January 10, 2021   Turning 21: A Different Kind of Baptism by Pastor David

Listening for God in Scripture     Mark 1:4-11.  John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Let’s take a moment of silence to breathe and to hear God speaking in our hearts through the music and the word. 

January 10, 2021 Turning 21: A Different Kind of Baptism    St. Luke UMC

Baptism. After turning the calendar to 2021, we celebrated the sacrament of Holy Communion last week and on the second Sunday of the year, we remember and commemorate the second sacrament of Baptism. Today at the beginning of a New Year, we touch the water. We remember that our lives have been claimed by the Living God. It may seem like a long time ago. It may seem like a little thing - a little bit of water on your head. You may not even remember it.

But today we commemorate that act of God. Just like the little bit of bread and wine or little bit of juice we drink, God works through that symbolic little bit of water and has claimed us and is claiming us even today. It is a significant and consequential event in our lives that we want to recognize and amplify every week as we worship and praise God together. 

Look, this was a really hard week. This was the kind of week we wanted to leave behind in 2020. In fact, I was talking to Sherry McNeely yesterday and we decided we count this whole month as part of 2020 if we need to - or just use this month as an on-ramp for a new year. We still turn to 21 with hope and a sense of calling. 
It was a hard week- especially the attack on the Capitol of our country on Wednesday. The attack shows how far we have to go as a country and as a people. I’ve talked to a lot of people who are discouraged and disillusioned. I feel that, and still, I see some potential good news coming out it. I think this attack on democracy could spur us a society to recognize the real threat that white supremacy still. poses in our culture. That would require us, of course to recognize that the folks who stormed the Capitol on Wednesday were more than a radical fringe, that they represented a large number of people who want to preserve some imagined glory days no matter the cost, glory days when some people were able to break the law with impunity, while others paid a much dearer price. That has been exposed, baldly. We have a choice about whether we are going to really look, or cover it over and pretend it’s not that bad.

John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness calling for repentance, calling for people to see what they didn’t want to see. He looked kind of like that crazy guy named Jake who dressed in bearskins and a horned hat who took over the house chambers this week. Except John was clothed in camel’s hair and ate locusts and wild honey. Jake probably doesn’t go that far. 

John was outside of Jerusalem, calling people out of the city, inviting people out of their comfort zone, so they could realize that they were in denial about what a difficult time they lived in. John was baptizing them one by one. Jesus came to be baptized by John. This baptism is one of the points of clear agreement in all the gospels.Mark is clearest about John baptizing Jesus. (touch the water) The other gospels seem a little embarrassed about it, since part of baptism involves a forgiveness of sins and they understood Jesus to be sinless. Why would Jesus need to be baptized? 

Well, you know, we United Methodists believe in baptizing babies. Some people justify that by saying we need to wash away original sin. But others of us like to emphasize original blessing - the love of God from the very beginning, the love of God for all creation. That’s kind of how Jesus was baptized - not responding so much to the wild man in the river calling for repentance - but feeling the calling to be close to God and prepared to baptize people not just with water, but with the Holy Spirit. Touch the water. Feel the water. Know this water as a continuing presence and love of the Living God. 

You know - when I heard that crazy Jake was arrested yesterday, I was pleased. I want him to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I want him in jail for a long time. There’s a lot of people wanting the same thing. As I thought about it preparing for this sermon though, I felt like I had to examine my self-righteousness, my easy unthinking desire for some kind of vengeance. 

I realized I could hope for more. We could hope that the consequences - which Jake certainly deserves- would be much more useful if they could be an actual repairing of the damage that he has done - paying along with all the others, for the damage to the Capitol, having to learn about the truth and learn to speak the truth, instead of the conspiracy nonsense that he has been spouting. How could that happen? I heard one Black activist say, “Look, we’re not saying that you need to treat them the way you’ve been treating us. we’re saying that you shouldn’t mess with us so much the way you aren’t messing with them.”

What if we hoped for bigger change than just punishment of the wrongdoer? What if we imagined - you know, I imagine that Jake might well have been baptized as a baby. I imagine - touch the water, that God might love him as he is and have hopes for him - that somehow he will straighten out and learn how damaging his actions have been. What would that take? For him to have to repair the damage, and learn the truth. And that’s kind of what we all need. 

In all the places where we are judgmental and quick to condemn, and where we mess up - to remember that we have been baptized. To know that life is short, and that we are claimed by the Living God in Christ, who baptized us by the Holy Spirit. That we might renew our commitment again to “resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.” and to love God and to love God’s people as ourselves. And that is and will be God’s good news.   
Responsive Hymn  2107 Wade in the Water