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“Beloved” — Rev. Mereschuk — Baptism of Christ Sunday — January 7, 2018

“Beloved”

Matthew 3:13-17

Rev. Chris Mereschuk

Baptism of Christ Sunday & Communion

January 7, 2018

Note: This is largely an outline. For the sermon as preached, please listen to the podcast.

Favorite baptism I ever performed was at a youth group pool party several years ago.

I was sitting poolside, chatting with one of the youth group members, dangling feet in the water

I really enjoyed talking to this particular youth

She was a tough kid — she was always cautious and careful showing her emotions

She would push back and challenge me during discussions

She went to a different high school in another town, but she was well-liked by the rest of the group — but this meant she didn’t quite fit the mold of the typical teen in the group. So, a little bit of an outsider in a number of ways.

So we were just chatting about life

And then she tells me she’s never been baptized, and that she wants to be baptized

I say, “Absolutely! Let’s talk to your parents — we’ll find a Sunday at church to do it and…”

“No,” she said. “I mean right now. Here.”

Here at this pool party?

All these reasons for why not rushed into my head:

But I haven’t given you the special pamphlet about baptism and we don’t have the right words all worked out, and I don’t have a certificate with nice calligraphy to give you

No. She meant right now. Right here.

So God broke through all of my excuses, and I remembered one of my favorite scripture stories about baptism from the Book of Acts. 

    • The Apostle Philip was traveling through the desert and he came across a person from Ethiopia. The person was a kind of public official for the queen of Ethiopia.
    • Now, we’re not told what this person’s name is, but let’s call them Assefa – – that’s an Ethiopian name that means “birth,” and it can be for someone of any gender.
    • Anyhow, Assefa was reading some scripture out loud when Philip found them. Philip said that the scripture was about Jesus, so he told Assefa all about Jesus and about baptism.
    • Assefa was excited about the Good News about, and Assefa wanted to be baptized right then and there.
      • Assefa saw some water and said to Philip, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?”
    • I think Philip probably wasn’t sure what to do about this. Philip didn’t have the pamphlet about baptism or a nice certificate with fancy calligraphy. And Philip didn’t know much about this Assefa person, only that
    • Assefa wasn’t a perfect person according to some strict rules. Assefa had some injuries to their body, they were from a foreign land serving a foreign queen with foreign gods.
    • But that’s the thing about God and Jesus – – this is the Good News that all are welcome and all are loved. It didn’t matter that some people thought Assefa was not perfect: God loved Assefa anyway. And Philip did know that.
      • But: “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?”
    • Philip realized that the answer was “nothing.” Nothing was to prevent Assefa from being baptized, because Assefa was already beloved by God.

So I thought of that story when I was sitting poolside with this youth group member who wanted to be baptized.

OK, then, let’s baptize you!

I scooped up some pool water in my hand and touched it to her forehead. I tried to recall from memory the baptismal liturgy, but I have no clue about most of what I said. I do know that I closed with, “Beloved child of God, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of us all.”

And then we went back to playing volleyball and eating hotdogs.

Why do we get baptized? Why do we bring our infants and young children to be baptized? Why do some of us when we are adolescents or adults decided for ourselves that we want to be baptized?

For some people, baptism is:

  • A washing away of sins (though I don’t know what sins an infant could have committed)
  • Some sort of cosmic insurance so that a person will go to heaven
  • Sometimes it’s more of a tradition or a sense of obligation
  • Baptism can be a profession of one’s acceptance of Jesus
  • A commitment to covenant and a certain faith life
    • Promises made on our behalf when we are children, or promises we make ourselves in the practice of adult or “believer’s” baptism.

Those baptismal promises made in our church include:

  • Acknowledging that one’s child or oneself is a gift of God
  • Looking for opportunities to build trust, self-worth, and good will toward each other and all of God’s family
  • Encouragement to be kind, to welcome those who feel left out or forgotten, and to stand up against those forces that hurt, push others away or destroy.
  • A promise to grow in faith and in love, in awareness of neighbor and in the conviction that all of life is a sacred gift from God.

Those same promises are echoed when we affirm our baptism through membership:

  • Do you desire to affirm your commitment to the spirit of love embodied by God?
  • Do you renounce the powers that divide us and honor the divinity in each of us?
  • Do you promise, by the grace of God, to resist oppression, to follow in the way of God, to show love and justice, and to witness with your life to the work and word of Jesus as best as you are able?
  • Do you promise to grow in your faith, recognizing that you are a member of the community of people of faith throughout the world, celebrating God’s presence, and furthering God’s mission of justice, peace, compassion, inclusion and love?

I think all of that is beautiful and valid and important, yet I keep going back to a very simple understanding of baptism that is both a personal and prophetic proclamation of how the ritual act of baptism is an outward and visible sign of an inward blessing.

And when I think of the story of Jesus’s baptism, the crystal clear message I receive is that we are beloved.

People have been coming from all around to be baptized by John in the River Jordan. John is preparing the way for the Messiah. Person after person is immersed below the waters and emerges renewed and prepared.

And then one day Jesus arrives. John recognizes Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, and at first refuses to baptize him — why would the Messiah need to be baptized? Who is John to baptize the Messiah, anyhow? But Jesus insists.

John submerges Jesus in the Jordan, and when he rises, a voice breaks through from the heavens:

“This is my child, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”

The Gospel of Mark says that the heavens were torn open and Spirit descended like a dove on Jesus.

“This is my child, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”

  • I want you to imagine that when you were baptized that same voice echoed out:
  • “This is my child the beloved in whom I am well pleased.”
    • Some of you here might not be baptized, but I say this still applies. Scripture says that God has loved you since you were in the waters of the womb just the same
  • There’s a saying attributed to the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther: every time you touch water, remember your baptism — I say whether by the waters from the baptismal font or the waters of the womb. Remember your baptism.
  • When you drink and water touches your lips, when it rains, when you shower or wash your hands or face, when water trickles down from your eyes, think of that voice breaking forth from the heavens:
  • “This is my child the beloved in whom I am well pleased.”

Remember that you are beloved by God

Remember God’s promise of presence to you

Remember the promises we affirm by these waters:

  • A commitment to the spirit of love embodied by God
  • To renounce the powers that divide us and honor the divinity in each of us?
  • To resist oppression, to follow in the way of God, to show love and justice, and to witness with your life to the work and word of Jesus as best as you are able?
  • To grow in your faith, recognizing that you are a member of the community of people of faith throughout the world, celebrating God’s presence, and furthering God’s mission of justice, peace, compassion, inclusion and love.

You might think that there’s something to prevent you from being God’s beloved child in whom God is well pleased.

I say there’s nothing.

So the next time you touch water — whether it be here today with our invitation to remember baptism and bless each other, or when you take a drink, or when you wash, or when you cry —

The next time you touch water and every time after that, I want you to pause and listen for that voice breaking forth from the heavens and proclaiming:

“You are my beloved child in whom I am well pleased.”

You are my beloved child

You are my beloved

You are

Beloved

Amen.

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