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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/books/entry_id/981664-John-the-Baptist-and-Baptism
Rated: E · Book · Religious · #2219739
collecting sermons I have delivered in my congregation of The Church of the Brethren
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#981664 added April 21, 2020 at 2:14am
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John the Baptist and Baptism
May the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be pleasing in your sight Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Ps.19:14

Thank you all for the challenge and opportunity of presenting my thoughts to you! As I reviewed the Biblical references for today, I realized that in the church year, we leap from the visitation of the Magi to Jesus’ baptism in just one week, so here we are considering baptism. And there are lots of threads leading to this particular event. We are led to read Isaiah’s prophesy, which John the Baptist quotes as the purpose of his ministry: “Prepare the way of the Lord. Make his paths straight!”
I decided to start my preparation with definitions. I was surprised to discover the meaning of anabaptist is re-baptize. This is rooted in a belief that one must consciously confess their own faith and their intention to follow the ways of Christ to be baptized. I was baptized as a toddler. In that tradition, baptism is acceptance, welcoming into the community of Christians. The covenant with God is presented to the child through the actions of the parents and the body of the faithful. In this way, a commitment is made by the grownups to raise the child in the ways of Christ, and to teach the child how to live within the love of God.

I am reminded of the story Roger told of his mother putting a lamp in the window and welcoming a family out of the blizzard. This was an important part of his learning and participating in the love which is God. It is through actions such as these that Christians help the child to work out their own relationship with God. Roger had to decide if he would love the baby who was placed in his bed in the night. As we can see, he did.

As the child grows, in the tradition in which I was raised, at or around puberty, children are offered the opportunity to prepare for confirmation. In this process, the child learns formally about the Bible, about the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostle’s Creed and the Ten Commandments. We were also taught about communion, how it connects us to all Christians and reaffirms our participation in the covenant with God. Confirmation is also offered to people wanting to join that denomination who have been baptized in the past.

The learning process completed, we are offered the opportunity to accept an adult role in the church. For me, this is the first time I was expected to act like an adult. I was just turned 12 and my grandmother had died three months earlier. What a weight fell on my shoulders. I needed all the help I could get, and grandma was gone. So, I prayed like crazy. I went to church every time the doors were open. When I moved and had to change churches, I couldn’t always find what I wanted so, in addition to being confirmed into the Lutheran church, I was confirmed into the Episcopal church. I attended the Unitarian church while working for the Lutheran church in Erie, Pa, the United Church of Christ while living in Chester, CT, and the Ethical Society while living in St. Louis. When I moved to Mountain View, I joined the Presbyterian church. This is where it all ended for me, until now. Sandy told me she was re-baptized when she joined the Brethren. She said it with real emotion as if it was truly life-changing. I am curious.

Next, in my exploration, I read about John the Baptist. I was amazed to discover that John and Jesus were Kin through their mothers. The Bible doesn’t identify the kinship, but it was close enough that Mary went to Elizabeth after the annunciation and stayed 3 months. It would have to be a pretty close relationship for me to have someone in my home for three months! Of course, in addition to genetic kinship, each became pregnant after an annunciation by the Angel Gabriel. At the time of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, and Mary’s time in her home, Elizabeth’s husband, Zacharia, was mute. Because he had trouble believing Elizabeth would bear a child, Gabriel gave him this sign. I find it interesting that taking spoken language from him somehow increased the value of his words.
Elizabeth and Zachariah were past childbearing age. Does this remind you of anyone? Of course, Abraham. God seems to like to use the birth of babies into families to expand his covenant with humans. Could this have contributed to the idea of infant baptism? I wonder. Which of you would like to be Pregnant in your old age? It is no wonder to me that Zacharia needed encouragement to believe! What an audacious thing for God to do!

I tried to imagine what Mary and Elizabeth discussed during that time. Perhaps they pondered the complications this brought to their lives. I expect they experienced wonder. Mary was 14 just entering her childbearing years, and not yet wed. Elizabeth was post-menopausal. Perhaps they wondered about the response of the neighbors to these events. Perhaps they shared both gratitude and fear. I picture them holding hands as they prayed together, and tears rolling down their faces. There is that sacred water again.

I wonder if they comprehended that they could not change the destiny of their sons. These babies, not yet born, would experience great honor and grave difficulties and die at the hands of the unfaithful. Because they were chosen by God, they were oddities in their communities. My initial impression was that God intended for them to die in that way. I now doubt that. I think God just wanted and now wants people to know that following in the way of the Lord is more important even than physical safety.

