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One: Give thanks to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
All: Give thanks to the Lord, the glory of his name; worship the Lord in holy splendor.
One: The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over mighty waters.
All: The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
Left: The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
Right: He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.
All: The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
One: The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
All: The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,
and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, ‘Glory!’
One: The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king for ever.
All: May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 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. 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."
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 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."
In Marilynne Robinson's book Gilead, the narrator, an elderly minister writes from his childhood, about when he and another PK, baptize some kittens. The boys took this all very seriously, he says, but momma cat showed her distaste for the sacrament, when interrupted and quickly moved the kittens to a dryer place.
Afterward, the preacher's boy tries to explain to his father - theoretically, of course - about baptizing cats, but he gets a stern lecture about respecting the sacraments. The boy, of course, argued profusely that they had been respectful, for "we thought the whole world of those cats." Now, at the end of his life and after many years of baptizing the faithful of his flock, the old pastor looks back on that day from his childhood, and he remembers the feel of "those warm little brows," experiencing the difference between petting a cat and touching it "with the pure intention of blessing it."
Jesus' own baptism is an epiphany that reveals God come down to earth, fully human and fully divine, even though we mostly forget about the first part. In Baptism, God is near to us, just as God was near to Jesus as he stood there in the River Jordan, with so much still ahead of him. As he moved ahead through it all, step by step, he knew that he was God's Beloved Child. Whether we can remember our baptism or not is less important than whether we can remember that we too are blessed and beloved.
Rejoice, ascribe to the Lord, that we are beloved and blessed, for it’s not the baptism, as Gilead's narrator reminds us, that’s a blessing but it grace, we are filled with grace. We acknowledge the grace of God is with us. And if God is with us, God is with others as well.
Sue Monk Kidd, in a recent blog, called “One With All People” suggests that we try “looking at another person and seeing your own self within him or her. I don't mean projecting onto another person all our miserable traits,” Professor Monk quips. “I am speaking of recognizing the hidden truth that we are one with all people. We are part of them and they are part of us....”
She goes on: “Finding this sense of oneness is a natural part of the intimate journey with God. The more we are one with God, the more we are united with one another. We begin to feel a new and deeper identification with people. We come to see that we are all truly related, that what happens to them happens to us.
At our Baptism, we are washed with the water of the Lord. Each one of us becomes a new person. We are the person that God speaks to from heaven: “You are my beloved, and I am pleased with you.”
You are my beloved. It is said to us when we are baptized. You are my beloved. It is said to us when we turn towards the Creator of all, like the Prodigal son and daughter, when we come home, on our last leg, and we are accepted into the family of believers. And the father says: “You are my beloved, and I am pleased with you.” It is said to us when we have fallen from great heights or even when we don’t have far to fall. God is constantly trying to communicate with us -- we are beloved; we be loved.
Remember the image of the father in the Prodigal Son story. The father sees the son from a long way off: and, even though he is an old man, he goes running to him with open arms, hugging him, kissing him, forgiving him, blessing him and giving him the reception so big that the older son was jealous. This is how God acts with God’s children.
And yet, we may still fail to hear how loved we are. We still try to thrive in the dog-eat-dog world of the Herods and big business, stepping on each others’ shoulders; trying to compete in the world where sin and sex, power and control, madness and sweet pleasure abound. We are surrounded by the cruel, crazy, beautiful world; we put together brilliant plans for our lives and gather our useful things around us, and it is just so superficial. We lie to ourselves saying this is life we are living is mine, not God’s. We are still unable to totally give our lives to God.
If the story of John the Baptist’s life and death teaches us anything, it is that the head is easily detached from the body when we speak the truth to power. John saw Herod building up his kingdom, experiencing the excesses of life, and criticized the prideful, self-centered egotist that Herod was. And Herod had John’s head served up on a platter. And then, a year or two later, he chased and killed all the babies of the kingdom as he could, trying to murder the baby Jesus. John criticizes Herod, Herod kills John. So you are saying to yourself, this does not apply to me. I am not a serial killer.
We are, most of us, not going to kill anyone. But if we take a good honest look at our lives, we might see all the kingdoms and queendoms we have created around us. Our world revolves around us. We gather the people around us who we choose. They tell us what we want to hear. And if there is any critique, it hurts. Or we deny it, or we can’t hear it. We are sensitive and easily offended.
So we need reminders to turn back, recall our baptism and claim the love that God has for us. Let God helps us work past the hurts, failures, problems and detours that life is bringing our way.
