3 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the desert of Judea announcing, 2 “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!” 3 He was the one of whom Isaiah the prophet spoke when he said:
The voice of one shouting in the wilderness,
“Prepare the way for the Lord;
make his paths straight.”[a]
4 John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey.
5 People from Jerusalem, throughout Judea, and all around the Jordan River came to him. 6 As they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. 7 Many Pharisees and Sadducees came to be baptized by John. He said to them, “You children of snakes! Who warned you to escape from the angry judgment that is coming soon? 8 Produce fruit that shows you have changed your hearts and lives. 9 And don’t even think about saying to yourselves, Abraham is our father. I tell you that God is able to raise up Abraham’s children from these stones. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be chopped down and tossed into the fire. 11 I baptize with water those of you who have changed your hearts and lives. The one who is coming after me is stronger than I am. I’m not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 The shovel he uses to sift the wheat from the husks is in his hands. He will clean out his threshing area and bring the wheat into his barn. But he will burn the husks with a fire that can’t be put out.”
13 At that time Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan River so that John would baptize him. 14 John tried to stop him and said, “I need to be baptized by you, yet you come to me?”
15 Jesus answered, “Allow me to be baptized now. This is necessary to fulfill all righteousness.”
So John agreed to baptize Jesus. 16 When Jesus was baptized, he immediately came up out of the water. Heaven was opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and resting on him.17 A voice from heaven said, “This is my Son whom I dearly love; I find happiness in him.” (Matthew 3:1-17, Common English Bible).
T.G.I.F. – Thank God It’s Friday
People have offered this secular prayer of thanksgiving for years, and the phrase has become so popular that it’s attached to a restaurant chain, “T.G.I. Friday’s. “Give me more Fridays” is the way they have defined the acronym TGIF.
The phrase is based on the popular belief that people are happier on Friday, the end of the work week. Would you respond enthusiastically to a restaurant that tried to lure you in with the words, “Give me more Mondays?”
Probably not. People talk about the “Monday morning blues,” and hum the old Carpenter’s tune “Rainy days and Mondays” or even John Conlee’s “The Backside of Thirty” though that one is really more about a dislike of life in general. Mondays are supposed to bring you down.
But what would you say if I told you, that just isn’t true? They really don’t bring most of us down.
According to some recent research, people aren’t much happier on Friday than they are on Monday or any other day of the week. They really aren’t. The fact is, our moods don’t change very dramatically over the course of a week. But we remember Fridays as happy days because of the meaning and emotions we attach to Friday.
Think about it this way. When I have worked at a job I hated, every day of the week was drudgery and I had to make myself get up and go to work. When I have worked in a job I love going to work is a real joy. The day really doesn’t matter.
But, we think about Friday in a more positive way because Friday is when we are liberated from the chores of the work week. It’s when we turn from business to pleasure. It’s when the door to the weekends is thrown wide open.
These are the meanings and emotions we attach to Friday. Friday has suggestive and emotional significance and it affects and shapes our memory of how we actually felt on a particular Friday. Because we believe Fridays are happy days, we remember them as happy days.
Take a moment to think about this, meaning shapes memory. A bride says her wedding day was the happiest day of her life. In fact, it was incredibly stressful, but the meaning of marriage turns it into a happy memory.
A man says the birth of his child was a joy. The truth is, it was absolute misery to watch his wife suffer through labor, but the meaning of childbirth makes the memory positive.
A teenager says that her rejection by a boyfriend was the most crushing blow of her life. In fact, she felt a bit relieved and bounced back quickly. But the meaning of the romance makes the breakup a very painful memory.
An adult convert to Christianity says his baptism was wonderful. The reality is, it was wet, cold and uncomfortable, but the meaning makes the event deeply moving.
Meaning shapes memory. “In short, Mondays aren’t actually blue,” says Professor Charles Areni in The Washington Post,” but people persist in the belief that they are.”
This insight can help us to better understand the significance of what happened to Jesus at the Jordan River. Our lesson this morning gives us an opportunity to remember this event and reflect on its impact. It’s an example of how meaning shapes memory.
