Baptism B: Re-Creation

 

 

 

Jordan River, Israel
Jordan River, Israel

OLD TESTAMENT: Genesis 1: 1-5

To read the Old Testament Lectionary passage, click here

What an appropriate Scriptures for today on this first time that we’ve met in this new year! Genesis is a book about beginnings—the beginnings of the universe, the beginnings of humankind, the beginnings of the people of Israel, the beginnings of a family. Theodore Hiebert says this about Genesis:

 Genesis shares the scientist’s fascination with the birth of the cosmos and the origin of life on earth, the anthropologists’ curiosity about the first human beings, the historian’s interest in the beginning of civilization, a family’s esteem for their earliest ancestors, and the theologian’s concern about the founding events of religious traditions.” (Theodore Hiebert, The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, 1)

 The opening part of Genesis is essentially an affirmation of faith in the God who created the world and all that exists that comes to us in self-revelation. We usually read this as a poetic rendering of the beginning of Creation. But it’s interesting to look a little more closely and realize that the first sentence stands alone. The “beginning” of time refers not to the beginning of Creation but rather to the ordering of Creation. According to this passage, the earth was there, dark and formless nothing though it was. So time begins with God’s ordering of things and the “seven-day” cycle represents a temporal pattern that is often repeated, representing a completeness. So this account of creation is not the “beginning”, per se, because God was not starting with nothing.

The “wind from God” is commonly equated with what we would call Elohim, the Spirit of God. God was present even in the nothingness, even before the “beginning”. The idea of God speaking Creation into being is powerful. Then God said…so Creation is not an accident, but a purposeful movement by an already present and powerful deity. Here, the light is not the sun. It, obviously had not been created yet in the grand scheme of things. This light is, rather, a creative force that pushed back the darkness. In essence, then, every morning is an act of Creation. And then God evaluates the creative process, proclaiming it good. “Good” does not mean perfect or static or in no need of development. It means that God did what God intended—began the ordering of life.

Well, obviously this is only part of the whole Creation narrative to which we are accustomed to reading. But we get the idea! This is not a God who kicked the whole thing off and then left us to our own devices. Creation is ongoing. This passage is the beginning of that ordering. It continues…through suns and moons, and plants, and animals, and us. God creates times and space and rest for the weary. God continually gives us ways to connect with God—waters that roar, bushes that burn, prophets that proclaim, poets that sing, and sages that pray. And just when we thought we had God all figured out, God comes, not as a king or a leader, but as a helpless child born into poverty in the midst of destruction and social unrest. And over and over and over again, God recreates. It’s not about what happened 4.5 billion years ago or 8,000 years ago, depending on who you believe. It’s about Creation—over and over and over again. It’s about God, Emmanuel, God With Us, speaking us and all that surrounds us into being—over and over and over again. And it is very, very good.

 

  1. What is your response to this passage?
  2. Are there some new ways of looking at this?
  3. How does it change the story of this is truly looked upon as the beginning of Creation rather than the historical narrative of it?
  4. What does it mean to you to say that this passage is an affirmation of faith?

 

 NEW TESTAMENT: Acts 19: 1-7

To read the New Testament Lectionary passage, click here

This exchange seems to be directed at some of John the Baptist’s former disciples, rather than the “Disciples” of Jesus. Their confusion over their baptism as one that was “into John’s baptism” probably implied for them that they had not yet received the Holy Spirit. They had been claimed for repentance and for following John but not claimed for what came after that. Essentially, they had missed the point.

Keep in mind that all through the Book of Acts, these new believers are sort of in “transition”. They knew they had something but they didn’t know what it was or what to do with it. But once it was clarified that this baptism was in the name of Jesus, rather than John’s, they understood. The Holy Spirit came upon them, according to the passage.

This, though, does not presume a formal relationship between Baptism and the reception of the Holy Spirit. The liturgy is not a magical potion but, rather, a proclamation of what God has done and what God is doing. Baptism is more than about individual experiences. It is, rather, an extension of what God is doing in the world.

It is interesting here, too, that apparently the early church-goers had just as many diverse views of Baptism as we do—WHEN should we baptize? HOW should we baptize? WHY should we baptize? What should we say when we baptize? How much water should we use when we baptize? How many times should we baptize? WHO should be baptized? Good grief, is that what it’s about? Maybe instead of getting bogged down in the specifics, we should just celebrate. Baptism is about God. It is about God coming into one’s life, whatever that may look like. And it is about us as a people acknowledging that each and every one of us is a beloved child of God. Baptism is to be celebrated and remembered. It is about us in God. It is about knowing that there is something bigger than we are. It is about newness in life. Baptism happens once. But it is at work day after day after day in our life, recreating us, making us new. So remember your baptism and be thankful.

 

  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. Does this change how you view Baptism in any way?
  3. How do you think most people today view Baptism?

