Walking Wet January 10-11, 2009 Baptism of Our Lord Mark 1:4-11 The story goes that many years ago there was a machinist working for the Ford Motor Company in Detroit, who had over the years “borrowed” tools and other automobile parts. He had smuggled the tools home and had acquired a large collection. It happened that the machinist had a remarkable change take place in his life. Someone shared the story of Jesus Christ with him, someone told him about the good news of God’s love for him, and he was baptized and became a committed follower of Jesus. Realizing that God had given him a new life in Jesus Christ, the man wanted to make a completely new start. So on the Monday following his baptism, he gathered up all the tools and car parts he had collected over the years, loaded them into his pickup truck, and drove them to the automotive plant, and presented them to the foreman with his confession and request for forgiveness. The foreman was so overwhelmed by the honesty of this employee that he got in touch with Henry Ford himself, who was in Europe visiting one of the automobile plants. After explaining the entire event in detail, Henry Ford—as legend has it— responded almost immediately by saying, “Let’s dam up the Detroit River and baptize the entire plant.” (Changing Church Toolkit, 12/7/2008) Henry Ford realized that baptism can make a difference in the lives of people. The request comes in several forms. There’s the straight forward approach: “We want to have our baby done.” There’s the nautical approach: “We want to have our baby christened.” And there’s the simple surrender: “I want to get my mother- in-law off of my back. Can we schedule a time to get our baby baptized?” This was the approach of Jerri Haussler, a writer and a homemaker, who wrote an article for the Lutheran magazine, entitled, “Baptism and My Life.” Neither Jerri nor her husband were active in a church. To get their parents off their backs, they had their 4-year old daughter and 3-month old son baptized. In the article she describes her surprise at how the baptisms of her children changed her life and led her to reaffirm her own baptism. She writes, “Because of the vows we took, something happened to me—something that neither I nor the pastor who baptized our children would have predicted. Now, several years later, she looks back to the baptism of her children as the turning point in her life. Now, her family worships regularly; she has participated in a Bethel Bible series as a student and then as a teacher; she has taught Sunday School and Vacation Bible School; she has even served as a congregational leader. Jerri writes: “My work through my congregation and my efforts for the sake of others grow out of my faith. I do these things because of my love for God. I cite them only to show the wonder of God’s persistent Spirit in bringing me to renewed vitality within the church and among God’s people. As surprising as it was to me, and likely to many others, the fact is that my faith was renewed through the baptism of my children. Great things began to happen in my life. Baptism not only made a difference for my children, it also changed my life.” She goes on in the article to mention that she finds herself more loving and caring and willing to give. She thinks of others more than she did before this experience of baptism. The Holy Spirit is working in her life, the waters of Baptism continuing to wash over her and make her new. I remember something similar happening in the life of a young father that I knew. A young couple had a baby and started coming to church in order to have the baby baptized. The mother had a church background; the father did not. Eric was unchurched and unbaptized. When I asked him if he had a religious background, the closest he could come was that he enjoyed the Star Wars movies. But now that he had a daughter, he wanted to do the right thing for her, to raise her with a religious background. So he ended up being baptized at the same time as his daughter, and growing in faith so that he could be a good parent and be able to answer her questions. He thought he was doing it for his daughter. Little did he know that that was just the opening God was wanting into Eric’s life. All of which goes to show that you should never underestimate what God might do in a person’s life. Or, as Jesus told Nicodemus, in describing the work of the Holy Spirit in leading people to a rebirth in God, “The wind blows wherever it wishes; you hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from, or where it is going.” (John 3:8) Some things that occur in a baptism are givens: a person is presented for baptism; either the person or the parents or sponsors profess their Christian faith; the person is baptized with (some amount of) water in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; the person is marked with the sign of the cross; and the person is welcomed into the Body of Christ. But there are other things with occur in baptism, that are beyond our control: God adopts and claims the person as God’s own child; a seed of faith is planted; a person receives the Holy Spirit. We have the prototype of this baptism in our Gospel reading today from Mark 1, when Jesus himself is baptized. As Jesus comes out of the water, he sees the Spirit of God descending upon him and hears the voice of the Father: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (You are my Son, the Beloved.) That becomes the experience for all who come to the water. Through the water and the word, God welcomes us as his own children and we receive God’s grace and forgiveness, and we receive a new life in Jesus Christ as we receive the Spirit of God. And because of the presence of the (unpredictable) Spirit, because God is the actor in baptism, you can never reduce baptism to an empty ritual. In what may appear to be merely the splashing of water and the saying of liturgical words, we may enter a new reality, a new relationship. The spirit blows where it will…God enters a life…and it is never the same. Baptism happens once, but takes a lifetime to live out. As we will discuss further in the coming weeks, baptism is the beginning of a daily conversion, a daily dying and rising with Christ, a life daily renewed by God. This turning toward Christ each day is what discipleship is all about. Martin Luther said this about baptism: “Let every person regard his Baptism as the daily garment which he is to wear all the time. Every day the Christian should be found in faith and its fruits, suppressing the old self and growing up in the new self. If we wish to be Christians we must practice the work that makes us Christians.” (Luther, 446) Luther was talking about the Christian life as a daily return to our baptism. A daily dying to that which prevents us from living the full life that God intends for us. A turning away from sin and a turning toward the grace of God. Every time we hear the words of God’s forgiveness in worship we return to our baptism. Every time we reach for the bread of life and the cup of grace, and we taste the body of Christ broken for us and the blood of Christ shed for us, we return to our baptism. Daily we are walking wet, the water of baptism continuing to wash over us, and make us new. Many of you were baptized as babies, and you do not remember anything about your baptism. Others of you were baptized as a child or an adult, and you may remember something of the event. Still others of you may not yet have been baptized and you may be wondering about its meaning. This is what we believe. It is the presence of God through the water and word that makes Baptism Baptism. That is, having received the Holy Spirit and having been claimed as a child of God, there is no telling what God may have in store for you. There is no predicting how God will get through to you. No telling to what you will be called, or how you will serve or where you will be led or what gift you will be given. Even if, at the time, you were only an unsuspecting baby. Even, if, at the time, you merely wanted to get your baby done. Once you give God an opening, the door will never again be closed.
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