So what do you remember about the day? John the Baptist appears in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism for the repentance and forgiveness of sin. People from the city of Jerusalem and all Judea flock to him and are baptized in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. After years of living with a filthy buildup of sin and unrighteousness, the people of the region are believed to be washed clean and made right with God.
This feels very good to them. John’s providing a much-needed spiritual service and you wouldn’t be surprised to hear the people saying, TGFJ – Than God for John. But then John switches gears and reveals he’s not simply in the purification business. He proclaims, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me… I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Perla Martinez-Goody remarks on this text: “At this point, looking at it from a cultural point of view, here’s John the Baptist, not so neat, not so clean, with a wild appearance, demonstrating the spirit of inclusiveness to all the sinners coming to him. It’s a twist on today’s world. Some people might look at John and call him a hippie. Others might say he is grunge or some other such term. John might find himself today as one standing on the outside looking on at the great event welcoming everyone but him. But in this story, here is this wild-looking guy God chooses to baptize his Son. John is included and doing something wonderful. What a gift to the sinners looking on! I can imagine them saying, “Hey, he’s one of us, look at what he’s doing, maybe there is hope for us too.”
When we look at the actual event that occurred at the Jordan, we see a variety of emotions. There’s gratitude for the gift of forgiveness. There is surprise and shock at the identity of the powerful one who’s coming after John. The actual experience of John is a jumble of emotions, not a carefully crafted stained-glass picture, because meaning effects memory, Matthew tells us Jesus comes from Nazareth and is baptized by John in the Jordan, and just as he is coming out of the water, the Holy Spirit descends on him, and a voice from Heaven says, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
This is the meaning of baptism: Jesus is God’s Son, the Beloved. The mix of feelings to this point – gratitude, surprise, and confusion are pushed aside. In their place is a new emotion: joy. When Jesus is baptized, we are filled with a feeling of joy. God has revealed his Son, announced his love and proclaimed how pleased he is with Jesus.
This morning we are continuing the series we began a week ago, “Bread, Bath and Beyond.” This morning we are talking about “The Bath.” We began last week by talking about “The Bread” as a symbol of Holy Communion, one of the two sacraments we celebrate in the United Methodist Church. We talked about when we come to the table, as United Methodists we believe it isn’t our table, it is not a United Methodist table, it is God’s table, Jesus’ table and all who seek to follow him are welcome at this table. We also talked about being consubstantiationists, we believe the physical bread and juice don’t change but through God’s grace, something changes within us.
Today we move to the second of our two sacraments. These two sacraments are sacred moments when God’s grace is offered to in a communal way. These sacraments are sacred moments in time when God’s grace is offered to us to celebrate God’s work in the one receiving the Holy meal or the waters of baptism. They are means of Grace. In Baptism we all join together to celebrate God’s work in the one being baptized and it draws our memory back to the significance of our own baptism. And, much as the bread and wine of Holy Communion doesn’t change, the waters of baptism don’t change in a physical way either. It is still common H2O. What changes in baptism is us and our relationship with God?
The meaning of baptism is, God accepts Jesus as his Son, and the happiness we feel over this acceptance shapes our memory of baptism. Gone is the mix of emotions that were felt by people at the Jordan River, replaced by the deep joy that Jesus is God’s Son, the Beloved. Jesus is for us, the Word of God in human form… the Way, the Truth and the Life… God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God. After witnessing His baptism, we don’t have to wonder about who Jesus is. We know his true identity.
The same is true for us, as we remember our identity as the baptized. In this sacrament, we are connected to the body of Christ – the universal community of Christians that’s nothing less than the flesh and blood physical presence of Jesus in the world today. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” asks Paul. “If we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:3-5). In this sacrament we become children of God, no less loved and accepted than Jesus Christ himself.
This is the meaning of baptism: Baptism connects us to the body of Christ. It enables us to die and rise with Jesus. It makes us dead to sin and alive to God (Romans 6:11). It gives us new and everlasting life and a freshly minted identity as children of a loving Lord. It’s an experience that shapes our memory forever.
But, we make a mistake if we believe baptism is always the beginning of a lifetime of bliss. Think about what happens immediately after the baptism of Jesus. Matthew tells us the Spirit leads Jesus “into the wilderness,” where he is tempted by Satan for 40 days. In Mark’s telling of the story, Jesus’ Galilean ministry begins, and he comes face to face with a man who had an unclean spirit, a woman with a fever and a steady stream of people who are sick or is possessed by demons. So there is no rest for the baptized.
