Remember Your Baptism and Be Thankful

Pastor Rachel B. Livingston 

 I. They Stormed The Capitol

It should be no secret that this week was a difficult week in United States History.  The events of this week likely left many of us pondering, how much crazier can life get, and some are even wondering if this is a sign of the final times on this earth.  The chaos that ensued this week at the Capitol Building and the processing and commentary around it, have gotten many of us questioning what is happening within the borders of our country.  And probably even has other countries, even our allies, wondering what is happening in the United States.  It may be no mystery, that it was difficult for me to pull the sermon out this week.  As I watched the television on Wednesday, in a state of shock and awe, with my jaw-dropped and my eyes wide open, I immediately went into a prayerful moment, praying over the safety of those in the Capitol, but also praying to God saying Where are you God? And What is the message you are trying to share with us?  What would you have us to do?  The sixth of January was a date in which we, in the Christian world, were supposed to be celebrating the Epiphany, the moment in which the wise men were led to our Lord by a star, bringing him gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  A time where we acknowledge the world being drawn to Jesus Christ, who is the savior of the world, the acknowledgement of all being able to receive the blessing of our King. And yet January 6, 2021 held what some may say showed our need for Christ within this world as people moved with violence, hate, and vitriol as they stormed the Capitol building, seeking to thwart a governmental vote.  I wrestled back and forth with God on what God was saying in the midst of all this.  God where are you? And what are you doing in this moment?

On the liturgical calendar, this is the week that we celebrate the baptism of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and that is the word for this week, it is the scripture that we read this morning, but it is a disservice to your word, Lord, if the word doesn’t speak to what people are experiencing in this moment.  And this week, what happened is too dynamic to not be referenced.  But I will be faithful to whatever it is that you bring for the spoken word this week.  I can only put into it what you give to me.  God, what are you saying now, in this season?  Where are you moving?  And how does the scripture enliven who we are and what we are experiencing in the here and now?  Lord we need a miraculous shift of the Holy Spirit to pour over our nation and I need the Holy Spirit to guide me to craft the Word for this week.  A prayer spoken with a guttural moan and hopeful heart, a soul with the intention of being faithful to God.

Some might proclaim this week as a week from hell, others may note a shift in the revolution, some state that it was an attack on our democracy, and many note it as a time of grievous realization of where we are, trying to figure out what to do now.  This week surely has gone down in history, and it may likely be reported as a significant event for years to come.  Many witnessed something they thought they would never see in the history of our country as people stormed the Capitol building, holding it captive as legislators were rushed off the floor and down to areas of safety. Legislators have been shown ducking down and even praying as they stood in a place of fear and panic as people came into the building, going straight to the Congress floor.  An attempt at a coup of the United States government brought to real life.  We have seen things like this in movies, but never have we imagined that it could happen here. We have seen it happen in other countries and been very critical of the process as it happens, somehow believing that nothing like this would touch our lands, never envisioning that it would happen HERE, to our government, with our people.  It is no secret that as people were experiencing this event, many through the television screen, some sat with a deep sense of depression at what was unfolding, and others sat with a certain sense of horror.  We live in a moment where it is imperative to demand peace in the midst of what is clearly deep divisions within our nation, a division that has us at odds with each other, creating a deep seeded hatred that has affected the culture of our nation.  This occupation of the Capitol building revealed a sense of violence and vitriol that hangs over us.  And yet as some stormed the Capitol, they also carried with them the name of Jesus Christ as they stormed the capital with hatred and violence at the heart of their movement.  And yet as we were celebrating the gift that is Jesus Christ on Epiphany, that violence and hatred seem to be a perversion and a blaspheme of the name of Jesus Christ because their actions are counter to the teachings of love that we have seen in Jesus Christ. For many of us, if this didn’t make us weep, it made us hold our breath, waiting for the moment to be able to exhale.

