First Presbyterian Church – Lafayette, Louisiana
Baptism of Our Lord, Year A – January 9, 2010
Baptism of Our Lord, Year A – January 9, 2010
This past Sunday was a busy one! We celebrated Communion, remembered the Baptism of the Lord, and installed and ordained a new class of Officers for Session. Prior to the service, the Baptismal Font was placed in the back of the sanctuary. After reading the Gospel Lesson I shuffled through my stack of papers, appearing to have misplaced my sermon.
I'm sorry… something is missing. (I moved back down toward my seat.) This is kind of embarrassing. (I looked behind the communion table.) No, it's not here. I mean the bread and juice are not here yet, but they will come in during the Doxology. (I went up and over to the lectern.) No, it's not the Bible… let's see. We have the pulpit and the table, word and sacrament. What am I missing here? Can anyone tell me what is missing?
(A few uncomfortable guesses were mumbled until someone acknowledged the place of the Baptismal Font.)
The Font! Of course! On the Sunday we remember the baptism of our Lord we need the Font! Truly we need it every Sunday, for it stands as a reminder of the covenant of grace offered to us through Jesus Christ.
(I walked down to the place where the font normally resides.)
The Baptismal Font is not missing. It has been moved to the back of the Sanctuary. As you leave today you are invited to stop by the Font, place your hand in the water, and take a glass pebble to remind you of the waters of baptism. This is not the same as the Roman Catholic tradition of Holy Water. There is no priestly blessing or salvific property of the basin or the water therein.
For we believe in the Reformed tradition that recognizes baptism, and the salvation it acknowledges, first and foremost as God's action. All that we do in our lives from that point forward is simply a response to God's unconditional love and acceptance. That's why I am so fond of telling people that I do not remember my baptism.
In the past I have felt a little jealous of my more congregationalist brothers and sisters who can tell great tales of their acceptance of Christ and the moment(s) of their baptism. That's a good thing to be able to tell people about, but at some point it clicked that my story is no less incredible… because 2,000 years ago a man began the tradition that was to become Christian baptism… because that same man became the ultimate demonstration of God's love… because that same man promised me that I would be loved and forgiven before I needed to be… because my parents and my faith community surrounded me and made promises to me from infancy that would be fulfilled in my lifetime by the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of the very universe!
(I returned to the pulpit.)
The promises of God fulfilled – that's what Isaiah talked about. "See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them." But what is he really talking about? Some have said that he is talking about Jesus. Maybe he is, but to what end? I believe it is so that we can know who we are. I believe these words exist as a mirror for the church as the Body of Christ to see itself in.
So we, like so many others after the holidays, look into the mirror of scripture to see what kind of shape we are in. The scriptures we have today offer a look inside and a look outside. Paul's words to the Romans may even be like a new dietary choice – a bit hard to swallow. Oh sure, we know we are supposed to be good people, but this is taking it a step further. This is a command to burry anything selfish and only be oriented by those things that matter to God. Can a person filled with base desires and physical limitations (as we all are) do this?
It kind of reminds me of that old prayer, "Oh Lord, I've done pretty well so far today. I haven't gossiped. I haven't lost my temper. I haven't been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or overindulgent. I'm very thankful for that. But in a few minutes, Lord, I'm going to get out of bed, and from then on I'm probably going to need a lot more help." Perhaps a better one is the one that hangs in my office that was cross-stitched by my Great-Aunt Helen. It reads, "Oh Lord, I shall be pretty busy today. I may forget Thee, but do not Thou forget me."
Now, admittedly, my first thought in reaction to Paul's plea to be dead to sin, or rather his claim that through our baptism we are, was not about a prayerful response. It was about a Monty python Skit. Many will recall the classic scene in the movie "The Holy Grail" that mimics the mass casualties of the plagues of Medieval Europe. There is a man with a cart collecting the dead. Another man approaches him with an older man over his shoulder who protests with, "I'm not dead yet! I don't want to go onto the cart."
Somehow, when it comes to letting go of my deepest and darkest failings, I often respond to Christ in that same way. The man continues to protest, "I feel happy!" When he obviously is not. Unfortunately he gets clubbed in the head and added to the pile.
Sometimes it seems that God has to handle me the same way, but truly I know that it is not because God requires my suffering. It is because I do. It is because every day offers opportunities to die and rise in Jesus Christ, and because of Christ's baptism we are able to die to sin and rise in faithfulness.
I mentioned earlier that this is all a part of an internal process and an external response. It is about putting ourselves in a position to respond, or becoming a part of the righteousness of God. It is also about responding, or becoming a part of God's work for justice in the world.
Today we will install and elect a new class of elders, and I can't think of a better example of justice and righteousness than that. I don't mean to say that these folks are better, or more faithful, than anyone else. Truly they are simply fulfilling one of the expectations of membership that every confirmed, transferred, and reaffirmed member agrees to when they join the church.
What is significant is not their commitment to the church, but God's! So, as we install and ordain officers and as we celebrate Holy Communion, let us reaffirm with great joy our own commitment to the church. This is the time and this is the place to set our hearts and minds on the work of God in this world through Jesus Christ. But unless we take the sanctifying acts of Baptism and Communion and turn them into demonstrations of love and acts of mercy, we are not dead to our sins and we are simply waiting on the cart to take us away. Amen.
The sermon was followed directly by the installation of Officers.