January 11, 2015
Baptism of Christ Sunday
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
Will Campbell, a Southern Baptist minister, writer, and activist for civil rights, was once asked about baptism. “Do you believe in baptism by sprinkling?” He responded, “Believe in it? I’ve seen it done!”
When Paul arrives in Ephesus, he finds people who are followers of Jesus. But something is missing. When he asks about the Holy Spirit, they have no knowledge of any such thing. So he asks about their baptism. He does not ask if they were dunked or sprinkled or baptized with running water, or what wording was used. He asks, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.”
John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. The Greek word used here for repentance is metanoia. It is not simply saying, “No more donuts,” or more popularly, “As God is my witness, I am never doing that again.” Which is followed by the ever popular, “And this time, I mean it.” Metanoia is transformation. It is the word Paul uses when talking about, “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed (metanoia), by the renewal of your mind.”
Repentance, transformation, is important. It is what allows us to say that God loves us enough to meet us where we are, and way too much to leave us there. Transformation is not just healing, but living differently so as not to harm. Transformation is not trying to think our way into a new way of living, but realizing that we have to live our way into a new way of thinking.
But even with this transformation from the ways of the world to God’s ways, as important as that is, it is not yet complete. John was proclaiming the coming of Jesus. Repentance, transformation, will be necessary to the baptism that Jesus proclaims, but there is more.
Jacob Myers points out that Pentecostals tend to take passages about the Holy Spirit bringing speaking in tongues and elevate them as proof for certain ways of worshiping and praying, while everyone else tends to skip over these passages as if we have someplace important we just realized we needed to be. But is there something here that we need, somewhere between Pentecostal worship and skipping over these passages.
In Luke’s Gospel, and the Book of Acts is Luke part 2, when the Holy Spirit comes, speech is made possible. Not just any speech, but kingdom speech. Not the kingdom speech of Herod, not the empire speech of Caesar, not the market speech of Wall street, or the fear-mongering speech of any of the 24 hour news outlets, or the partisan rhetoric of a gridlocked Washington DC, but kingdom of God speech.
Instead of calling people competitors or enemies or better than or worse than, kingdom of God speech calls them neighbors. Or if they are enemies, kingdom of God speech does not curse them but blesses them, prays for them, breaks old patterns of hatred and violence with words empowered to try something new.
Years ago in Dallas, I had a member of the Youth Group who was always surprising us with what he said. Surprise is often a part of kingdom speech, although not every surprising thing that he said was necessarily from such a good place. But he told us the story of having another high school kid get in his face. This other kid yelled, “What are you looking at?!?” In a calm voice, Brandon said, “Just another child of God.”
Kingdom speech opens up possibilities that are not readily apparent from all that has come before.
People who are baptized should sound differently than before. I do not mean we have to end every sentence with “praise God,” or needing to put seven syllables into the word “Je-e-e-su-u-ss-ah.” But how we talk about each other should not be as the world talks.
Not just in our words, but also our actions should be different. Paul speaks of the fruits of the Spirit, meaning if the Holy Spirit is within us, these are the qualities we can look for, this is the evidence of that still, small voice at work:
- and self-control.
How different these are than the fruits that ripen out of fear or anger, worry or pain.
When you see these qualities in someone, when you express them yourself, give thanks to God, for these are signs that the Holy Spirit is at work.
There have always been some questions as to why Jesus needed to be baptized. In Christian thought, if repentance is one cornerstone of baptism, and Jesus was the sinless one, why does he come to John for baptism?
I was asked recently to help a pastor of another church come up with some youth friendly ways of describing a prophet, an apostle and a disciple. I answered:
- Prophet – somebody who says stuff that people need to hear, but which will probably disrupt everybody’s plans.
- Apostle – somebody sent out with a job to do.
- Disciple – somebody who follows in the footsteps of a teacher, trying to learn from them and be like them.
Whether we are called to be prophets or apostles or something else, we are first called to be disciples. We are called to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, trying to learn from him and to be like him (however beyond our capabilities that may seem to be).
In baptism, we follow in Jesus’ footsteps out of this world and into the kingdom of God, in which every child, of whatever age, is seen by God, loved by God, and over whom these words are spoke: “Behold, my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased.”
Thanks be to God.