Pastor Joy McDonald Colvet discovered this when she led a group of youth on an immersion trip to Mexico. A number of times during the first days there, different youth came to her confessing how overwhelmed they felt. One girl said, “Pastor Joy, I feel like I’m drowning.”
This girl experienced the flood of the world’s pain. That’s not a bad thing. That’s why it’s called an immersion trip. Colvet says that it’s when we feel like were’ drowning.” – overwhelmed by the flood of the world’s pain and loss – that “we are reminded Jesus is the resurrection and the life.” We realize “baptism is daily dying and raised to new life.” Then we discover we are “raised up, gasping for air, and the breath of God fills our hearts and minds.”
When we feel like we’re drowning in the world’s pain, we are raised up and the breath of God fills us. It’s not just our memory of baptism, it is a memory shaped by meaning.
As United Methodists, we observe infant baptism. There are several stories in the Bible where the writer says, this person and his entire household were baptized. Through the centuries tradition has held, surely in at least some of those households, there were very young children. And, if we are to believe the words of Scripture when the writer says, “his entire household,” then these children were baptized as well. Following up on that, in the Old Testament, the principal sign of the covenant was male circumcision and the rite accompanying the event, the child was eight days old. At least for me, that is a sign that the faith was for everyone, from the youngest children to the oldest adults.
Baptism has meaning for all of us, whether we were baptized as an infant or a believer. Whether we were baptized by sprinking, immersion or pouring. We Methodists do them all. The point is, baptism has meaning. Thomas H. Schattauer explains, “In my home, my preschool-age children cheer for Sunday because it’s the day they get to see all their friends. My three-year-old daughter was one of those kids who stood on stage and cried during her first dance recital. After it was over, she told us she was sad and that she didn’t like crying on stage. A few days later, she plays “dance recital” with her little sister as if it were the best thing to ever happen to her.
Like birth, baptism means life. It is done once, yet it is for all our life. Paul writes, “One Lord, One faith, one baptism.: This verse gives emphasis and credence to our United Methodist understanding of being baptized only once. Additionally, we believe God to be the primary actor in the baptism. John the Baptist might have been the one to lower Jesus into the water but God was the one who did the baptizing. I or some other preacher may be the one to lower the person into the water, to sprinkle water on their head or pour water over them, but God is the one doing the baptism. To baptize more than once is tantamount to saying, “God you didn’t do this right the first time so now we need to do it again.” God does not make mistakes.
If I say, “I was married,” you likely assume my wife has died or I am divorced. But if I say, “I am married,” your assumption changes. You then assume I have a wife and that on a certain date I was married and, I still am. Although it’s true and essential to say, “I was baptized,” it also is necessary to assert, “I am baptized.”
More than anything else, baptism marks our birth as Christians and marks us as a child of God. It involves a process that is every bit as wet and messy as a physical birth, bringing us into the world, but it is also every bit as permanent. Through baptism, we are identified as children of God who are both loved and lovable, chosen by God to be His people in the world. “The truth, even though I cannot feel it right now,” wrote the Dutch priest and theologian Henri Nouwen, “is that I am the chosen child of God, precious in God’s eyes, called the Beloved from all eternity and held safe in an everlasting embrace.”
In a few minutes, we will have the opportunity to reaffirm our baptisms. Throughout my ministry, I have, on occasion, given people the opportunity to reaffirm our baptisms. In more recent years I have begun doing this each year. This is not baptism. It is not rebaptism. It is a reaffirmation of our baptism and a renewal of our covenant with God made at our baptism and confirmed during the confirmation process or by our actions when we joined the Church. It is an opportunity to remember that we are baptized and be thankful.
You are, I am, a chosen child of God. This isn’t just for Jesus. It is for each one of us. It is an opportunity to remember, we are precious. We are beloved. We are safe, in the everlasting embrace of Almighty God. That is our true identity, my brothers, and sisters. You are a beloved child of God.
Make this, your memory of baptism.
Copyright 2018, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved