This Sunday was Baptism Sunday! We had one youth baptized in our 8:30 a.m. service and five in our 10:45 a.m. service. In the 8:30 a.m. service, I preached a sermon on the story of Doubting Thomas (you can find it here). In the 10:45 a.m. service, I preached this homily on the meaning of baptism.
SCRIPTURE – What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
April 27, 2014
I remember the first baptism I performed as a student minister. It was for Billy, who was a member of my junior high youth group. I’m sure there was something good about Billy, but I had trouble finding it. He was the kind of kid that when he sat in the back pew during worship church, you knew trouble was brewing. Based on his behavior, I think God was using Billy to prove to me that there really is a Devil.
And yet, when the time came, much to my surprise, Billy presented himself for baptism. He came into the water and placed himself in front of me, and after I made up a few nice things to say about him, I slowly lowered Billy into the water. (Pause) I held Billy under there for just a few seconds longer, figuring God needed the extra time to do some work. I’m happy to report Billy grew up to be an Eagle Scout, went to college on a full scholarship, and is now a productive member of society. I’d like to think those few extra seconds under the water had something to do with that.
Does baptism have that kind of power? Can it change an evil spirit into an Eagle Scout? I believe so. Baptism is such a powerful experience to go through. I hope these youth will never forget what happened here today. I will remember it, even if I can’t remember my own baptism, because I was baptized as an infant in the Catholic church.
I struggle with not remembering my own baptism. That started when I went to a friend’s baptism while growing up. After his baptism, the preacher invited everyone to come forward to the baptismal. He then dipped his hand in the waters and made the sign of the cross on each of our foreheads, and quoted Martin Luther’s line: “Remember your baptism, and be glad.” And that upset me, because I couldn’t remember my baptism, and I felt cheated because there was nothing for me to remember.
You may have been baptized as an infant, too. Or maybe you were baptized after a Pastor’s Class or as an adult. Or maybe you haven’t been baptized at all. If that’s the case, let’s talk. Because the more I have studied and thought about baptism, the more I have learned the significance of what Jesus did that day in the Jordan river and what it represents for us.
Jesus didn’t need to be dunked or sprinkled or baptized in any form. He was Jesus! And yet, the fact that he was baptized and that it was recorded in all four gospels is a very powerful statement. Not only does his baptism make a public statement about how essential it is to be baptized as a step of faith, it confirms who he is and what he is called to do. It’s an authentication of his identity as the Messiah and the son of God. But Jesus’ baptism is more than just a confirmation. It’s also an adoption and a calling. In essence, God is saying, “Here’s who you are, and here’s what I want you to do,” and God sends him the Holy Spirit to help him accomplish that.
That dove is a reminder that the words spoken to Jesus at his baptism were also spoken to us at ours. When we were baptized, we were welcomed into God’s family. We were adopted by God as His child. We are God’s, and our baptism is an outward reminder of that.
Through our baptisms, we are named as children of God. We are claimed by God as God’s own. Does this mean we’ll always remember that? No. Does it mean we’ll always live our lives with this in mind? Unfortunately not. But it is true, nonetheless. This not a promise that gets revoked. You are a child of God, God’s own beloved. We can renounce it. We can ignore it. We can run from it. But we can never, ever change it.
There’s this great scene in the movie “Toy Story” when Buzz Lightyear realizes he is not an authentic Space Ranger, but just an insignificant, plastic toy. He thinks he’s not unique, that he’s just one of a million mass-produced products that all look and act the same. His cowboy friend Woody consoles him by saying, “You must not be thinking clearly. Look, over in that house, there’s a kid who thinks you’re the greatest, not because you’re a Space Ranger, but because you’re a TOY! Because you’re HIS toy!” Then Buzz lifts his foot and looks at the bottom of his shoe. Written there, in permanent marker, he sees the name of his owner: Andy. The name of the one who loves him is written on him forever. Through baptism, God writes his name on us, claiming us as God’s own, marking us as God’s most loved creation with whom God is well-pleased.
So through baptism we are claimed, but we are also called. We come up out of those waters a new person with a new purpose. Paul says in Romans, “We were therefore buried with Christ through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Through our baptisms, we are made clean and anointed to serve. Whether we are ministers or mathematicians, accountants or attorneys, stockbrokers or stay-home moms, pilots or professors, consultants or cashiers, God has placed a call on our hearts through our baptism, a call to live a life of service to God and love for others. We are identified as God’s beloved, and sent to do holy work in this world. Because of our baptism, we are made new, and that fact should influence every thought and decision in our life.
So we are called to remember our baptism and be glad. I used to resent that phrase, because I can’t remember my baptism. But I don’t think Luther meant to remember the act itself. I think he meant to remember the meaning of the covenant made and then live your life as what you have been claimed to be: a child of God who has died to sin with Christ in his death and been raised to new life with him through his resurrection. If you have been baptized, rejoice! You are a new creation, you have God’s name written on your heart in permanent marker. And nothing can take that away from you. Remember your baptism, and be glad!