 

FOR FURTHER READING:

The new young pastor of Lake Bluff Christian Church had seen the man on the streets of the town frequently. In the first busy weeks of his new pastorate, he hadn’t taken the time to inquire about him. But when he discovered that the man sat quietly on the steps outside the church every Sunday, listening, he was determined to find out about him. “Oh, that’s Rocky Dumar,” the secretary replied when he inquired on Monday morning. “His mother is a member, but she hasn’t come to church for many years. She’s a shut-in now. Rocky just likes to listen to the music.” “But why doesn’t he come inside?” the pastor asked. “I don’t know. I’ve been here for ten years and I’ve never seen him ‘in’ a worship service. Why don’t you ask him?”

The next Sunday, as he took his place at the rear of the sanctuary, waiting to process behind the choir, the pastor peeked out the door. There, on the top step, sat Rocky Dumar. “Good morning, Rocky,” the pastor said. There was no surprise on the round face that turned toward him, just a smile. His narrow blue eyes and slightly protruding tongue indicated Down’s Syndrome. “Good morning,” Rocky answered softly. “Why don’t you come inside and join us for the service?” He shook his head. “I can’t come in. I’m not baptized.” Although the pastor was surprised and puzzled by Rocky’s response, the opening chords of the processional hymn signaled an end to their conversation for the moment. “Well, you’re welcome to come in any time, Rocky. I’m glad you’re here,” the pastor said, and turned to enter the service.

It was more than a week before the busy work of settling in allowed the pastor to pursue the puzzle of Rocky Dumar’s reluctance to enter the church. “That’s an old, long story,” the chair of the parish board said when she was questioned on the subject. “When Rocky was about twelve or thirteen his mother wanted him to be baptized and confirmed, like the other youngsters. There were a lot of strange ideas back then about retarded people. His parents hadn’t even tried to have Rocky baptized as a baby, but when she saw how well he turned out, and how much he loved the church services, his mother wanted him to become a member. The pastor and the elders back then refused, saying Rocky could attend the class and be baptized, but he wasn’t ever going to understand enough to become a member. They wouldn’t allow him to come into a position where he could vote and take communion. Of course, back then women couldn’t vote, either! Rocky is two or three years older than me, so this was a ways back. My mother would never have dreamed that I would someday be parish board chair! But there are some here who would still hold onto those old ideas in regard to Rocky.” “What about his mother?” “Oh, she retained her membership, but she and Rocky stopped coming to worship. She’s pretty crippled up with arthritis now, and doesn’t get out of the house much, but it was protest over Rocky’s not being confirmed that made her stay away. She never let him be baptized, either. That must be where he got the idea that that was why he couldn’t come into the church anymore. But Rocky always loved the music. He’s come almost every Sunday, all these years. He wears his good bib overalls and sits on the steps to listen to the service, even in winter. But after they refused to confirm him, he’s never come in.”

The young pastor did a lot more visiting with people on the subject of Rocky. Although he was careful to work it in casually in other conversations, so as not to make it a big deal, rumor began to spread that something was up. Those who disapproved made it known in their subtle ways, but he began to form a plan on how to get Rocky Dumar inside the church. The most vital information came from Rocky’s mother and Rocky himself.

By spring, just before confirmation time, and after a lot of prayer, the pastor knew what to do. Many of the older members of the church were surprised when Ella Dumar made her way slowly across the front of the sanctuary from the side door on Confirmation Sunday. An usher helped her into the front pew with the confirmation families. And after the confirmation class rose to stand before the congregation, the pastor looked expectantly toward the rear of the sanctuary and said, “Okay, Rocky, you can come in now.” Rocky Dumar walked down the center aisle of the sanctuary in his good bib overalls, his baseball cap in his hands. He took his place in the confirmation line, his grey hair and size sharply contrasting with the rest of the class. The pastor proceeded to question the students on their catechism, and they answered … some well, and some not so well. Rocky stood quietly, turning his cap in his hands and waiting. At last the pastor said, “One member of this new group of confirmands is long overdue for this ceremony. Rocky Dumar received his confirmation training in 1941, but he’s been brushing up this last couple of weeks with the rest of this class. Rocky needs to be baptized before he’s confirmed, and I want to ask him one question before we proceed.” The pastor motioned Rocky forward and turned him to face the congregation. “Rocky Dumar, what does baptism mean?” Although his speech was thick and a little slow, Rocky’s voice was strong and sure when he answered, “Jesus loves the little children. All the children of the world. Jesus loves Rocky Dumar, too.” Then, with his mother’s eyes shining on him in pride, Rocky Dumar was baptized and confirmed as a full member of Lake Bluff Christian Church. And all of God’s people said, “Amen.” (from Lectionary Tales for the Pulpit: 62 Stories for Cycle B, by John E. Sumwalt and Jo Perry-Sumwalt, available at http://www.sermonsuite.com/free.php?i=788016807&key=r0xspkweyawjWO3c, accessed 4 January, 2011.)

 

GOSPEL: Mark 1: 4-11

To read the Lectionary Gospel passage, click here

Once again, we encounter John the Baptist. John’s idea of baptism was one of repentance and forgiveness. What came after was to come later. The whole idea of Baptism is a call to reform, a call to change. God has already drawn near to us before we repent as acknowledged in the liturgy of Baptism. Now it is our turn to respond.

