The Miracle of that Moment.


If you had stopped by Saturday  afternoon, you would have had the privilege of witnessing a baptism at Asbury Church.    On that day, James Vincent a six month old little boy, was baptized in front of 20 people.    Although I am not always enthusiastic about doing baptisms on days other than Sunday and in front of the full church body, it was a special moment.    Due simply to the fact that I have spent a considerable amount of time talking, thinking, and writing about baptism over the week prior, I decided it appropriate to stray a bit from the normal schedule of scripture and spend a little time talking about this strange thing we call Baptism.

For some denominations, this celebration is interchangeably called either a baptism or a christening.  Although they are terms used interchangeably they are not the same things.   A christening is a parent’s public declaration of a child to the church and the Christian faith.   In that service, that child is formally given its Christian name and as such is said to have been “Christened”.  The Baptism is something different.

The sacrament of baptism is the celebration and recognition of God’s act…its not about anything we do.    A christening is your gift.   A baptism is God’s.  There are many pastors, myself included, who refuse or at least try not to use the word christen for the moment we celebrated on Saturday.   We refuse because it fails to recognize that faith is not at all about what you do, but rather what has been done for you.

More times than not baptisms involve a young child, usually no more than a few months old, and for the family involved it serves as a moment of affirmation and celebration.   Older members of the family look back at the new parents standing before them, and they remember when they stood in their place.    Others remember when their children were small, and shake their heads at how quickly time has passed.    Still others, look longingly towards that one day, when they will stand with their infant child and enjoy the same moment.

In our faith, we have two moments that we consider the holiest or the highest of our worship.  The first is our celebration of Holy Communion and the second is Baptism.   We consider those moments to be sacramental, or one of the ways that Jesus prescribed to us to experience the power and majesty of God.   As such, the act of Baptism is one of those things that define us.  

In the end, as far as the Methodist Church is concerned, each are moments of both great reverence and great tradition.   These moments of service are intentional and carefully scripted.  Even the words are carefully chosen and printed, as you would have seen by the pastor’s continual reliance on a binder or hymnal carried throughout the service.  The words are carefully stewarded so that what we believe about baptism and communion come across clearly and without question.

I am encouraged by how intentional our Church is in this regard, as Baptism is one of the moments that are greatly confused by many.    If you were to take a random survey of people, the reasons one gives for Baptism, would be wide ranging.   Most time the answers would make your eyebrows rise.

 Some say, that we are born sinful, and the act of sprinkling a baby with water, erases their sins.    To that, I suggest that one merely look at an infant, and you clearly see the grace, peace and love of God, rather than one’s sin.     Others want to insure, through the act of baptism, that if something happens to their child, the child will go to heaven.  

Again, I cannot envision a God that looks upon an infant and sees anything but beauty and hope, and I would certainly not give my worship to one who looks at a newborn in such a way.  These ideas, and countless others, are remnants of our history of broken theology, and old fashioned approaches to faith.  You and I need to be careful that this isn’t our theology, and isn’t the message we spread to those who do not have a faith home.

I need to be clear on this; there is no magic in the moment.     This moment is not a quick pill to cure the sickness of sin and afford salvation.   You are not evil one moment, and Mother Theresa the next.  That is not what Baptism is.    The baptism is not about hocus pocus.

There is no magic in the Baptism, but there is something miraculous.   That is what the moment is all about, celebrating a miracle, and becoming, as one community and family, a direct part of it in the here and now.  If we stop for just a moment, we can see it, and come face to face with one of the most awesome truths of our faith.

Let’s turn back to scripture for a moment. For people of faith, the practice of Baptism began at the River Jordan, over two thousand years ago.   It was in that moment, that a wilderness recluse and prophet named John, stood waist deep in a dirty river, baptizing a crowd as a public display of repentance.  

For John, the act was a public call to change lives and to reframe thinking.   It was in that crowd that Jesus appears for his moment in the water.    Let’s just consider the strangeness of that situation:  Here is Jesus, God’s beloved and free of sin, standing in line with the rest of us, waiting his turn to be dunked in that River.    Here is a man, without sin, asking to be made whole and clean.   It’s simply a moment that makes no sense.

Yet, it is in this moment that we catch our first glimpse of the greatest truth of our faith.   In that moment we see firsthand that most awesome truth I mentioned a few seconds ago.  In that moment, God chose to be joined with us.

In the river, God chose to be an active part of our lives.  God chose to be part of all that we are; both good and bad.   In that moment, God tells us that he is part of our suffering, and he is part of our joy.   

In that moment he entered into our lives and our world in an incredibly familiar and intimate way.  It is in that moment that God ceased to be a God trapped in temples of stone, and instead become a God who gets his hands dirty in the bumpy and dirty parts of our lives.  In that moment, Jesus said “I am part of this”.

Today, 2000 plus years later, we return the favor.  We know the story of Jesus, the pain, the suffering, and the victory… and in our baptism we choose.   We choose, to be like Jesus, and enter the water and reaffirm to him directly that we are part of his pain, and part of his joy.  We make the first steps into entering his world, his life, and his suffering… in this moment.

As one’s relationship with Jesus grows or changes, so does our individual definition and understanding of that moment.   A large portion of how we see what occurs is personal and our own.  In the end, there is no more of a chance of me defining the miracle behind this moment, then there is for me to have you fully understand the way I feel God at the very core of my being and my heart.   

There are no easy definitions.   There is no simple theology to explain the true beauty, power, and miracle lying right below the surface of this moment.   Despite this, we must try.

