Loving as Baptized People
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
New Revised Standard Version
15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Remember your baptism. This phrase is often used in Presbyterian churches and organizations as a sign of God’s promise to us. Our theology proclaims the sacrament of baptism as a sign and seal of what God is already doing in the life of the one who is baptized and as a recognition that one is part of God’s family.
Baptism is a sign of God’s love that is freely given to all. Through baptism, we are reminded that there is nothing we can or need to do to earn God’s love because we already have it. When baptizing an infant, I point out to the congregation that there is nothing this little one has done to earn God’s love (maybe smile a lot!). The child already has received it.
What does it mean to remember your baptism? If you were baptized as an older child, youth, or adult, you probably remember the event. Those baptized as infants don’t remember the actual baptism but have heard the story and may have seen the baptismal certificate and/or a gift from the congregation that they received at the time – a Bible, a book, a cross, or another memento. Remembering our baptism is more than recalling the event.
Most people don’t usually celebrate the “birthday” of their baptism. Maybe we should. Today might be a good day to do so. The liturgical calendar names today as “Baptism of the Lord” Sunday. On this day we remember Jesus’ baptism, not for repentance as John’s baptism was or for the Jewish practice of ritual cleaning, but as a sign from God. A sign that Jesus was God’s beloved Son.
Remember our baptism and be thankful we proclaim in our Presbyterian liturgy. We are thankful that we are God’s own children. Isaiah proclaims God’s word in chapter 43: “you are precious in my sight and honored, and I love you. God claims us and gives us new life.
In baptism we acknowledge that the Holy Spirit is present with us. The Spirit binds us together as God’s people, joining us to Christ’s ministry of love, peace, and justice.
In practice, what does it mean to remember our baptism? Let me tell you about Susan, a mother and grandmother. One Sunday there was a baptism during the service. As she watched, she remembered her own children’s and grandchildren’s baptisms with joy and happiness. She remembered stories of her own baptism as an infant. Susan smiled at the memories even as she sees the baby held by the pastor and the joy of the family standing there watching.
Susan listened again to the words of the pastor and the questions asked of the congregation:
“Do you, as members of the church of Jesus Christ, promise to guide and nurture this child by word and deed, with love and prayer?”
“Will you encourage her to know and follow Christ and to be a faithful member of his church?
This time she hears the words, and they connect with her. “How is my life any different from other good people because of my baptism, my belonging to God, my relationship with Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in me?” she asked herself. When she got home, Susan looked at her calendar for the week and asked herself, “Where is God in all this?”
Remembering our baptism is remembering that God is with us always just as God has always been with God’s people, God’s children. God travels with us through life. We say that Jesus is in our hearts, that the Spirit lives within us. Jesus affirms this when teaching his disciples in John 14, “the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” The Spirit is not there just to provide comfort, to talk to in prayer, or to be a friend in time of need. The Spirit’s role is to remind and teach – what? All that Jesus said through word and action. His parables, miracles, and teachings, the way he treated people and loved them, and the justice he showed to all. We are reminded and taught to do the same.
In the Old Testament, God spoke the same message. Through the prophet Micah (6:8): “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God may look like this – Susan prayerfully asks God to help her reorganize and reprioritize her life. She tells God she wants to listen and to learn. She is open to whatever God may bring to her to be a different person. Susan is willing to make changes.
Instead of having lunch with her friends at the local diner, she invites them to join her in serving lunch at a local soup kitchen. Susan volunteers to teach Sunday school as one way of living up to the promise she made at the baptism of the infant in church. She works at being more thoughtful about the commitments she makes of her time and on how she spends her money. A good start and practical ways of reminding herself that Jesus is with her every day.
What does it mean to have God with us always? We know that the Holy Spirit, who reminds and teaches, is with us. How ought this knowledge and God’s claim on us impact our lives every day, every hour, every minute? How do we know what God has done and asks us to do?
I remember being in a church that had these words from 1 Corinthians written on the front of the communion table: “you are not your own…you were bought with a price.” A powerful reminder of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ.
Two familiar passages that provide instruction from Jesus are John 3:16 and Matthew 28:19:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.”