The whole idea of the Baptism of Jesus is sometimes odd. How can one who is supposed to be sinless be forgiven? Over time, some writers and theologians have found the whole idea of the baptism of Jesus preposterous and embarrassing. But the fact that Jesus was baptized only suggests that Jesus associated himself with the need to gather God’s people and to prepare for the Lord’s coming with a gesture of repentance, an entrusting of oneself wholly and completely to God. It also reminds us that Baptism is not about us. We cannot baptize ourselves. It is about God’s presence in our life.

Only in the Gospel of Mark do we hear of the “heavens being torn apart”—not opened as in Matthew and Luke—but torn apart. The Greek word for this means “schism” (which, interestingly enough, is similar to chaos). It’s not the same as the word open. You open a door; you close a door; the door still looks the same. But torn—the ragged edges never go back in quite the same way again. At this point of Jesus’ baptism, God’s Spirit becomes present on earth in a new way. A new ordering of Creation has begun. The heavens have torn apart. They cannot go back. Nothing will ever be the same. Everything that we have known, everything that we have thought has been torn apart and that is the place where God comes through. And the heavens can never again close as tightly as before.

This story of Jesus’ Baptism calls us to remember our own. It, too, is our beginning as the gift of God’s grace washes away those things that impede our relationship with God and gives us new birth, new life. And it calls us to do something with our life.

But I actually don’t remember the day of my baptism. It happened when I was a little over seven months old, on Palm Sunday, April 15, 1962. It was at First United Methodist Church, Brookshire, TX and Rev. Bert Condrey was the officiant. I had a special dress and lots of family present. That would be all I really know.

And yet we are reminded to “remember our baptism”. What does that mean for those of us who don’t? I think “remembering” is something bigger than a chronological recount of our own memories. It is bigger than remembering what we wore or where we stood or who the actual person was that touched our head with or even immersed us in water. It means remembering our very identity, our creation, what it is that made us, that collective memory that is part of our tradition, our liturgy, our family.

That is what “remembering” our baptism is. It’s not just remembering the moment that we felt that baptismal stream; it is remembering the story into which we entered. It is at that point that the Christian family became our own as we began to become who God intends us to be. And for each of us, whether or not we noticed it, the heavens tore apart, spilled out, and the Holy Spirit emerged. And we, too, were conferred with a title. “This is my child, my daughter or son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

And in that moment, whether we are infants or older, we are ordained for ministry in the name of Jesus Christ. We are ordained to the work of Christ and the work of Christ’s church. Caroline Westerhoff says that “at baptism we are incorporated into Christ’s body, infused with Christ’s character, and empowered to be Christ’s presence in the world. [So then], ministry is not something in particular that we do; it is what we are about in everything we do.” (in Calling: A Song for the Baptized, by Caroline Westerhoff, p. xi) In other words, our own Baptism sweeps us into that dawn that Jesus began. And, like Jesus, our own Baptism calls us and empowers us to empty ourselves before God. As we begin to find ourselves standing in those waters with Christ, we also find ourselves ready to be followers of Christ.

You are part of something beyond yourself, beyond what you know, and beyond what you can remember. Rainer Maria Rilke once said that “the future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens.” Your past now reaches far back before you were here and your future is being transformed and redeemed in you even as we speak.

After he was baptized, Jesus stood, dripping wet, to enter his ministry. The heavens tore apart and poured into the earth. All of humanity was there in that moment—those gone, those to come. We now stand, wet with those same waters, as we, too, are called into ministry in the name of Christ. Then…it is up to you to finish the story. This day and every day, remember your baptism, remember that you are a daughter or son of God with whom God is well pleased and be thankful. You are now part of the story, part of this ordering of chaos, part of light emerging from darkness, part of life born from death. You are part of God’s re-creation. And it is very, very good.

 

  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. Do we usually equate Baptism with “repentance”?
  3. What does this “tearing” mean for you? How does that relate to our own lives?
  4. What does your own baptism mean for you?
  5. What does it mean to “remember your baptism”?

 

 

Some Quotes for Further Reflection:

The desire to find God and to see God and to love God is the one thing that matters. (Thomas Merton)

 

Later, after the angels, after the stable, after the Child, they went back…as we always must, back to the world that doesn’t understand our talk of angels and stars and especially not the Child. We go back complaining that it doesn’t’ last. They went back singing praises to God! We do have to go back, but we can still sing the alleluias! (From “Later”, in Kneeling in Bethlehem, by Ann Weems, 86)

 

What we are looking for on earth and in earth and in our lives is the process that can unlock for us the mystery of meaningfulness in our daily lives. It has been the best-kept secret down through the ages because it is so simple. Truly, the last place it would ever occur to most of us to find the sacred would be in the commonplace of our everyday lives and all about us in nature and in simple things.   (Alice O. Howell, The Dove in the Stone)

 

 

Closing

 

Prayer: “Jordan”, in In Wisdom’s Path, by Jan Richardson, 36.

 

“Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so for now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

 

More than once today I have thrown down my notebook, my pen, and finally myself onto this bed. Jordan springs from either eye, and it may look like I am weeping from this wrestling, but really I am standing at the water, looking for the one who will pull me under and holler out my name.

 

 

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