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Sunday, January 8, 2017 | 4:00 p.m.
Remembering Our Baptism
My dad is a pastor, and I grew up always going to church and being involved in just about every church activity you could imagine. When it came to going to church every Sunday, without a question my brother and I were there. As pastor’s kids, or PKs for short, we felt we knew just about everything about the life of the church there was to know.
However, when it came to faith and theology, that was another story. Why we did what we did in church didn’t always make sense to me, and I had a lot of questions. One of those areas was around baptism. Whenever there was a baptism during worship, my dad would wear these long white robes; he’d hold up a large water jug practically above his head and pour it into the baptismal font—water splashing all around him. Before he even got to the questions and baby crying parts, he would always turn to the congregation and boldly proclaim: “Remember your baptism!”
By his stature and tone, I knew this was important, but it also didn’t make sense to me. I was a baby when I was baptized; he usually was baptizing babies (because in the Presbyterian church we practice infant baptism), so how in the world are we to remember our baptism? What happens if we can’t? Are we supposed to be baptized again?
Today, as you might have expected, we’re talking about baptism. There are so many dynamics and angles we could explore about this, but as we remember Jesus’ baptism in this week’s scripture, we’re going to focus on remembering our baptism.
The events of this week’s scripture involve finishing up a conversation with Jesus and John on why John should baptize Jesus and then how the Holy Spirit and God show up after Jesus’ baptism. We don’t even learn of Jesus’ actual baptism; it’s just what happens after it that seems to have the most significance in the text. When John baptizes Jesus, the moment he comes up from the Jordan River water, the sky opens up, a dove flies down, and the Spirit shows up. God speaks, clarifying to the community of people present that Jesus is God’s Son, whom God loves dearly, and shows much pride.
We’ve got this confusing presence of the Trinity going on—Jesus, the Holy Spirit, God—which is a rare and awesome moment to see all these expressions of God in once place in scripture. What is also powerful about this is that Jesus’ baptism is a spiritual homecoming of God and humanity coming together. John baptizes Jesus in the midst of a community of God followers, igniting the loving and passionate presence of God, beginning what Jesus names as a way for fulfilling righteousness.
Baptism is a communal and collaborative action, and when John baptizes Jesus, Jesus moves into solidarity with humanity, with the human experience. He makes a home in the community of faith linked with John’s movement, and it ends up being a launchpad for Jesus’ ministry. It’s a beginning tied to a religious movement and lineage, and it is home.
In the dialogue between John and Jesus, Jesus declares his need for baptism as “proper for us . . . to fulfill all righteousness.” Here he’s speaking to his immediate community about baptism as that communal connection and ritual for the path that they lead. Although baptism is home, it’s also a reminder of the community’s call to live out God’s vision for the world. Baptism becomes not exclusive but particular to this community of faith and leads to action. Jesus creates a faith-home collaboratively through God, the Holy Spirit, and people.
After I graduated college, I moved to Nashville and lived there for a year. It was a pretty horrible year for me overall: I was miserable in my job, my living situation was toxic, plus just transition in general is hard. I decided to start church shopping, looking for a faith home. A special shout out to anyone church shopping now or who have before. It is so hard finding a church that feels right to you—that balance of being spiritually fed and challenged, a healing community, somewhere to serve. I feel you on how overwhelming and draining it can be.
I needed a new spiritual home. With a parent as a pastor, I had never “shopped” for a church before; the church was always chosen for me. So I began to tread into new territory. After awkward experiences, bad sermons, and also glimpses of hope, I eventually found a church that felt right. I bravely sat down in a pew beside a woman about my age. I sang with the congregation those familiar hymns. I listened to the Christian education director tell God’s story to the children (I have no recollection of the sermons there, just the children’s sermons), walked to the front of the sanctuary to take Communion (like we do here). I experienced that familiar but also new sense of worship there, and after the service the woman I was sitting beside introduced herself to me. She could tell I was new. We started chatting about our lives and work. We talked and discovered that she lived in my neighborhood. She invited me for coffee, which I gratefully accepted. From that point on, I got connected to a group of friends and faith community that was beyond that specific church but was a homecoming for me, even though they were all new to me. They helped me remember my baptism. They helped me remember who I was, whose I was, that faith foundation that launched me into a new phase of my life journey where I saw more clearly God’s call for my life and how and where to respond. Suddenly, remembering one’s baptism made so much more sense for me. It wasn’t just about the event; it was about that sense of belonging with Jesus and in our Christian community. Remembering our baptism is a homecoming without the family baggage. Family baggage can come with church, which certainly can get tied up with the Sacrament of Baptism, but let’s be clear: Our home is with Christ. It’s beyond a place, yet where we belong.
Is there somewhere in your life where you experience a sense of belonging with God that helps you remember your baptism? Besides a community, a family, or church home, you might experience a profound sense of belonging and being loved in a moment. It might be stepping into a warm bath when your body’s been chilled and your muscles are sore. It might be crying with a friend who knows exactly what to say and has that cozy spot in their arm that you can just nuzzle into and everything feels OK. It might be dancing how the Spirit’s leading you and everyone who sees you doesn’t think twice about it. Those moments are remembering your baptism, your home, your faith community foundation.
This week, I saw a church I used to work for passing around an image on Facebook responding to recent homophobic statements from a singer and minister in Texas. The image said “You aren’t embarrassing to God . . . you’re essential to God!” The image reminded me of this week’s scripture about how God looks down on Jesus after John baptized him and the heavens open up and God says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Jesus’ baptism makes a home for God and humanity where God declares that we are essential to God! Welcome home, here is where you belong. Remembering this belonging is remembering our baptism.
In the Presbyterian church, you only need to be baptized once, but remembering our baptism is a continuous journey in our faith community. I admit to the struggle of remembering one’s baptism and finding that sense of home and place in Christ. That’s why I share some of these stories and images—to help make that connection. We don’t have a baptism in this service today, but often when someone is baptized, the minister holds up that baby (if it is a baby) and walks up and down the aisle reminding people of their baptism, reminding one another the vow we take in other people’s baptism “to guide and nurture each other by word and deed, with love and prayer, encouraging one another to know and follow Christ and to be faithful members of his church.”
As Jesus entered into a faith community in baptism, we are in this messy and beautiful Christian community through our baptisms. Remembering that sense of belonging and home in Christ is something we’ve got to help each other out with, especially in these times.
Thinking back to those moments in the pew of my childhood church, watching my dad hold up that water jug, pouring it into the font, proclaiming “Remember your baptism,” I wish I could go back and pause those moments. I wish I could whisper into that little Abbi’s ear “You are loved,” clarifying my confusion. Don’t you wish you could go back in moments of your life and give yourself that same reminder? This is that reminder now. You are loved. You are essential to God. With Jesus, you are home. So in this moment today, let us remember our baptism. Let us remember that in the Christian roots of our baptism, we are called and collected, named and protected through the radical love and grace, the Word and the life of Jesus Christ. Amen.