What a mixed message for these mothers to consider. These will be your son’s, yours and your husband’s, but their destiny is with their Father in heaven. In the end, they will change the destiny of all humanity. Perhaps this communicates to all parents that their children are gifts from God and destined for something they cannot foresee or control. All children. Hmmm.

Here comes another radical idea; God’s covenant was with the people of Israel, not all mankind. Surely this would lead to trouble for these sons. And, as you know, it did.

John became “the Baptist” after reaching maturity in the wilderness. He was the first prophet in four hundred years to come to Israel. I tried to imagine the Hebrews sitting around saying “Why no prophets? When will we get another Prophet?” They were still pondering over the teachings of the old prophets. It seems improbable they were looking for another one. Nevertheless, people flocked to him and accepted that he was speaking and acting for Yahweh, delivering a message directly from the Lord.

I got to wondering where John got the idea to Baptize and why did people seem comfortable with the idea? So, I looked into the history of baptism. It was widely practiced in many if not most of the religions of the region. The Egyptians practiced infant baptism to cleans the newborn of blemishes from the womb. The Babylonians engaged in the baptism of infants also. There were forms of baptism by immersion as well as by sprinkling. Jews used immersion to help converts be reborn as Jews. In all cases, water was understood as a source of spiritual and well as physical cleansing. John expanded our understanding of the Jewish tradition reserved for conversion into Judaism. He offered forgiveness of sins and rebirth into a new life in the spirit to all who repent of their sins setting a goal to not sin again. He got this straight from God and told his listeners so. He also told them Jesus was coming and would baptize with the holy spirit. Well, I think the Jewish people had been sitting around waiting for someone to do what was prophesied in Isaiah. So, many were open, grateful, and elated to be baptized.
Then came Jesus.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus asked John to baptize him. Well, John was astonished. It doesn’t say that, but he did tell Jesus he thought Jesus should be baptizing him. Jesus said no to that and with that, John baptized Jesus. Do you ever wonder why Jesus did that? I have wondered. There is a gospel according to Mary Magdalene that has been recovered either as part of the Dead Sea Scrolls or like that. In it, Mary says, in the spirit all are equal. So, could it be that Jesus was teaching us that there is no hierarchy? It seems to me he teaches that in other ways quite directly. Perhaps, he was also teaching us that baptism is interpersonal, that the involvement of another somehow strengthens the attachment to the spirit achieved through this ritual.

In Jesus’ baptism, others watching were also very important to hear as Jesus came up out of the water, the voice of God come down as a dove saying, “this is my son the Beloved. My favor rests on Him.” What a supportive thing to say so publicly to your son whom you are sending out into the world knowing he will end up a sacrifice for the well being of humanity. These events seem to make it very clear that the whole point of Jesus, John, and baptism is the well being of humanity.

What about the water? What a wonderful way to tie us to the physical creation all around us. We immerse ourselves into the world through the water and the water cleans us physically and spiritually. Without water, there would be no life. Without baptism, we might feel disconnected from everything. Through this act we truly become “one in the spirit and one in the Lord.”

It seems as if people were pretty comfortable with God speaking out loud to them. Do you ever wonder why that is so infrequent now? Is it that we don’t know how to listen? Are we too distracted? There are volumes written about this, but I don’t know if anyone has really figured it out. I do know that occasionally people report actually hearing directly from God, but Christians are not united now, any more than the Jews were back then, about what and whom to believe. Perhaps the problem is disconnection from the body of God, from water and the earth.

How do we go about receiving what is offered? I don’t know about you, but I sure as anything don’t deserve any of this. I don’t have my spiritual house in order. Besides, the whole thing is so preposterous. I remember a mother of a 4-year-old student in my Sunday school class telling me that there was to be another child born into the family. When she told her daughter about it, the child asked, “where is it coming from?” Mother replied, “Well your daddy had a piece and I had a piece and we put it together in my belly where our baby is growing now until it is big enough to be born.” The child’s response was “That is the silliest story I ever heard.”

Well back in John’s ministry and up until and including the present, a lot of people shake their heads and think “this is unbelievable.” According to my reading, it is the task of each believer, like it was for John the Baptist, to find ways to help un-believers accept the gifts that come with faith. With this work to do, it is good that we remember, from today’s Psalm 29 verse 11,
Yahweh gives strength to his people.
Yahweh blesses his people with peace.
Prayer: May the Peace of God which passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our teacher, and redeemer.
Amen

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