 II. The Baptism Of Our Lord

And yet we come to a point this morning in worship where we are acknowledging the Baptism of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and thus remembering our own baptism.  In a way, we are standing before the Lord with an open and vulnerable heart proclaiming that we desperately need Jesus because what we have experienced this week shows that we need the hope, the joy, the peace, the love, and the transformational power that that is present within Christ.  As we stand here remembering our baptism with a thankful heart, we are recommitting our lives to the ways of Christ, to the presence of God in our lives because our world has shown us that we are in desperate need of God. So, we are standing in this moment proclaiming to ourselves, Remember your baptism and be thankful! Remember your baptism and be thankful? Yes! Remember your Baptism and be thankful, because what rests within this moment is so much more than the pouring of water on a person, but the recognition of the pouring out of God’s grace upon us in the Holy Spirit.  This is a radical proclamation of us dedicating our lives to God, and we are remembering the moment that God reached out to us with an extension of grace.  What better time, than when the world seems to be falling apart and set on fire, should we open our hearts to not only remember when God stretched out and reached toward us, but to remember our choosing God, and in our remembrance vowing to continue in relationship and connection to God.

As we read our scripture, Jesus came from the northern area of Galilee, traveling on the rough terrain toward the Jerusalem area at the Jordan River. Seeking to be baptized, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, if we listen to ancient folklore, he came from a land that was said nothing good can come from, and he traveled straight to John who was baptizing people from Judea and Jerusalem in the Jordan River.  But this is a profound moment as we watch the words that are said and the actions taken within our narrative because, John’s ministry professed that part of baptism was to repent and be forgiven of sin, and yet here was Jesus standing blameless and without sin wanting to receive baptism.  This is why John is certain to make the proclamation that he is unworthy to untie Jesus’s sandal, proclaiming that Jesus was so blameless and without sin, that he was not worthy to be in the station of servant who removes his sandal and washes his feet as he enters a building, and surely, he does not need to repent from any sin.  Jesus had no need to be reconciled back to God, for he was indeed God himself and the very catalyst that brought about our reconciliation. 

In this narrative we hear a voice from heaven that says, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” This moment making an audible affirmation of the presence of God being poured out on Jesus, while also proclaiming him as the Son of God. Jesus may not have needed to repent from any sin, but Jesus is the example for us, as we try to lead Christian lives and it is by no accident that baptism was the event that led into his ministry.  It led to a ministry that went out into the world spreading a transformational gospel that battles unclean spirits, cast out demons, professes love to all, lifts up the outcast, proclaims the reign of the Lord, recovery of sight to the blind, food for the hungry, and healing for the sick.   If even Jesus needed and outpouring of the Holy Spirit to begin his ministry, then surely as we seek to be holy, as we seek to minister in a dying world, as we seek to be the respite of hope in the midst of evil, violence, and hate we are in need of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon us.  In his baptism Jesus shows us that through baptism and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, there is a transformation that happens within each of us. Baptism is but an outward sign of an inward outpouring of the Holy Spirit that cleanses us and makes us whole and connects us to the body of Christ.  So, as we remember the Lord’s baptism we too remember the outward pouring of the Holy Spirit on us, that changed our lives.  So, we remember our Baptism and we are thankful.  We remember our baptism and we request a renewal of that same outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the here and now.  This is what is means to Remember our baptism and be thankful.

Baptism is that outward symbol of an internal outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon us, where we meet God.

 III. Our Theology of Baptism

Many of us received our baptism in infancy, as it is an outward sign of God’s grace that is imparted on us before we knew God or that we needed God.  God reached out to us, chose us, and established that all have the opportunity to receive God’s grace, we just need to accept it. We were then nurtured and cared for by our community of faith as we were nurtured and taught within the church.  And those who may not have received that support of a faith community just know that our doors at Cheltenham United Methodist Church are open as a place to grow our faith and share Christ’s love.   But some of us received our baptism as adults, but even in this case the moment of baptism, where the participant is a little more cognizant of what is happening, it is a moment that shows that God extended God’s grace to us before we even knew God. And we as the community of faith support them on this journey. Remember Our baptism and we are thankful for the grace that God has extended.