Despite my own attempts to define this for those that attended on Saturday who might not yet have a faith home for themselves, I find myself turning to one particular image.   Of late, I have decided that there is one image that sums the moment up near perfectly.  When I consider what happened at the river so long ago, and when I consider what is beneath all that was done in this church on Saturday afternoon, there is one image that comes to mind.  

Believe it or not, it is an image that came when watching television a few days ago.    Its an image that came in the story of Kyle Bergen, a high school freshman from Hamilton, Ohio.    Over the summer, Kyle was diagnosed with cancer, and his treatment caused his hair to fall out.    After a harsh treatment of chemo and radiation, Kyle was breathing a bit easier at his tentative first steps into remission.  

Although the hope had returned, Kyle still has a long journey ahead.  Cancer is not something that you have one day, disappears the next, and you stop thinking about it a few days later.   It will be several years before he would be considered cured, and until that ime there will be some small shadow that sees every cough, cold, or headache as the unthinkable.  

We lived this first hand in the Masters’ family.   Even though it was 20 years ago, that Stacey was in the same spot, with virtually the same disease as Kyle, there is, to this day, a small cloud that finds its way into our lives from time to time.   Thankfully, that cloud is appearing less and less, and is getting smaller and smaller with each passing year, its certainly still there.    It’s a part of our lives, and it stands as a testimony to the incredible distance we have traveled.  

Kyle is at the third or fourth step of that thousand mile journey.    Its not hard to see, and empathize with that journey that awaits.    A head free of hair also adds a big exclamation point.   Hearing his story, recognizing how hard a road that Kyle had traveled and how hard the road was yet to be, his fellow students at high school decided that they needed to do something for Kyle.

On the first week of school 90 freshman students, boys and girls, shaved their heads too.     Think about that.   Here we have kids, smack dab in the most materially focused point of their lives, when so much attention is given to dress, to looks, to complexion, and to hair, deciding to shed one of the cornerstones of their identity;  their hair.   They choose to do this for another student that most did not know. 

They did it to acknowledge, to celebrate, and to remember.

 What was once a certain fear of Kyle’s to enter a new place, scared and seemingly all alone, was now replaced with something infinitely more beautiful and more special.   When Kyle walked into the halls of his high school on that first day of school, he was no longer alone.   He was not an outcast, he was the same.    He was no longer afraid of being mocked, humiliated or laughed at.    Instead of traveling the hallways alone, he was met with the firm assurance from those in that building that he would not have to take this trip alone.

 

http://www.wlwt.com/health/24954148/detail.html

 

Brothers and Sisters, that’s what happened at the River Jordan, 2000 years ago.   Jesus came forth, and stepped into that dirty river and showed us a way that was infinitely more beautiful and more special.   He stepped into that river and told each of us that we would never be alone again.    The fear of mockery, humiliation, or embarrassment was replaced with assurance and hope.    That is the miracle of that first baptism.  

That miracle, is the miracle we celebrated beneath all the right words and all the right movements this past Saturday.   In our baptisms, we return God’s favor and step into the river and tell Jesus that the mockery, the humiliation, and the journey alone is over.  And in this moment, we all stand up together, as one family and one community, and tell that small child and his parents, or that teenager, or that middle aged adult, or that 90 year old man, that whatever journey is before them, it is a journey that they need not  take alone.

It is a moment where we remember the pains, the hurts, the mistakes, and the cancers of our past, and instead of living in the regret and hurt and uncertainty, we become people who are all about not letting those things define us.   That moment is about saying there is a gift.    There is a gift to remember, to celebrate, and to embrace.   There is a gift in that moment that changes everything.  

We are made better, complete, holier, and healthier in that moment.    That is the miracle of this moment, and one that I hope we never forget.  We are tied to that moment.  

In our baptismal font, this one used for the first time last Saturday, there is water from that River that John and Jesus stood in.   I look at it as a symbolic reminder of that day at the Jordan.    When James was baptized he was baptized with the same water that baptized Jesus.   Now, he shares that bond.   He stands in that River alongside Jesus.

We also want to make it our tradition,  that a small amount of the water that we use to Baptize in this church is saved after each celebration.    When the next one to-be-baptized individual comes to our church, the waters will be combined.    This will hopefully serve as the reminder that those who come in the future share with those that took the same journey in the past.   Symbolically, in the water we celebrate that continued and unbroken lines of saints in our faith.

Yet, unfortunately, there was one last something that was missing in Saturday’s celebration; those that called Asbury Church home.   They are those who are called to remember that moment at the river.   They, along with all the other faithful, are the saints of today, who are called to change a life, a community, and the world because of that moment.    You are all the saints that have been changed, by that moment.

So as we closed our Sunday service, we sang the hymn “Here I Am Lord”, and as we did, I asked that each rise as they were able, come to the front of our sanctuary, dip their hands into that water and reaffirm and remember.  

We each need to take the time now and again, to remember and reaffirm.

  • Remember that moment in the River Jordan, 2000 years ago, and celebrate.
  • Remember the children of the past and the future, and celebrate.  Celebrate the hope of a life yet to be lived, whether it is seen in the infants of our community, or in our own mirrors.
  • Remember the journey we once took alone, and celebrate the fact that we have a God who chose to stand alongside us.  Pray that we can return the favor.
  • And Remember the river, and in doing so, embrace the miracle. 

 

Thanks be to God, Amen.

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