Isaiah 42:1-9, Matthew 3:13-17
January 13, 2007
How many of you remember your baptism? I suspect with a lot of us having Presbyterian backgrounds, there aren’t too many who can actually remember that event. And I’m sure that’s the case for those who have Catholic roots, as well. That’s because most of us were probably baptized as infants. And we were so young we couldn’t possibly remember.
Well, today is the day we think about the Baptism of Jesus, and I’d like to take this occasion to have us think about and remember our own baptism, even though we may not have any actual memories of that event. I’d like to have us consider these words that are part of the baptism ceremony, and to recognize the importance of those words in our lives.
Let me start by reminding us a few things about the sacrament itself. We Presbyterians recognize Baptism in two forms. Infant Baptism, and Adult Baptism. (Sometimes called “Believer Baptism.”) And as good Presbyterians, I hope that we can see the value of both. In infant baptism, we emphasize the beginning of the process of Christian nurture. The parents are asked to state their faith in Jesus Christ, and pledge themselves to raise the Child in the faith. The end of the process is that child coming to and stating their faith at the time of Confirmation.
In Adult Baptism, the person receiving the sacrament is asked to state their own faith. That would be someone whose parents chose not to have them baptized as an infant, so that they might experience the sacrament first hand later on. Or it may be someone who was not raised in the faith as a child. That’s becoming the case more and more as the generation X children come back to the church after their parents went away.
Now, even though those two forms of Baptism are slightly different, both are still thought of as similar in that they are both “entry points” into the household of God. Baptism is something we do when a person comes into a congregation. It used to be the baptismal font was kept at the back of the sanctuary. It represented the entry point into the life of the congregation. That’s why Presbyterians don’t have private baptisms. Along with the Lord’s Supper, we consider the sacraments to be “community events.” They are events of the whole congregation. That’s why when we take communion to people in their homes, we always take representatives of the congregation with us. As a Presbyterian minister, I try to honor that understanding. I always try to take with me a Deacon, or an Elder, or anybody for that matter, to represent the Church.
As much as I see the value in both forms of baptism, the one problem I do see with infant baptism, is that those who receive sacrament at that point in their lives don’t tend to remember the event as they get older. Because of that, some ministers include in a baptism ceremony an opportunity for all of the people present to remember their own baptismal vows. I’m going to give us that opportunity in just a little while.
If you look on the back of your bulletin, you’ll find the vows we use in the baptism ceremony. I had Donna put them there so we can remember those words which you spoke when you were baptized, or more likely your parents spoke on your behalf. If you don’t remember your own baptismal vows, perhaps you remember those spoken by others, or ones you spoke at the baptism of your own children. If not perhaps you remember your “confirmation vows.” The questions and answers in that ceremony are very similar. And that makes sense, because in confirmation, we “confirm” those vows that were taken for us at our baptism. They are the public acknowledgment of that faith your family – and your Church family – pledged to raise you in, the faith in Jesus Christ. I’d like us to consider these words again today, and I’d like us to think of them as a renewal of our commitment to Jesus Christ.
As we consider these words, I want us to think a little bit about what it is we do in this sacrament. It used to be in Baptism that we gave a great deal of emphasis to the idea of the cleansing of “Original Sin.” In fact, that was a big part of the development of the infant form of baptism. People went that direction because they wanted to make sure the child’s soul was “taken care of” – just in case something were to happen.
We Presby’s tend not to emphasize that as much. We talk more about Infant Baptism as the beginning of the process of Christian nurture. And I know there’s still some of the other feelings here, but what I want us to understand here is that this is not just something we “get done” for the Child. A lot of parents think of it that way. They think of baptism as something you do to a child for their protection – like their immunizations. Too many parents “get the child done” and then think nothing of the process of Christian nurture. Even though they made those pledges and took those vows you see on the back of the bulletin! It’s as though in the waters of baptism we were nothing more than an “inoculation” against sin or its consequences. But there is so much more in this sacrament!!! This is the beginning of the process of raising a child in the faith!
Now, at the same time, I don’t want you to think that the water we use here has no importance. On the contrary! This water takes on a mystical nature that we can’t begin to fathom. In fact, I think anyone who thinks they have the “full understanding” of how the water in Baptism works, they’d better think again. There is more here than we can ever possibly understand fully. But as important as that is, I believe the biggest part of this actual ceremony takes place in the vows. It is the “belief in our hearts, and the confession with our lips,” as Paul says, that makes the difference. It is our trust in God, and our confession of faith in Jesus Christ, that establishes our relationship with him.
The waters of baptism are a symbol of that. That’s at least one important function of the water we use here. As one liturgy book explains it, the water is an “outward sign of an inward change.” What we do here is that we establish a place of “remembrance.” Just like Jesus did with the elements of communion. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you remember…” This is that experience that we remember as the time we stated publicly that we belong to God. David Willis, one of my professors at Seminary once said, “That’s why we should use a lot of water!” We should be making this experience memorable! Almost traumatic! Baptism should be an event to be remembered!
Think about it. Throughout our Christian lives, we celebrate again and again certain events – certain “memory points.” Every year, we celebrate the time God came into this world as a man, Jesus. We remember his life. We remember his death and resurrection. We celebrate the beginnings of his Church on Pentecost. God recognized that such remembrances are important to us humans. We celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. We celebrate New Years, Columbus day, and we remember our Veterans. Now we remember the 11th of September, though that is not such a happy memory. God recognized that such things are important to us people. In fact, it was God who created us that way in the first place.
If you think about it, though, the one part of our faith that we don’t remember and celebrate all that often, is the part that is perhaps the most important to us. We don’t celebrate on any kind of regular basis that time when we first came to our faith. I‘d like us to consider using this occasion, the Baptism of Jesus, as a time to celebrate that event. Amazingly enough, it comes at the start of a new year. And that can represent for us a new beginning in our lives. This can represent for us a time when that verse became true in our lives, “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. The old is finished and done, behold the new has come.”
So invite you, to remember your Baptism today. I invite you to reaffirm your baptismal vows with me. Maybe it would be a good idea if we did that every year at this time! Let me know what you think. In the meantime, turn with me now to the backs of your bulletins. As we do this, remember that time of beginning of your life of faith in God through his son, Jesus Christ.
Renewal of Baptism Vows
Q: Who is your Lord and Savior?
A: Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.
Q: Do you trust him?
A: I do.
Q: Do you intend to be his disciple, to obey his word, and to show his love?
A: I do.
Since we are baptized into a congregation, we ask this last question.
Q: Do you the people of the Church recognize that you are body of Christ and individually members of him, and do you promise to share together the good news of the gospel, to learn together and encourage one another to follow all that Christ commands, and by your fellowship, to strengthen each others ties with the household of God?
A: I do.
Eternal God, we thank you for creating us in your image, and making us your children. Help us to move forward in our faith, remembering the joy of our salvation and our new life in you. Help us to know your presence, now and always. For this we pray in our Savior’s name, Amen.