And as we look back on our baptism, now is the moment that we stand before God with a repentant heart, understanding that we absolutely need God.  God is the only source of peace in the midst of the violence we experienced this week. God is the only source of love in the midst of the hate we experienced this week. God is the only sense of right that can correct the wrong that seems to be infecting our society. But as we stand before God, repentant, asking for forgiveness and acknowledging that we need God, we must have a heart of repentance for all that we have done: lied; stolen; treated people with hatred or meanness; harmed others physically or emotionally, even if that person was ourselves; and any ways we have stood in the way of God’s mission prevailing.  We must repent and ask for forgiveness, that the Lord might make us whole, and transform us internally to be the Holy people of God in thought, word, and deed. But also as we repent we have to be repentant for our inaction and silence, or the ways we might have contributed to some of the horrid things we saw this week.  We must be repentant for the ways that we have contributed to an ethos of violence and hatred, we may even need to repent for the ways in which our theology has made people believe that this violence and hatred is synonymous with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We have to stand before God with a truly repentant heart.

Our society quite often values the conqueror and the victor, casting out those that have been stomped on by the conqueror.  We encourage conquering and taking when things do not go our way, we encourage a sentiment of taking and then celebrating the victor.  How have we contributed to, encouraged, or maybe even benefited from this culture of violent conquering?  Our society has nurtured a sense of entitlement in which people demand what they want even if it causes the detriment of someone else.  Again, how have we contributed to or have stood idly by allowing others to stand firm to greed, hate, and vitriol, even if it leads to violence?  Our society has valued and glorified violence in the presence of video games and action movies.   We have degraded the other, and yet we seemed to be surprised when people use violence to harm those that have been marginalized by society.  And some of us have remained silent.  Our country has a history of racism that lifts up one over the other, and yet we as United Methodists stand against any form of racial superiority of any race of people, but do people know it from our actions? Do they hear our disdain?  It is time to vocalize that these actions of hate are antithetical to the very presence of God within our lives.  We must repent for what we have done, and in some cases in what we haven’t done as our silence has created violence and our silence may have birthed an insurrection.  Our silence quieted the movement of love that is found within God. Have we been too silent and allowed the perpetuation of the acts of harm to continue to persist?  So, as we stand here we remember our baptism and repent for all that we have done, acknowledging that God offers us salvation in God’s justifying grace.  But we must acknowledge we are flawed and that we need God. Remember your baptism and be thankful.

But also as we remember our baptism we are reminded that through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit we are transformed, that we might live holy lives.  We know that God has transformed us in sanctifying grace as we seek to do God’s will. In this we are called to fervent prayer that can shake the foundations of society and transform the world around us.  But in our transformation, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and seeking out how to lead holy lives, we embody the gospel that teaches us how to love one another.  So, we pray and fast and watch for the movement and word from the Lord.  But our faith also calls us to challenge our society to live in a greater righteousness that upholds the love, peace, and justice found in Jesus Christ.  We challenge our world to function in ways that will support the mission of God and further the Kingdom of God.  That means feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned, checking on the sick.  But it also means vocalizing our disdain for violence, hatred, entitlement, terror, racism, and fear mongering.  Our baptism shows us that we have been transformed and in being made holy we challenge the world around us to further God’s mission.  In our baptism we volunteer to be part of the body of Christ, the community of faith, and in this we must become the light that we wish to see in the world.  So, we remember our baptism, holding onto the fact that we are transformed and made new, trying to become more and more like Christ daily.  We remember our baptism and we are thankful, because as we are made new, we have the ability to transform the world through Christ.  Not because of us, but because of the work that Christ does.

As we look back and remember our baptism, we know that it is an outward sign of an inward, mysterious, outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  So, we remember, and we are thankful.  But we also know that given what we have seen this week, the world too is looking for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  So, as we stand before God remembering our baptism, we pray for that transformational outpouring of the Holy Spirit on our world and society, that it might renew our world, that it might bring peace in the midst of violence, love in the midst of hatred, and justice in the midst of lawlessness.

So, let us remember our baptism; let us remember the grace that was extended to us; let us remember to repent from what we have done and repent of our silence in the face of injustice; let us remember to live a life that is holy, challenging those who act in opposition to our God of love; and let us remember the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, praying that it might cover not just us, but the entire land.

Remember Your Baptism, and be Thankful!