Protestant traditions and is still felt today as

evidence of a young mother who called her pastor regarding the baptism of her infant

daughter. She asked if she could have her baby “done”. The pastor’s first reaction was

to ask, “Medium well?” She further complicated the issue by informing the pastor that

baptism was not all that important to her, but “it was the thing to do.” She dug the hole

deeper by adding, “Anyway, it might be good insurance if something were to happen to

the baby. I would want to make certain she was baptized. For this woman, baptism was

a technicality.


Today is the day that we celebrate the baptism of Jesus. This day enables us to

not only get in touch with the meaning of baptism, but also provides an opportunity for

us to get in touch with our own baptism, and in so doing we discover that baptism is

more than a technicality.


This morning, consider a few thoughts about baptism.


FIRST, BAPTISM IS ESSENTIALLY SOMETHING THAT GOD DOES!


The Greek word for baptism means: To dip, to immerse, to submerge, and this is

my favorite, to saturate.” Baptism means being saturated by God’s grace and love.

Thanks to the founder of the Wesleyan Movement, John Wesley had a practical

approach to the Sacrament of Baptism. He allowed that all three forms of baptism,

sprinkling, pouring and immersion, were acceptable. Most of the time we practice

baptism by sprinkling. However, I must confess that it is difficult to feel “saturated” by

God’s love when we get only a sprinkle. It’s all symbolic, so sprinkling is all right.


Baptism is a bold, clear statement that God has saved us and that we have not

saved ourselves. The water is a symbol of God’s grace, God’s power that saves.


Whenever we celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism we hear these opening words:

“We are incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation and given new birth through

water and the spirit. All this is God’s gift, offered to us without price.” Did you catch

that? All this is God’s gift, offered to us without price!


There you have it…baptism is God’s gift offered to us without price. Baptism is

simply our saying yes to God’s yes. Through baptism, we have been claimed by God,

adopted into God’s family and embraced by God’s love, and accepted by God.


That is why re-baptism is inappropriate. I have had congregational members ask

me if I would baptize them again because they didn’t understand the significance of it

the first time, especially if they were infants or children when they were baptized.


Baptism isn’t about us and our understanding. Who in the world could ever

understand God’s grace? Baptism is about God and what God has done for us. In

baptism the recipient is just that – the recipient. The saving work of God is not

dependent upon our understanding it, but rather upon our accepting the fact that God

take the initiative to welcome us into God’s family.


Asking to be re-baptized would be like asking someone who gave you a priceless

gift if they would be willing to give it to you again because you just didn’t appreciate it

the first time. That would be unthinkable. The gift was given by the giver because of

who you are, not because you understand the value of the gift.


So baptism is something God does and continues to do and that is why we say,

“Remember your baptism and be thankful!”


SECOND, BAPTISM TELLS WHO WE ARE!


It was at Jesus’ baptism that he discovered who he was. Jesus heard the words,

“You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well-pleased.” Jesus received God’s

blessing. It was not earned. It was not a challenge to go forth and prove himself worthy

of it. It was a blessing that told Jesus who he was as a relative of God! He was part of

God. It was God’s way of saying, “You are part of me. You belong.”


That raises an interesting question. Who tells you who you are anyway? Parents?

Siblings or a spouse? Your employer or a board of directors? Is it your bank account

who tells you who you are? Is it the government, the news media or a television

commercial? Who do we allow to tell us who we are? Through baptism, God tells us who

we are: “you are a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.” You are royalty!


No wonder Martin Luther who started the Protestant Reformation, in his dark

moments of temptations, doubts and fears would be heard to repeat over and over in

Latin: “I have been baptized. I have been baptized.” In baptism we are told who we are:

“Those receiving the sacrament of baptism are marked as Christian disciples and

initiated into the fellowship of Christ’s holy church.” We are somebodies!


In his book, God’s Vitamin “C” For the Spirit, John Trent tells a wonderful story

about his sixty-four year old mother who has an interesting library. It is divided into

three sections. First section contains textbooks on psychology and theology. The second

section contains medical textbooks and journals. The third section contains issues of

Heavy Equipment Digest.


Visitors to her home are often a bit perplexed with her wide range of reading

interests. While the visitors may not understand, the woman’s three sons understand.

For you see, one of her sons is a psychologist, another son is a physician dedicated to

cancer research. Her third son manufactures heavy equipment. She spends time reading

books to better understand her sons. Is it important for her to know everything from

Freud, to DNA to bulldozers? Probably not, but it is important that her sons know they

are loved.


Just as Jesus’ baptism sealed his identity, our baptism seals our identity. Our

baptism tells us that we are somebody because God loves us, chooses us, claims us,

and anoints us. Baptism tells us who we are. We are royalty and that is why we say,

“Remember your baptism and be thankful.”


FINALLY, BAPTISM INAUGRATES OUR OWN MINISTRY


Every Christian needs to perceive God’s presence, receive God’s power and

discover God’s divine purpose. Baptism achieves each of these.


In Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism, Jesus is not simply receiving consecration as

God’s messiah, but is being equipped for ministry through the gift of the Spirit. In his

baptism Jesus discovers his purpose and his reason for being. The baptism is the

beginning of his ministry. It is here that the adult Jesus shows up on the stage of

history. It is the occasion of his calling. Baptism for Jesus was more than repentance

and cleansing. Here baptism issues in the anointing of the Holy Spirit, the giving of

redemptive identity. God says to Jesus, “You are my Son, the Beloved.”


Last Sunday I preached on Epiphany, the tradition that tells us that on that day

the Magi arrived and fell at the feet of Jesus. Epiphany means “manifestation” or

“revelation”. It means God’s self-manifestation. Throughout this season we celebrate the

various ways God is revealed to us in our lives. How fortunate for us that Epiphany, the

first Sunday of the new year and the celebration of Jesus’ baptism all fall at the same

time. Such an occurrence helps us to see the interrelatedness of it all.


All four Gospels tell us about the baptism of Jesus. But there is one unique

difference in Luke’s account. Luke tells us that Jesus’ epiphany did not occur at his

baptism, but immediately following when he went off to be by himself to pray.

It is then that he heard the voice from heaven calling his name. It was then

that Jesus discovered what God had done. There he discovered who he was. And there he

discovered what his ministry would be. Baptism is not a technicality. It is a sacrament. It

is God’s grace coming into our life and the life of the church, working to save persons

and redeeming God’s world. Remember your baptism and be thankful!

MAY THESE THOUGHTS GIVE YOU STRENGTH
 
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