13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
I was 22 years old when I was baptized. I had spent my college years studying religion at Butler and discerning what, in fact, I believed about God, Jesus, and this whole Christian faith thing. I knew that when I chose to be baptized, it would be a key moment in my life. I also recognized the significance of my baptism during my senior year of college because it was also during the time that I was discerning my call to ministry. My baptism wasn’t just a moment where I professed and embraced my Christian faith- it was also a moment of acknowledging and celebrating God’s call on my life into ministry as I would begin seminary that fall. I was on the youth ministry staff at St. Luke’s UMC at the time, and I told my colleague, Brian, that I would like to be fully immersed for my baptism. So we decided to see if the Baptist church down the road would help us out with this since St. Luke’s did not have a full baptistry. One Sunday night during youth group time, we piled the youth group onto a bus and went down the road to the Baptist church for my baptism. Unfortunately when we got there, the pastor had forgotten to heat the water, so it was a “balmy” 45 degrees in the tub. We decided not to go through with it that night….so 2 weeks later, we piled the youth onto the bus again and went down the road…again…for my baptism- and this time, fortunately, the water was heated. I said my profession of faith and my membership vows, and it was an awesome moment when the youth, the people I had helped along in their faith, were the ones who promised to uphold and support me in my walk of faith as well. I was being baptized into the very community where my own Christian journey had begun. My baptism was everything I had hoped it would be. When I went down into the warm waters, I felt God’s Holy Spirit upon my life. I felt safe, comforted, at peace. My heart was full of gratitude for God’s presence in my life, but also for the people who surrounded me on that day- those who had encouraged, supported, and affirmed God’s call on my life. And, of course, it didn’t end there. The day I was ordained as a pastor in the United Methodist Church, Brian, the person who baptized me, also laid hands on me as I was ordained- it seemed as if everything had come full circle.
Whether you remember it or not, you have a baptism story. Whether you were a child, an adult, young or old, whether it was in the United Methodist Church or another denomination, you have a baptism story. Even if you have not been baptized, you will have a baptism story- after all, you are here. It is already being written. Let’s take a look at one of the most popular baptism stories portrayed on screen: (CLIP from O Brother Where Art Thou)
Today we celebrate and remember (a very different baptism!) the baptism of Jesus, which marks the beginning of his earthly ministry and is an affirmation of who he is and why he has come. Upon his baptism, the heavens are opened and the Spirit descends like a dove and a voice proclaims, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” This is not just a moment of divine proclamation- it is a moment where Jesus is affirmed, named, and claimed by God the Father for all to witness. We recall this day in our church year so that we begin the journey with Jesus which begins at his baptism. We remember what this moment means for him as his ministry begins. We recall this day so that we, too, remember our own baptisms and be thankful for God’s call upon each of our lives.
In the United Methodist Church, baptism is one of two sacraments, the other being Holy Communion. As Methodists we believe that baptism is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. Baptism is something that God does for us and within us. It is a celebration of the grace of God that is already present and working in the person who comes to the font. That is why we baptize persons of all ages, including infants and those who cannot speak for themselves- because we are acknowledge the gift of grace that is there before the person can know or comprehend it for themselves. It’s not about our action of deciding to be baptized- it is the act of acknowledging what God is doing in us or in the life of the person. In baptism, we are called into the family of God and into the church community. In baptism, we are named and claimed by God, celebrated, renewed, and given the resources to dive into discipleship with encouragement and a nurturing spirit of community and love. For some, baptism is a fresh start and a new way of life (like Delmar in the clip)- a nod to the God of second chances.
In the United Methodist Church, there is no one method for baptism- we believe that pouring, sprinkling, or immersion are all sufficient. It doesn’t matter how it is done- what matters is the meaning beyond the symbol of the water- that God claims each of us as God’s own- and that grace is present. We also only baptize one time- to re-baptize is to second guess God’s love and grace for us- God showed up the first time, and that is more than enough. Someone once came to me, frustrated, and said, “A friend of mine said that my baptism doesn’t count because I was sprinkled and I should do it again- how should I respond?” I told her this: Your baptism is like your wedding ring- it doesn’t matter what size it is or what kind of metal it is- is still means you are married- even if you take it off you know that you are still married. Baptism, no matter how it was done, is a permanent water mark upon your forehead- upon your life-that you carry with you at all times to remind you to whom you belong.
In this way, baptism is not just a one-time event- it is the journey of a lifetime. It’s not just a day that you choose will happen for yourself or for your child, throw a party, and be done with it- baptism is a lifelong promise made by you or made on your behalf on the day you were baptized. On this day, you were adopted into the family of God so that you might live your life to honor and glorify God. Your baptism is a covenant between you, your family, God, and your church community. The reason that we are not encouraged to have private baptisms is so that the community who witnesses this commitment has the chance to promise to uphold you and your family. If it’s an infant, then the congregation pledges to help raise that child to walk in the light of Jesus Christ. If it’s an adult, the pledges are to nurture and provide a loving and welcoming community where they might grow in the knowledge of God’s grace and mercy. Baptism is never a private event- it is a public profession and promise of the person and the community.
And finally, as we celebrate and remember our baptisms, we are reminded that God invites us all to the font as equals, showing no partiality as we remember our reading from Acts 10 when Peter is beginning to understand that through Jesus, God is extending grace and adoption to Jews and Gentiles alike. He begins to realize that Jesus came for all. Peter says, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” This is the nature of Jesus Christ- the one who welcomes the sinner, the saint, the elder, the child, the woman, the man, the sick, the blind, the lame, the rich, the poor, the lost and the found. He welcomes all to be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit that the Spirit of God would be upon each of us just as it was upon him at the moment of his baptism and throughout his ministry. We rejoice in this fact, that we all are welcome to gather at the waters of grace and mercy- that we are all invited to take part in the cleansing, satisfying, nourishing waters. Sometimes the waters of our baptisms are smooth, still, and calm, and other times they are rough, choppy, and difficult to navigate. But we are called to the font to celebrate and remember who it was that called us there in the first place. We recall Jesus’ baptism as a reminder of our own walk of discipleship and gain strength from that same Spirit that rested upon him as he came out of the waters. We remember, that we might know that we are all called, no matter where we have been or where we are going. We celebrate that God can take our sinfulness, our brokenness, and our shame and wash even these away as we live as baptized persons.
So today I invite you to the font- to remember, to celebrate, to be reminded that God has named, claimed, and poured upon you grace and mercy. Come and remember your baptism. If you have not been baptized, you are still invited to come forward, place your hand in the water, receive a blessing, and discern whether or not you would like to receive the sacrament of baptism at some future time. If you do, I hope you will come and talk to me about it and we will celebrate God’s call upon your life. We come to the font for many reasons- some of us will come filled with joy at the way God shows us grace, some of us will come wanting that fresh start or second chance, some of us will come seeking answers to what lies ahead in our faith journey. Wherever you find yourself today, you are invited to come to the font where God invites each of us and calls us by name as baptized and loved children of God. As the newly baptized person said in our movie, “Come on in, the water’s fine!”