January 9, 2022,  Live Unafraid: Danger Of Baptism, by Pastor David

Isaiah 43: 1-7  But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, God 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.”


January 9, 2022 Live Unafraid: Danger of Baptism

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Stories in the Bible challenge fear from front to back. These Bible passages didn’t help me much though, when I was standing on top of the diving board.  I may have jumped off the 10 foot board once. I can’t remember ever thinking it was actually fun, though, so maybe I went back down the steps instead of jumping. 
I have dared a few scary roller coaster rides in my time - never one upside down. If I never went on one again, I won’t complain. 

Scary movies? Spare me. I’m not a fan. Generally, I don’t look for scary things to do, and I don’t totally understand why people like to scare themselves. There are enough scary things in the world, without going after an extra thrill. Some people practice being scared on a high diving board; for some it’s reliving a feeling they have had before. Some people are just show-offs.

For the next month, the theme for our Sunday sermons is going to be “Live Unafraid.” Not being a daredevil may be a liability for me in this series, but I think fear and courage are important to talk about. There are plenty of scary things in this world right now. We don’t need to search out scary experiences to challenge our fears. We have plenty of examples of scary things in our normal everyday world. 

In some ways it’s a good time to be timid or an introvert. Fear of Omicron, COVID 19 gives us a good excuse for staying inside and away from a scary world. As we keep our distance from each other, though, I’m concerned that a variety of fears are starting to dominate our lives, and that’s why I want to do this sermon series. 

For the the next few weeks, we will look at how these fears and anxieties are getting problematic - fear of change, fear of people with different views or different identities, and how they are related to the fear of death. We will use Adam Hamilton’s book on Fear and other resources to think about how to challenge our fears and give them over to God.

We begin today by thinking about baptism, since this is Baptism of Jesus Sunday and baptism is intimately connected with challenging our fears. All four gospels record the story of Jesus being baptized into a Jewish baptism by John. Usually we read one of those accounts on this second Sunday of the year.  This year, I decided to use just the Hebrew scripture, the reading from Isaiah 43. This assigned reading for the Baptism of Jesus Sunday, specifically addresses our fears. 

Isaiah is writing to the people of Israel in exile in Babylon. We think we live in a scary time. These people had been conquered, their temple destroyed and these leaders were taken by the Babylonians far away to their capitol. Isaiah, in the previous chapter, challenged them to repent, saying that God was testing them with these difficulties, but then in this chapter, Isaiah reassures them that God is with them. God’s voice speaks, “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.”

Here’s what I want to say about baptism. The church has tended to say that baptism is what makes us special, set apart by God. That’s true, but it’s a problem when Christian nationalists think they have a monopoly on truth, so everybody in school should learn their beliefs and their religion. They believe that anybody who doesn’t believe what they believe will go to hell. They storm the capitol with guns and bear spray to defend white control of the country. You know that I think there is a time to challenge laws thatt are unjust, but that’s not what those people did. 

  So, their interpretation of baptism is all about themselves and their privilege. But the rest of the Main Line church has had trouble a similar problem with our understanding of baptism. We have looked at baptism as a kind of charmed ritual that makes God pay attention to us. This reading from Isaiah is clear that God pays attention to all of God’s creation. Baptism is not what makes God pay attention to us. Baptism is what makes us pay attention to God. 

If we get baptized in perfunctory way, or get our child baptized and then don’t follow up with teaching or connection with the household of faith, baptism is not doing what it’s supposed to do.  We are blessed by our baptism to be a blessing. We are called by our baptism to pay attention to God’s gift to us - to care for God’s creation, to care for God’s people, especially to the forgotten, the forlorn, the forsaken. 

Our baptism is dangerous because it marks us as belonging to Jesus, the crucified Messiah. When we are baptized, and when we remember our baptism, we are taking on the mission and message of the one in whose name we are baptized. We take on the mission to combat evil, injustice and oppression in whatever form they present themselves.

As we prepare ourselves for prayer let me show you a little video about baptism that emphasizes God’s generous and expansive care for all those who pass through the water. taking away our fear, calling us to be God’s representatives in a scary world. [video]

Baptism requires us to challenge our fears and timidity and to take on domestic violence, systemic racism, heterosexism, educational inequity, poverty. Baptism is a commissioning to a dangerous vocation, and that vocation is world-changing. Baptism connects us to God’s work and mission, and that we are set apart, but that doesn’t make us better than. It makes us blessed to be a blessing. Be careful what you wish for. Blessed to be a blessing.

Responsive song 2107 Wade in the Water