Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Baptized in Water

Sermon on Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Do you remember your baptism?

For some of us yes, for some of us no.

I remember my baptism. It was when I was six or seven years old. I was baptized alongside my brother and my mother at the Presbyterian church I grew up in. And I remember that it was changed at the last minute from being during the service to being after because my mother got cold feet being up in front of everyone because she was a little worried that she’d be judged by some of the folks in the church for not having already been baptized. I’m not entirely sure where she got that idea because really, nobody judges you in church right?

But no, I feel a little lucky that I can remember it. It wasn’t anything fancy. A tiny little dish of water. The minister just kind of scooped it up and put a little on my head. It was one of those baptismal fonts that had a little cover that slid open and closed. Got tucked away in the corner when it wasn’t being used.

Nowadays we’re taught in seminary that those things are a big no-no. You want a big font, lots of water. It needs to be front and center. Hence that thing. Our seminary chapel had a font that was actually a waterfall that cascaded into this pool. And all over the chapel you could hear the trickling of this fountain, this living water, helping us remember our own baptisms.

The non-denominational congregation that rented the space on Sundays would always turn it off. A little ironic since I’m pretty sure they were of the Baptist persuasion.

So look, there are lots of different ways to do a baptism. A little water, a lot of water. Baby, adult. Some of us remember, some of us don’t.

But there is also lots of things that are common in every baptism. To state the obvious, water. We don’t baptize with oil—though we anoint. Or sand or ashes or whatever else. It’s water. The most precious life-giving thing we know. Water—in the Bible wells and rivers are sacred places because life in a dry, desert climate, water is what you need to survive.

There are the words. Baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It’s those words, the promises that we receive from God through those words—joined to the water—that makes baptism a sacrament.

And finally, there’s another element that I think gets overlooked—that is, community. Baptism is a communal act. It’s not done in secret. It’s not done alone. Even though my own baptism didn’t take place during the Sunday service, there were still members of the community present there to witness it. The pastor’s family. My old preschool teacher. My great-aunt who traveled three hours to be there. My grandmother.

They were gathered. And it wasn’t some coincidence. The Holy Spirit gathered them. As she does the whole church—the universal church—the communion of saints. The pastor’s family moved away. My great-aunt and grandmother passed away. That moment cannot be replicated. And yet we are still tied together. By that common thread, the Spirit and the water.

When you think about it, how many times in our lives today do we have a chance to gather in community? How many times do we come together to do a sacred ritual? Something that we believe transcends time and even space?

It used to be that everyone was baptized—at least everyone in what we sometimes call “Christendom.” But that’s not the case anymore. For better or for worse, baptism is not this universal rite of passage.

And so, it becomes in some ways, a counter-cultural act. Much like Jesus’ own baptism. Going down to those waters, calling on others to repent, be changed, take a different path.

And that call is for us too. Not just individually, but that community. What are ways that we as a community can fulfill out baptismal promises—those that we made on the day of our baptism, to serve all people, following the example of Jesus and strive for justice and peace in all the earth?

I suppose one way to do that is to be a community together. We live in a time where many just slip through the cracks. Loneliness, isolation, fearing those around us. By gathering together—those of us from different walks of life, different backgrounds, different generations—gathering around those waters, hearing God’s promises, lifting each other up—we are trying to live in a different way. With different priorities and different norms.

And all of this is made possible through the water and the Spirit. When Jesus emerged from the waters, a voice proclaimed you are my beloved, with you, I am well pleased. When we emerge from those waters, everytime we remember that water—whether it’s a little drop or a full immersion—we too hear that voice: “You are my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” “I have called you by name, you are mine..”

Each and every one of us is claimed by God and sealed with the Spirit. We are given a name, we are given worth and value. Each and every one of us is given new life and a promise.

As the Prophet Isaiah says today: When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.

That’s a promise that’s not just for me—not just for you—but for all of us, all the world. And a promise we remember again and again. Children of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.