- Romans 6:1-11
- Matthew 3:13-17; 28:16-20
- Acts 2:38-39
Baptized by Water, Spirit, & Blood
It was a time of turmoil and terror. The world and the church seemed to be unraveling. Cries of heresy and charges of civil disobedience would fill the air. Fears heightened even as faith deepened.
In that tumultuous time faith prevailed over fear. It was no small matter in these days of life and death decisions. A tribute to human stamina – yes! Yet even more it bore witness to the presence of God, the life of Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit for life even in death. Indeed what was known all too well was that the word for witness meant martyr-witness .
At least that is how the witness was lived from within the Anabaptist stream of the early 16 th century reformation. True it looked and sounded very different from outside the radical reformation of the emerging Anabaptist movement.
The birth of the Anabaptist movement can even be located in a particular time and place and ritual act of worship. The time was 1525, the day was January 21, the place was outside Zurich, the ritual act of worship was baptism – or baptisms. Reformation battles were ratcheting up, tempers flared, accusations flew, as the church splintered into various self-proclaimed “true churches” to the exclusion or even persecution of others.
That baptismal act on January 21, in 1525, charted a course that is still ours today. It charted a radical reformation course against whom the accusation “Anabaptist” was hurled threatening the lives of our ancestors. The label “Anabaptist” meant the heresy of re-baptizers or literally “over-again-baptizers.” A few of these Anabaptists had gathered in secret in a home near Zurich to study the Bible together and encourage one another in steadfast love and faith and to prepare for serious debates about baptism with Ulrich Zwingli, a Reformation preacher and leader in Zurich. Suddenly one of the men, George Blaurock demanded of Conrad Grebel, “Baptize me!” The circle of believers shocked even though their conversation was about adult believer’s baptism as the only biblical and valid baptism. Infant baptism, they argued, was not baptism because a baby cannot decide to follow Jesus for all of life. Finally Conrad Grebel baptized George Blaurock, whereupon Blaurock baptized the others in the room. That devout and defiant act as much as any gives birth and definition to these radical disciples of Jesus Christ.
From January 21, 1525 to this day, the heirs of Anabaptism, including we who are Mennonites, have baptized adults or believers rather than children or infants. It was a defining act of allegiance to Jesus Christ alone and worship of God alone.
Baptism of Jesus
Let us now step back fifteen hundred years earlier before that dramatic baptismal night into another defining baptismal scene and command that launched and culminated Jesus’ ministry on earth.
For the past 6 weeks of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, we have waited and celebrated God’s incarnate coming into the world in the person of an innocent baby Jesus. Then from last Sunday to this Sunday we jump ahead 30 years in Jesus’ life from being an infant to being a young adult about 30 years old. Jesus brackets his ministry with baptism. Jesus inaugurates his public ministry by being baptized and his last command is about baptism. These two baptismal moments bracket these three years of Jesus’ life from 30 to 33 years old.
If you are around 30 years old, imagine yourself in Jesus’ sandals. You’ve been hearing about a wild-eyed wilderness preacher known as JB — John the Baptist. JB is calling for repentance and baptizing people in the Jordan River. So you go down to the river to pray and encounter JB. You have a sense that it is time – your ministry is about to begin. You inaugurate your ministry by walking out into the Jordan River and tell JB to “Baptize me.” John has been baptizing many others and he has been preaching to them about preparing the way for the Coming One. Now he sees in you, Jesus requesting baptism. And he protests, “Whoa! Wait a minute. I can’t baptize you. You the man – the Messiah, God’s anointed one. You don’t need baptizing. I need to be baptized by you.”
But you insist that he baptize you, saying, “It’s got to be this way to fulfill God’s righteousness plan.” So JB consents and dunks you right there in the river baptizing you. Just as John is bringing you up out of the waters of your baptism, you see the clouds open up and a dove-like Spirit descending and a distant voice say, “You are my own Beloved child. I’m super pleased with you.” By that time you know that this is for real and you better be paying close attention to this God-voice.
Listen to Matthew telling of this inaugural story.
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan,
to be baptized by him.
John would have prevented Jesus, saying,
‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’
But Jesus answered John,
‘Let it be so now;
for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.’
Then John consented [and baptized Jesus].
And when Jesus had been baptized,
just as he came up from the water,
suddenly the heavens were opened to Jesus
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.’
As a 30 year old Jesus, you go about your public ministry for the next three years. We know your story. But we have a love-hate relationship with you. We follow you excitedly listening to your stories. We even watch in wonder, half-awed, half-terrified as you confront righteous folk and religious leaders who get angrier and angrier at you.
Finally you become so much of a threat that the anger and plots against you escalate to the point that you are arrested and tried for subversion. We all flee and you are crucified. But lo and behold you rise from the dead on the third day awing and shocking us. Again we are drawn to you yet we are riddled with doubt. Finally the last thing you tell us there on that mountain, is, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. As you go about your lives and faith in the world, make disciples of all peoples that seek to follow me, baptize them. Teach them to obey all that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the world and end of time.”