“Go…and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
In the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, in response to a question from an expert in the law, Jesus taught on how to follow God and on who is considered a neighbor. In the parable, a Samaritan stops on the road to help a man who was beaten and left for dead. He doesn’t know who the man is or anything about him but helps him anyway when others walk by. At the end of the parable, Jesus asked the expert in the law who the neighbor was. The man answered, “The one who showed mercy.” Jesus then instructed the man: “Go and do likewise.”
These texts, along with many others, explain what Jesus taught and did. They are more than a series of verses in the Bible. These summarize what the Holy Spirit reminds us of and continues to teach us on how Jesus’ instructions play out in our lives. We are to love and serve.
We may not particularly like to hear these teachings. We think it’s not politically correct or respectful to talk about God to people of other faiths, other faith traditions, other denominations, or those with no faith. It can also be risky – it might upset them, so it is better to leave well enough alone.
Jesus is not telling us to judge others or condemn them because they believe or do what we don’t think is right. Rather, Jesus teaches us to share our own faith and God’s love to others.
Remember that John 3:16 says that God so loved the world. A pretty inclusive statement. No one is left out. Why should we be exclusive? I like to tell myself that there isn’t anyone I see every day that God doesn’t love, so I ought to love them, too. It isn’t easy to acknowledge this and follow through on loving them.
The Good Samaritan didn’t choose who he would be neighborly to. He showed mercy to the one in need. Why do we think we can be choosey? Jesus’ teachings are not easy to follow. Doing what he asks is a risk, possibly with no reward (then, again, we shouldn’t expect a reward or an act in kind anyway). It can be uncomfortable and even unfathomable.
So, what does it mean to remember your baptism? Remembering means having confidence in God’s love for you. Making a commitment to follow God’s ways. Willing to risk, give of yourself, love the world, show justice, love kindness, be a neighbor, disciple all nations. Whew!
A bit overwhelming to say the least. Let’s consider what it might look like for us to remember our baptism, to demonstrate the love that we receive from God. Some examples:
Rearrange your schedule to help an elderly neighbor, give a caregiver a break, watch the child of working parents who would otherwise be home alone after school, or be a tutor.
Give gifts to those in need at Christmas or on a birthday in honor of the person you would usually give a present to. The Presbyterian Giving Catalog has options for purchasing things like ducks or fish nets, etc.
Parents and grandparents take to heart the promises made at the baptism of a child by making faith development one of your top priorities. Help to create a foundation for a child’s life.
Read Bible stories, listen to Christian music, pray for others at home, or take time to talk about daily, weekly, or concerning events.
Make different choices on how you use your time. Block out time for a children’s event at church or make sure a teen gets homework done so they can go to youth fellowship.
Making different choices and decisions can be tough. I heard about a vice-president in a large company who was asked to do something unethical to improve the profit margin. He had a choice to comply or to say not and lose his job. He chose to follow his faith and lose his job.
A teacher with a challenging student decides that, instead of sending him to the principal over and over, she will take him under his wing and be a mentor even if others accuse her of playing favorites. The teacher finds ways to connect with the student by learning about subjects that are of interest to him and incorporating them into the assignments.
A high school student is invited to a party at a house where the parents won’t be home. She chooses not to go even if her friends dump her. Or she invites friends to her house for an evening of movies, video games, talking, and hanging out under the supervision of her parents.
Remembering our baptism means knowing that God is always with us. Remembering our baptism impacts our choices and our actions in all areas of life, even those that are especially challenging. It requires us to wrestle with difficult issues – i.e., abortion, end of life choices, the death penalty, civil unions and same sex marriages, and the value of Black lives, Asian lives, and every life.
The Bible doesn’t give specific instructions on how to approach each of these issues. However, we know that God loves the world – everything and everyone. Everyone is precious in God’s sight. Everyone ought to precious in our sight as well. Every person’s life and situation is unique. We don’t know their story but we can love them anyway. I remind myself every day that there is no one I meet that isn’t loved by God, so I am to love them, too.
The Holy Spirit reminds us of what we have learned from scripture, and from Jesus words and actions. The Spirit continues to teach us how to use what we already know. We are to make choices based on Jesus’ teachings, not based on our own emotions or on peer pressure.
Remembering our baptism, loving as baptized people, requires us to be a good neighbor to all. To do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. We are to trust God, love God, love others, and do things God’s way.
Remember your baptism and be thankful. Amen.