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January 12, 2014 - Matthew 3.13-17

“Been Through the Water”

Matthew 3:13-17

January 12, 2014

 

13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16And 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. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

“Remember your baptism,” we say in our times of baptismal renewal. For some of us here today, that seems a tough demand. Remember our baptism. I have only a few memories of my baptism, which occurred on Easter Sunday 1974 when I was 7 years old.

And yet we realize that we use the word “remember” in at least a twofold sense. We can mean “remember” in the sense of calling to mind a past event like, “Remember the tsunami of December 2004.” But we can also mean “remember” in the sense of waking up, calling to mind something that is true, like, “Now remember what you are to do in the case of a fire,” or, “Remember that public speaking is one of your gifts.” I think it is really important not only that we remember our Baptism but to also remember that we are baptized people.

Martin Luther, Protestant reformer, said that there is no greater comfort to the Christian, in times of testing and difficulty, than to remember your baptism and be thankful. Why? A major reason is that baptism is a sign that the Christian life isn’t dependent upon what you do but is rather dependent upon what God has done for you and through you in Jesus Christ.

You will note in the story of Jesus’ baptism that Jesus shows up on the banks of the Jordan River as a passive recipient of John’s baptism. This is the first time in the gospel that we have seen Jesus in action and he is not really in action, not preaching or healing, but rather receiving.

John the Baptist, who seems to know who Jesus really is, is troubled by Jesus coming to him for baptism. Is this any way for a Messiah to act? Coming out here in the desert and subjecting himself to the baptism of this wild desert preacher?

Jesus says that he does this to “fulfill all righteousness.” What is “righteousness”? In this instance, to be righteous means to submit to the will of God, to align oneself with God’s intentions. And remember, that’s what happened in your baptism. This was a public sign, just as Jesus’ baptism was a public sign, of an intention to submit your life to God’s desires and intentions for your life. Remember, the life you live is not your own. Remember, your life has been commandeered by the God who gave you life. Remember, God not only wants to give you life but also wants to give you meaning in your life, a vocation, a sense of direction, a part to play in the grand panorama of God’s work in the world.

One reason the church offers weekly worship of God is because it’s so easy, in your life in the world, to forget what matters, to lose sight of who you really are and are meant to be.  It’s easy to lose sight that it is God who is most responsible for who you are and your salvation.  None of us saved ourselves.  Our baptism is a whole lot more about God than it is us.  It would be good for the church to remember that.

 

Peter Hiett, in Dance Lessons for Zombies, satirizes some of the frantic, anxious efforts in the contemporary church to build up the church by our efforts, to take matters into our savvy hands, rather than passively allowing God to use our obedience to grow the church. He writes: 

Management. I have learned a lot about building a successful church, thanks to a plethora of valuable resources, and found that we are woefully inadequate. So I’ve taken:
     Twelve Keys to an Effective Church,
     Four Principles of the Disciple-Making Pastor,
     Six Stages of Building a Contagious Church,
     Five Points of the Purpose-Driven Church,” and the
     Popular Model for the Prevailing Church,
. . . and combined them all into the “Dynamic Salt and Light Strategy for Global Conquest: Twenty-seven Key Disciple-Making Principles, Purposeful Stages of the Contagious, Prevailing Church.”
Contemporary pastors are pressured to adopt the world’s means rather than be dependent upon God’s means:

We live in a market society with a management economy – hundreds of companies with the same product. The one that markets and manages best wins. This is Jesus’ management scheme:
•    He chose twelve guys to be with Him – twelve guys the world and religion considered losers. (As far as we know, not one of them chose twelve more guys, duplicating the scheme!)
•    At one point the crowd tried to make Jesus king, and He ran away. How’s that for management?
•    In the New Testament, Jesus healed people, raised the dead, and then commanded people not to tell. If we think there’s a miracle, we market it and manage it.

 A few years ago, a national survey ranked 71 professions regarding their perceived honesty and integrity. TV evangelist was sixty-eighth, right after prostitute and right before organized crime boss.

It seems the more we market ourselves and manage our churches like big business, the less people believe, the less we must look like Jesus, and the less it must seem that we’re relying on Jesus. Maybe that’s why the church in the United States is not growing.

However, the church in Russia, Africa, and China is growing like crazy . . . where marketing, management, and professionalism are often illegal!
I’m absolutely inundated with literature and conferences on “How to Build a Successful Church” and “How to Manage a Successful Discipleship Program.” Discipleship is not a program; it’s a life that rubs off on another life, seasoning, flavoring, and permeating that life like salt.

 

One of the reasons why when most folks get married they invite family and friends to join them for the wedding is because they want the presence and support of those who are close to them. But it is also good for the visitors at the wedding. Every wedding is an opportunity to recall and remember your own wedding vows. 

Looking back on my own wedding, I don’t remember as much about it as I want to – I remember the storm during the rehearsal, and the lack of air conditioning, and the 100 pounds of rice put into my Buick by my brother! Looking back on my own wedding day, I can’t remember what I said or what was said to me by Becky. That’s why we saved the programs and stuff.  That’s why it’s good to attend a wedding and there to be reminded, “I said these same vows. I promised fidelity just as this couple is doing.”  That’s why it was great to experience Jim and Karen renewing their vows last Sunday.  Those of us who are married got reminded of what we all promised.

So whenever I baptize anyone, I always try to invite the congregation to remember your baptism because, as the baptized, you share in what is happening. As Karl Barth once said, “Remember your baptism and be thankful!”

The church teaches that baptism is something God does to us rather than a ritual that is done by us. Baptism is a gift of God that is bestowed upon us. The recipient of baptism is therefore in a rather passive position, reminding us of how we stand with God throughout our lives.

 

I read of a young woman who was telling her pastor about an ethical dilemma that had occurred in her life in which she was confronted, while in a social situation, with an ethical quandary. Should she go along with the group’s pressure and submit to what they were urging her to do?

“At that moment I came to my senses and I remembered, I’m a Christian,” she said. “I live by a different set of values. I’ve been claimed. I’ve got expectations laid on me by Jesus. I knew what I had to do.”

In that moment of remembrance, she came to her senses and remembered her baptism, remembered that the life she was living was not her own. She was baptized. She was “claimed.” Baptism, as we have noted, is a sign that our salvation, our relationship with God is totally dependent upon God.

 

My favorite song about baptism was written by Kyle Matthews.  It’s called “Been Through the Water”, and I like how it sums up the difference that our baptism represents:

Preacher pulled the boy up from the water
Alleluias rose from the banks
There was a new suit of clothes from his Father
And a prayer of thanks

The boy walked barefooted all the way home for dinner
And when they laughed at his muddy feet...

He said I've been through the water and I've come out clean
Got new clothes to cover me
And you don't wear your old shoes on your brand new feet
When you've been through the water
Ah been through the water

Preacher turned them around at the altar
Pronounced the boy and his girl "man and wife"
In two years they were Mother and Father
And they built them a life
And his old girlfriend saw a moment of weakness
And she said "If you're lonely come see me sometime..."

He said I've been through the water and I've come out clean
Got new clothes to cover me
And you don't wear your old shoes on your brand new feet
When you've been through the water
Ah been through the water

He baits a hook with his grandson of seven
And says "Soon, I'll be free from these pains."
The boy asked if he's ever been to heaven
He says "No... but I think I know the way... 'cause I've been through the water..."

I've been through the water and I've come out clean
Got new clothes to cover me
And you don't wear your old shoes on your brand new feet
When you've been through the water
Ah been through the water