Listen to Matthew’s telling of this last command of Jesus.
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee,
to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.
When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.
And Jesus came and said to them,
‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that
I have commanded you.
And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
So it is today and ever will be. Amen.
Remembering Our Baptism
And so we continue this baptismal practice and remember our baptism today. We remember the baptisms we have witnessed. In so doing we continue this first act of Jesus inaugurating his public life and final command of Jesus ending his life on earth. Except….Jesus’ life on earth hasn’t ended precisely because we live out Jesus act and command and thereby, become Jesus. That is we are baptized into the body of Christ so that Jesus Christ still has life and faith on earth.
This morning, in this first Sunday of remembering three Anabaptist practices – next Sunday will be the love feast and following Sunday will be foot washing – we remember the inaugurating role and ritual of baptism for our lives and for the life of the church.
This week as I pondered and prayed with Jesus’ baptism, I thought about how many people have been baptized in the nearly two thousand years since then. In my remembering many baptismal scenes came to me.
- I remember my own baptism on a summer Sunday morning when I was 16, although I am sorry to say that I don’t remember the exact date I was baptized.
- I remember baptizing our son in Cincinnati Mennonite Fellowship one Sunday morning in the early 1990s.
- I remember Brenda Bellamy’s baptism as part of an Easter sunrise service on Matthew’s Beach on Easter Sunday in April 1995. I remember baptizing many of you here in this church. I remember Rob Murray’s baptism one summer Sunday noon in the lake near their home. Rob’s baptism is the only one I have done in a lake.
- I remember renewing baptismal vows in the Jordan River when Marg and I were in Israel and Palestine in February 1987. We took off our shoes, rolled up our pants legs and walked into the waters of the Jordan where Jesus was baptized, saying to each other, “Remember your baptism and renew your baptismal vow to Jesus Christ.”
Along a different line, baptism also finds a way into stories and movies. How many of you remember the film, “Oh Brother, where art thou?” Marg and I saw it again last weekend. One of the best known songs and scenes in “Oh brother, where art thou,” is a baptismal scene while singing “As I went down to the river.” You remember how three escaped prisoners on the chain gang, Everett, Pete, and Delmar, come upon a band of singers dressed in white robes walking down to the river singing this beautiful song we just sang: “As I went down to the river.” As white-robed folks are dunked in the river and baptized, Delmar suddenly goes running down the river bank to the head of the line and is baptized. Pete also is baptized. Delmar declares confidently, “I have been redeemed! All my sins and transgressions have been washed away. Neither God nor man got nothing on me now. I’m gonna walk the straight and narrow.” Everett alone held out and refused to be baptized. He evens calls Pete and Delmar “Dumber than a bag of hammers” for being baptized. From outside the beloved community, baptism no doubt is an act and commitment that makes us appear to be “dumber than a bag of hammers.” However, remember what the Apostle Paul says about the upside-down tension of wisdom and foolishness for God and humanity (1 Corinthians 18-25).
Baptized and Beloved – for Life rather than Death
How many of you remember your birth?
How many of you expect to remember your death?
Those may seem like odd questions to ask. If so, remember the wisdom Flannery O’Connor offered to Christians, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.”
Our birth and death are something of a mystery which we don’t and won’t remember. The oddity and irony of the Christian life is that the mystery of Jesus’ life and death and rising to new life with God is the form and formula for our life with God in Christ. We are born, we die, and we rise to new life with Christ. But our birthing, dying, and rising are not just the beginning and end of this life leading to an eternal after-life. In baptism we who have been born into this world in God’s image, die to false self and sin and rise to new life in Christ as a rebirth. For the rest of our life we are to live into the meaning and fullness of our baptism with Christ into the Body of Christ.
In this rhythm of living, dying, and rising again in baptism, we make a choice – it is a choice and commitment for Jesus and against empire, it is a choice for God’s kingdom and against kingdoms of violence and domination. It is a choice everyone makes whether they know it or not – a choice for or against God, a choice for or against empire. It is the choice already posed to God’s people long before in the Deuteronomist’s words from God: “I have set before you life and death….Choose life… Deuteronomy 30:19.
If that sounds too big and too hard to face, remember, you are not baptized alone and left on your own. You are baptized into God’s beloved community and called beloved. You are God’s beloved one and Jesus will be with you in the beloved community for all of life and time and eternity.
If you have been baptized, remember your baptism and be renewed as God’s beloved. If you have not been baptized, remember Jesus’ baptism and command to baptize and remember the baptisms you have witnessed. See these baptisms as an invitation to this beautiful life in the beloved community of God’s people.
Jesus said, “As you go, be baptized and baptize….even to the end of life and time.”