Christ’s Baptism, and Ours (8:30am)
January 8, 2017 Pastor: Larry Gaylord
Topic: Baptism Scripture: Isaiah 42:1–42:9, Matthew 3:13–3:17
I felt proud of Leslie’s home state of Montana over the last couple of weeks. People responded in a Christ-like way to a possible negative happening. In the beautiful little town of Whitefish, about ten miles up Highway 93 from where we lived, there was a rumored gathering of white supremacists, for what was being billed as a “March against Jews.” That neck of the woods has its share of extremists and dead-enders. Instantly, people sprang into action to oppose the hate and racism.
Like John the Baptist, they spoke truth, and stood up for love. Leaders of the state, Republicans and Democrats—the governor, both US senators, and the one congressman--spoke with a single voice to declare that hate would not be tolerated. Local people have planned events under the heading “Love Lives Here.” The Whitefish police chief now believes the anti-Semitic march won’t take place. When people band together for love, quickly, it can have a powerful effect. Frederick Douglass—former slave, abolitionist, counsellor to presidents, and (it is said) the most photographed person of the 19th century—declared, “The life of a nation is secure only while that nation is honest, truthful, and virtuous.” He also said, “One, plus God, make a majority.”
Near the start of each year, it’s always a jolt to be catapulted from the wise men presenting their gifts to the baby, to this day of his baptism as an adult. There’s almost nothing in between. Mark’s gospel doesn’t even bother with Christmas, he’s too eager to get to the River Jordan for this red-letter event. Not a few have wondered, “Why did the son of God need to be baptized? Jesus had no sin, so why this sign of repentance and the washing away of sins?” The decision to be baptized showed that Jesus embraced John’s message. The message was simple: share what you have. Don’t cheat. Don’t exploit people under your power. Be human, be decent, for heaven’s sake. This severe loner, who lived on bugs and bees—locusts and wild honey—had a surprisingly tender message. By humbly receiving John’s baptism, Jesus declared, “That’s what I stand for too.” When we live in the power of our baptism, we discover the call to service.
This service may be toward a family member, or strangers lined up to get a nourishing meal. It’s part of our identity, and it can be a joy as well as a burden. Before 2016 is too far in the rear-view mirror, I want to remember John Glenn, who died in December at the age of 95. He was of course the first American to orbit the earth, US senator from Ohio for 24 years, and returned to space in 1998 at the age 77. John Glenn lived a life of service and was a life-long Presbyterian. He was baptized at Westminster Presbyterian Church in New Concord, Ohio, where his mother was the first woman ordained as an elder for that congregation. He married his wife Annie, who was raised in nearby College Park Presbyterian Church on April 6, 1943. Whenever they returned to New Concord, they worshiped at both churches. He attended the Presbyterian school, Muskingum College. He served on the Session of National Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. Before his return to space in 1998, he received a letter from the PCUSA Moderator and stated clerk: “To Elder John Glenn, our brother in Christ: John, your church is grateful for the service you continue to share with millions of Americans and citizens of the world. May the peace of Jesus Christ be with you and your colleagues on this flight. Prayers from those of us in the PCUSA will certainly be there.”
He was a real American story, father of two, grandfather, and servant. His life wasn’t flawless, but his journey was an example of baptized faithfulness and Christian love. Gov. Kasich in his eulogy stated, “As we bow our heads and share our grief with his beloved wife of 73 years, we must turn to the skies, to salute his remarkable journey and his long years of service to our state and nation.” Then, echoing the famous send-off of Mission Control in Feb 1962, Gov. Kasich said, “Godspeed, John Glenn.” The baptized life: that’s our calling in Christ. It’s never too late to reaffirm our own baptism. I recently read of a pastor who had a funeral for a 99-year-old woman shortly after he had started a new assignment at a new church. He assumed the woman was a life-long member, but was surprised to learn that that she had actually been baptized at the tender age of 93. She had a spiritual renewal and asked to be baptized late in life. It’s never too late. The last scene of the day was unforgettable. Jesus emerged from the water, dripping, and beheld the Spirit’s dove-like presence. He heard the thunderous voice of God. “You are my child. I am so pleased with you!” It was unconditional affirmation bestowed on his life. In all that he would go through in the next three years, that powerful YES from God would sustain him.
The mystery of our faith tells us, that Yes is for us, too. It’s every bit as profound and resonant as the love God has for Jesus. Our task is to let ourselves hear it. Before my mother died, she pronounced a kind of baptismal blessing on our granddaughter. As Dahlia sat in mom’s lap. Mom said to her, “You know what? You’re the light of my life.” That is a blessing on a young life. We have the power to bless. God’s affirming word is for us. A woman who suffered terribly with OCD couldn’t hear that voice because there was another, insistent voice in her head. That other negative voice she called “Sergeant.” Sergeant caused her to do all kinds of self-defeating behaviors, such as spending an hour each day checking all the electric cords in her house, making her late for school.
Sergeant continually reminded her of what an awful person she was. Finally, with help from friends, and a therapist, and medication, she began to be able to hear and listen to the affirming voice of God. She realized at last the she is deeply loved, forever. Writer Annie LaMotte declared, God is crazy about me. He even carries my photo in his wallet. You are surrounded and protected by my love for you, says the Lord. You will always be my daughter, my son. I am pleased—no, Delighted!—with you. You give me great joy.”