given on Sunday, January 18, 2015
- The Sacrament of Baptism
The weeks after Christmas traditionally review the story of the Baby Jesus and his early, pre-ministry years. The Bible provides only small pictures of those first 30 years as Jesus grew up, learned a trade, and prepared for the ministry he was born to provide.
One of the stories in the scripture is that of John the Baptist, who was Jesus’ cousin. As you remember, when Jesus’ mother Mary discovered she was expecting, she went to visit her older relative Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56). When Elizabeth learned she was expecting, the Holy Spirit filled her and she knew that Mary’s baby was the Messiah. Elizabeth herself was expecting and she gave birth to a son John.
The Scripture tells the story and provides Christians the very foundation that supports our faith. Still the Scripture needs careful study and analysis to maintain our strong foundation. As all builders know, a strong foundation will need monitoring and attention throughout the life of the building or it can deteriorate. The building can fail just as one’s Christian lifestyle if we do not continue reading and studying the Scripture.
The Scripture also provides the other building blocks for our faith. The story of Jesus’ baptism is one more brick in our Christian foundation and it supports another—the sacrament of Baptism. One thought might be if Jesus is baptized, then we need to be baptized; and that is one basic way to rationalize our own baptism, but there is more to the sacrament than just dipping some water over our head.
First, what is a sacrament? Basically a sacrament is a religious act of outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual divine grace, in particular.
Sacraments are very important to the life of the Church. They are a means of grace. John Wesley said, “By ‘means of grace’ I understand outward signs, words, or actions, ordained of God, and appointed for this end, to be the ordinary channels whereby he might convey to men, preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace” [The Means of Grace. http://wesley.nnu.edu/john_wesley/sermons/016.htm%5D. This means a sacrament is an outward action that represents God’s giving His grace on the inside. They are God’s channels for supplying His grace to human beings. [Accessed on January 17, 2015 at https://www.nph.com/vcmedia/2369/2369939.pdf]
A second sacrament that the United Methodist Church practices is communion that is included more frequently in our calendar than baptisms.
Today we are going to reaffirm our baptisms because the UMC honors any Christian baptism. Once baptized, there is no reason for a second baptism. Of course, if one has not been previously baptized, participating in the reaffirmation can include a first-time baptism with a few additional questions.
For those who are unfamiliar with UMC baptism, the denomination’s website provides this abbreviated set of descriptors:
- Through baptism we are joined with the church and with Christians everywhere.
- Baptism is a symbol of new life and a sign of God’s love and forgiveness of our sins.
- Persons of any age can be baptized.
- We baptize by sprinkling, immersion or pouring.
- A person receives the sacrament of baptism only once in his/her life.
As we read through the liturgy (the written script in the hymnal), we should see the way these descriptors are blended into the language. The one thing you will not see is the action of sprinkling, immersion or pouring by the pastor upon the members. In a reaffirmation, the already-baptized members dip their own hands into the water or touch it and decide how they want to experience the water on their own. (If you are not baptized, we can do so today or we can make a plan to have a formal baptism at another time.)
Understanding baptism is often assumed and not reviewed as much as communion or even the Christian seasons of Advent and Lent. Baptism may not even be part of one’s memory if our parents had us baptized as infants. Participating in the reaffirmation gives us a review and may even stir up that tiny little fire into a raging flame. We cannot predict when the Holy Spirit will make its presence known, but we open the door to it when we are baptized.
One of the explanations for baptism uses the metaphor of a door:
From the beginning, baptism has been the door through which one enters the church. It was inconceivable to many that one could respond to God’s grace by reciting the renunciations, affirming one’s faith in Christ and loyalty to the Kingdom, without joining the fellowship of those who are committed to mature in that faith. As the “Body of Christ: in the world, baptism commissions us to use our gifts to strengthen the church and to transform the world.
Entering into the Christian family through the door of baptism, begins a relationship which carries responsibility. Baptism is an open sign that we have accepted Jesus as our savior and that his life, death and resurrection was done so that we might have salvation, life eternal.
A covenant means responsibility. Baptism is an outward sign that we believe, and in the liturgy that belief is outlined with the Apostles’ Creed. It explains each part of what we believe as Christians. When we reach that point in the reaffirmation ritual, read each line, pause, reflect, and then move on.
Sometimes being a Christian is stressful because we are challenged by the secular world around us. At baptism, adults can understand the responsibility of accepting God’s commandments to love God and to love one another. We also accept the commandment to share the story and make disciples of others for the transformation of the world.
Right now, those responsibilities are being challenged. What is swirling around us is evilness. We, as baptized children of God, we must accept the job of living our faith openly. We raise our children to follow God’s law. We model Christian lifestyle in our communities. And we participate in ministry so the Word can reach others.
As for our children, they too are part of the Christian church. The United Methodist Church does practice infant baptism, but until that child can make the decision to join the church, it is our responsibility to provide the teaching, the guidance, and the practices of living our Christian faith. As parents, if we baptize infants, we are acting on their behalf.
Today’s reaffirmation ritual is an excellent time to teach them that they are baptized. If they are not baptized, we need to ask them if they are ready. If they are unsure, that is their choice. If anybody wants to be baptized, they are welcome to do so. If there are still questions that have not been answered, then ask. We are building foundations so now is the time to make sure we understand, that we have made the right choices, and that we move forward in the process of building our Christian foundations.
Please join me in a closing prayer:
Dear Heavenly Father,
Today we remember our baptism
and offer baptism to your newest children.
We confess we have forgotten
our own baptism and its significance.
Remind us that water symbolizes
the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
During these moments,
remind us, too, of our parenting role
as we promise to help others
build their own Christian foundations.
As we depart today,
fill us with your Holy Spirit.
Knowing our foundation is strong
because we love one another
as you love us. –Amen.
*Let us now turn to the UMH #50 for the reaffirmation of our baptism.