January 13, 2019 Sermon
“Through the Water”
Old Testament Scripture: Isaiah 43:1-7
But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my sight,
and honored, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you;
I will say to the north, "Give them up,"
and to the south, "Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
and my daughters from the end of the earth —
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made."
New Testament Scripture: 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."
Sermon: Through the Water
Water is a precious thing. We here in West Texas know this. We know what water means to us. We know what water does for us. And we know there is not enough of it.
Water is the stuff of life.
But water is also dangerous. Too much water can kill you. A flood overwhelms communities, a tsunami destroys countries. The ocean, full of precious, life-giving water, is a dangerous place, one that doesn’t tolerate mistakes. The depths of the ocean conceal the monsters of the deep, creatures we can only imagine. Water is transparent, yet opaque, it reveals, yet obscures, it renews, and it consumes everything in its path.
When the Old Testament talks about the water of creation, it’s talking not just about the rain, and the lakes, and the seas, it’s also talking about chaos, about fear, about the unknown. There is something mysterious about water.
When we are baptized we are given into this water. Our baptism is the sign that we have gone through the Red Sea, with the hosts of Egypt on our heels. It means we have survived, like Jonah, the deep of the Ocean. We have been covered in death, like Jesus, and we are brought back to the surface of life with him. In the water, we are made clean, we are renewed, God has brought order out of the chaos of our sin.
These are some of the meanings of baptism.
I remember when I went to Seminary, I thought that I was going to have to declare a scruple concerning infant baptism. I wasn’t sure that I could support it. I was scared to death that I would not be ordained. You see, I had been brought up Baptist, and I believed that Baptism was a sign from me that I believed in God.
And, I still believe that. It’s just that I believe that it’s more than that. Baptism is a big thing. It’s too big, in fact, to be seen for everything that it is from one angle. You have approach from different sides.
So, absolutely, baptism is a sign from you, that you believe in God. But it’s also a sign from God, that he believes in you. And when we baptize infants, it’s a confession of our faith that God believes in us, even before we believe in him. It’s a way of saying that Jesus comes to us before we even know that we are sinners. Baptism works both ways, you see.
I also used to believe that Baptism is a sign of my dedication to God.
And it is that. I still believe that.
But it is also more than that. Baptism is a sign of our dedication, but it is also a sign of God’s dedication to us. Baptism is our sign that Jesus is with us, when we walk through the valley of fire, or sorrow, or death. Because he was baptized, he has prepared the water for us, and he will always be with us. God keeps his promises to his people. He has redeemed us, and we are his. The rivers will not overwhelm us. The fire will not consume us. He is our Lord God and savior.
I used to believe that baptism was a sign of faith, and it is. I still believe that.
But it is also a promise of action. Our Baptism is not a get-out-of-hell-free card. Baptism is a work permit, and it calls and equips us to look for and fulfill the vocation that each of us is uniquely called and equipped to do.
You see, I used to think that Baptism was a safe thing. And it is. I still believe that. But I’ve come to realize that it is also a dangerous thing. We are made clean for a reason. We are renewed for a reason. We are given new life for a reason.
And that reason is not to stand around looking all shiny. It’s to get right back into the dirt of life, to look for the broken, the hurting, the angry, the fearful, the poor, the hungry, the homeless around us, and to make a difference in their lives. And this might mean making difficult choices. It may mean risking the anger of our friends. It might mean changing the way we live.
Our baptism is for us, but it is also for the world. God loves the world so much, that he baptizes us with the rain of his grace in order to go out there and bring this life-changing, refreshing, enriching, blessing of water to everyone we see around us.
Today in our worship service, we are installing our newest class of Elders, Gene, Sue, and Whit. They are continuing on their journey of faith and discipleship that began at their baptism. Active service on the session of a church is a difficult season, and it can be a long, and sometimes very frustrating thing. We get tired, we get angry, sometimes we get burnt out.
But it’s the water of baptism that promises us that Jesus is with us, even during the hard times. It is his Holy Spirit that binds us to Jesus in the water, and the bread, and the cup, and he will never let us go. God calls us, each of us, by name, and we take our first step in answering that call in our baptisms.
You may have noticed that I very rarely quote other authors in my sermons. I think that’s because I don’t want to borrow any authority for what I’m trying to say except for what I think the Bible is saying to me. I suppose that I want you to feel like if you need to argue with me, you are simply arguing with me, not with a long of experts and dead theologians that won’t argue back.
But I read something this week that so perfectly captures what I want to say about Baptism, especially to you all, whom I love so very much, that I just have to quote it for you.
The Author is a Presbyterian Theologian named John Leith, and he has helped me so much on my road to understanding Baptism more completely. This is what he says about baptism:
“In Baptism, the child’s name is called because our faith is that God thought of this child before the child was, that God gave to this child an identity, and individuality, a name, and a dignity that no one should dare abuse. Human existence has its origin, not in the accidents of history and biology, but in the will and the intention of the Lord God, creator of heaven and earth.”
Beloved of God, in your baptism, you are named, and loved, and brought through the water. You are no accident, a chance combination of genetics. You are intentional, on purpose. in fact, you are on God’s purpose.
Remember your baptism, and be thankful.
Thanks be to God. Amen.