Because sometimes, life is irrational and our feelings rule, and our feelings can cause confusion in our minds. We lose focus. And we give power and control over to our schedules and events that keep coming at a rapid pace. And it is easy to forget our primary purpose is to please God. And so we can get overwhelmed, anxious and stressed out. If we are not aware of the causes of these feelings, we will try to get rid of them any way possible. That may lead to suppressing our feelings, stuffing them down out of sight, or medicating those feelings with drugs and/or alcohol, covering them up. It is an age old human tendency to try to cover our hurts, anxieties and errant thoughts and feelings with a temporary high.
So I say again: “You are beloved. You are a child of God. Recall your baptism. It was a great day. It was euphoric. It was a rush, a feeling of being carried on eagles’ wings or walking on air.
It was a powerful feeling that makes those endorphins tingle. Endorphins are the neurological receptors in our body that, when stimulated, cause good feelings or euphoria. Stimulation of our Endorphins can be caused by the Consumption of wonderful food; eating chocolate; sex; playing basketball, car racing; skiing or even sled riding. Euphoria can come from our relationship with God, too, when we are growing in the spirit, walking with Jesus, sharing our experience, strength and hope with others. It is not so much the bliss as it is the blessings. Feelings of being blessed, feelings of being loved and accepted and forgiven; these bring true joy, satisfaction and fulfillment. Those are the memories of baptism.
Now, kids, don’t try this, but if you hold your head under water long enough, it is a real thrill; the endorphins are really pumping when you have almost drowned. And coming up and taking that first breath feels like a new lease on life.
I pulled a teenager out of the river one time and he was sputtering and gagging. I dragged him to the shore and laid him down, and once he got his strength, he had that glazed look in his eyes, the dilated pupils and grogginess of a drug rush. And as bad as I felt at letting him get too far out of reach, I was also overjoyed, because he was fine, and he was a good kid, a little hard headed at times: I told him not to lay down in that kayak. But he actually was happy. He learned that he could swim that day. The water was definitely over his head, and he kept his head above water just long enough for me to get there to yank him to shore.
Now how many of you today are drowning in troubled waters of your own making? Is the dark powerful current threatening to pull you under? Do you feel as if you only have one or two more breaths left in you?
Well, God still has plans for you. And you have to make it through this part of your journey in order to gain access to the next level. You see, I have been watching you. I have been watching you paddle around in your little pool, but when the floods come and threaten to push you downstream, into deeper water, you have to catch hold of someone. That someone is waiting for you to lock hands and hold on with all your strength, with all your soul, with all your heart and with all your mind. God is waiting for you to come home, he is waiting expectantly for you to honor your baptism and enter that next level of discipleship.
So, what happens after Baptism . . . what does it mean that we have to go to next level?
Well, it means we are to be loved, and we are to be open to change . . . to God changing us. After our baptism, we become more open to the idea of creating a new life in God’s mission for us, with new thinking and new habits. We must be open to change, because this is the journey that God has in store for us.
There’s a man I know who re-committed his life to God. For much of his adult life, he was lost and alone in a spiral downward. Alcohol abuse had cut him off from all loved ones. He spent some time in prison, and when he got out he came to me and asked to be Baptized. I said sure, but you have to tell me how things are changing for you.
He told me that when he was young he had a lot of fun. After a while that fun created some habits. Those habits included alcohol, drugs and sex. They were fun, but then turned into habits that he could not live without, and soon he had to have these things. He needed alcohol, drugs, sex; they became necessities. And then he robbed a bank to get the money he needed to pay for cocaine. It was the end of the line.
The man chose to be Baptized again as an adult. He was baptized because needed the Lord. He came to the Gospel message out of necessity. And now, he is creating new habits that will support his new lifestyle of clean, sober and moral living. He is forming new habits, going to meetings, going to church, changing his character defects through counseling and learning to live again. These new habits, I guarantee, will bring him hope, peace, joy and love. He will start enjoy life again. And it will be fun.
Remember your baptism, it is a necessity, let it become a habit and live into your new lifestyle and find the fun and enjoyment in right relationships, sober living.
By our baptism we know who we are and to whom we belong. Baptism is so much more than a cleansing from sin. Baptism represents our identification with Christ. Baptism is our initiation into the Body of Christ. Go forth with the knowledge that you have been baptized. You are not your own. You are beloved, you belong to God. And God is pleased with you.