Sunday, January 10, 2010
Acts 8 14-17
Luke 3 15-17, 21-22
As far as I can tell, Jesus never did perform a baptism. For all of the language that we use concerning baptism, as in becoming member of his body, he never did bring anyone into the body of believers. There was not a body of believers in that sense when he was on earth, that came at Pentecost, when the believers were all gathered into one place in the Temple, and were baptized by the blue flame of the Holy Spirit.
I don’t even know if everyone who was there that day, and are indisputably part of the original church, were ever baptized, even by John the Baptist and his baptism of repentance.
One does not need to be baptized to believe in Jesus, but one who believes in Jesus should be baptized. Why? Because it is the symbol of the joining of our community. To be a member of the Body of Christ, one should have been baptized. Does baptism guarantee salvation? Is a baby safer from the fires of hell because they have been baptized? No.
I can say that because of the wide variance about how baptism is practiced. Some churches will baptize infants, put them into big frilly dresses, and pass them over to the pastor who holds them as he or she sprinkles water on their heads. Some will baptize only adults, or people who have reached a certain age of majority. Some re-baptize people every time they join a new local church.
Some will re-baptize someone coming to them from another denomination of Christian sect (we don’t, though there is an expectation from the denominational tall cotton that we will baptize those coming from Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons. Actual on the ground practice seems to vary from Pastor to Pastor.) Are there some methods that are unacceptable to the Lord? We’ve not heard back, yet, and so we, as Methodists, are willing to accept a wide diversity of practice, both of people transferring in and the practice of our own practitioners.
Some will sprinkle water on the one receiving it, some will have water poured over their heads, and some will be fully immersed, and churches will actually have small swimming-pool type appliances installed in their churches, up behind the altar, that are heated and have a glass wall so you can see the whole thing happen. Others will only baptize in “living water”-lakes and rivers. I saw a few pictures posted a while ago by a childhood friend of mine who now is a pastor in Santa Cruz, CA, and their baptism ceremony on the beach, with the people being baptized in the Pacific ocean. That looked amazing!
So, some of you can remember your baptism, some of you were too young when you were baptized to remember.
I remember mine.
I was not baptized in the United Methodist Church, and I was not baptized as an infant. I came to Christ as a man in my early 20’s. 23, to be exact. My baptism date is October 11, 1991, and it was in an independent, semi-charismatic church in Napa, California that no longer exists. I was baptized with at least 2 other people that day, one of whom I still am in contact with. It was in the backyard of a parishioner, and there was a barbeque and music playing from the praise band of the church. The actual baptisms happened in a swimming pool, an above ground one, and we wore, men and women both, board shorts and t-shirts. It seemed to go without saying that modesty was expected.
But what did it mean for me?
At the time, it meant that I belonged to something. I had made a decision. California, then as now, is a place where almost every spiritual expression is available to you, if you look hard enough, everything from straight up Roman-Catholicism to native American peyote ingesting. You can easily find, especially in the cities and the suburbs around San Francisco and LA, Muslim Mosques, Hindu Temples, Jewish Synagogues, and Christian churches of so many stripes and flavors you begin to wonder if each person isn’t their own church. By my being baptized, I was signaling to the world that I had chosen a path. I was going to express my experience of the divine as a Christian; I was going to find my wisdom and my tools for solving the problems of life in a Christian language, using the Christian religion and Holy texts.
That was the first of many decisions, because as it turns out, I was not in that church for very long at all. I moved from Napa back to Delaware in January 1992, and I did so for other reasons than religious. It was a convenient way to leave a that particular congregation, which had become very rigid and not amenable to where my mind was growing. When I got to Delaware, I was despairing of what I should do. I was a newly baptized Christian who did not agree with many of the positions and attitudes that I had been taught. What I needed to find was a group that agreed with that I was reading in the Bible, or at the very least a place that would allow me to work out my questions freely, without feeling like I was “getting in trouble” for every question I asked.
I found that in the Wesley Foundation campus ministry at the University of Delaware, and in a very real sense, they kept me from falling away. I am not Christian because of the Methodists, but the Wesley Foundation is why I am Methodist. And the original baptism I received, from what was essentially a personality driven storefront church teaching doubtful doctrine, was still good enough. No one’s hands are perfect enough to truly convey the Spirit of the Lord, but all hearts are worthy to receive it, so as Jesus said to John, “let it be so for now.”
To me, the Christian church should be all inclusive; as one author named Eric Elnes writes:
The label “Christian” should stand for people of extravagant grace and generosity; people of unusual courage and compassion, who stand for justice and are known for being far more loving than the norm; far more forgiving. Instead, being a Christian seems to have become synonymous with (being ignorant and selfish).
I’m pretty sure that when Peter and John showed up in Samaria, hearing that Samaria had received the word of God, they didn’t come looking for statistics about numbers converted, souls saved, numbers on rolls. They came looking for people practicing exstravagant grace and generosity, they came looking for people being far more loving than the norm. They came looking for the spirit already moving, and when they did see fruits of the Spirit, they laid hands on them. “they had already been baptised into the Lord Jesus”. Now, through Peter and John came the Holy spirit. I assume that what came with Peter and John was the permission to act as the people of God with the leaders’ blessing.
Baptism may just be that and nothing more-permission to act far more generously and with radical grace, who stand for justice, God’s justice in this world. But what it certainly means is that when you do act, you do so in the name of Jesus Christ.
(The next sermon from Fryer Drew will be posted on or aftar January 31. for updates on Donna, please continue to use this web address.)