Sunday, January 10, 2021

Outward Sign of Inward Grace


"I indeed have baptized you with water, but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost" Mark 1:8 

Those are the words of John the Baptist as he was baptizing people in the Jordan River for the remission of sin and inviting people to become a part of the coming kingdom of God that Jesus Christ was going to be ushering in. While he was preaching and baptizing people, Jesus came to be baptized. And John was reluctant to baptize Jesus because he thought that Jesus should be the one to baptize him because he recognized Jesus to be the Messiah, the lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. But Jesus insisted and John baptized Jesus in the river. And the Bible tells us that during this baptism, that the Holy Spirit descended in bodily shape like a dove and landed on Jesus. So we see all these outward signs. We heard the voice. We didn't. We hear it through the scriptures, but the people who were standing there heard the voice of God saying, "This is my beloved son in whom I'm well pleased."

Transcript of sermon
Preached Extemporaneously [Video] on January 10, 2021
for Briensburg UMC

And ever since that time, from that time to this, people have been continuing to follow Jesus in baptism. In that moment, baptism took on a new and deeper significance. John emphasized how his baptism was a baptism with water. But the baptism of Jesus would be the baptism with the Holy Spirit.

Forgiveness, Renewal, Empowerment, Sanctification

 I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.   Mark 1:8 (KJV)

And with that spiritual baptism came the forgiveness that was pointed to in the water baptism of John, the repentance and forgiveness and remission of sins. But more because it also brought the spiritual baptism, the inner baptism that is pointed to with that outward baptism, brings renewal of our souls and empowerment with the spiritual gifts and sanctification, the continuous cleansing of our souls more and more all the time or, as John Wesley put it in Love Divine All Loves Excelling, "changed from glory into glory till in heaven we take our place."

It was a constant renewal, a constant improvement that we hopefully are making, even though sometimes it seems like we take one step forward and two steps back because we're still struggling with all of this and wading through it. An empowerment to minister our spiritual gifts and the power to love one another as Christ has loved us, even though we fall short in that also because another area that we're always kind of struggling with and maybe slogging through muddy ground, trying to move forward and not always knowing exactly how and coming up short. And that renewal that we experience in Christ is an ongoing daily, hourly, minute by minute, full of second chances, full of new opportunities, full of things being put behind us and other things opening up in front of us.

And the forgiveness that we experience in Christ also is ongoing, a constant process of reconciliation as we face ourselves honestly a little bit more each day. We try to encourage each other to take a look at ourselves at least every day, and to evaluate what we've been doing and what we have not been doing and think about where the improvements can be made so that the next day, perhaps, we can do better. And all of this is full of second chances, new life, new opportunity, laying aside that which is passed and picking up what lies before us and taking advantage of the opportunities and the challenges and the calling that God has for us for the future, the infinite future, the eternal future.

And all of this we consider today as we celebrate the baptism of the Lord, which we do annually in our denomination along with other denominations throughout the body of Christ and celebrating this time when Jesus came to be baptized. We celebrate that as a sacrament in our theological tradition, that is a sign act with words that has an impact on our lives, an effectiveness in our lives, this outward sign. I think of it sometimes like a wedding ring as an outward sign of an inward invisible bond. And so that's what this water baptism is. It's a sign of a connection going on deep within us, what the spirit is doing within us. And that's a gift from God that God gives us not by our own power or knowledge or belief or any of the work that we do or anything that we do, but as a gift from God. It's the grace of God that saves us. It's the grace of God that is pointed to in this baptism with water. Then we're brought into the fellowship of Christ with that.

And we've been looking at the best part of heaven as we go through Epiphany this time. Last time we talked about how we believe in the Holy Spirit. And this time we've been using the Apostles' Creed, and we're going to use the Nicene Creed along with that, because that goes right along, they go together. One is more expanded, the Nicene Creed, and one is more brief, the Apostles' Creed. But they have just about the same things and the same structure, except that the part that we're going to bring up today. And that I'm bringing up is with the baptism, because in the Apostles' Creed it doesn't say anything about baptism. But in the Nicene Creed it says, "I believe in one baptism for the remission of sins." The Apostles' Creed does talk about forgiveness of sins. And then we'll address that another week. But of course, I mean, that's a part of all of our conversations anyway, but focus more on that another week.

But this first part of that that's in the Nicene Creed, I believe in the one baptism. And so that is some pages for us to put our thoughts around today and this weekend as we reflect on the baptism of Jesus and our own baptism. And that we're grateful for our own baptism.

Born of water and the spirit

Unless a person submits to this original creation—the ‘wind-hovering-over-the-water’ creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life—it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom.

John 3:5 (MSG)

In his conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus said, talking about being born again and he said this. This is how it is in the message. "Unless a person submits to this original creation, the wind hovering over the water creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into new life, it's not possible to enter God's kingdom." That is kind of drawn out a little bit translation of a verse that says in the King James that more simply that unless we're born of water and the spirit, we can't see the kingdom of God. We can't perceive it. We can't realize it and see what... can't tell where it is or what it is. And of course, he goes on to talk about the Holy Spirit and how the wind blows where it will. You can't see it, but it's there working nonetheless. And so same thing with this.

And if we're not, as the message puts it, submitting to the original creation of God, of what he created us for. If we're not engaged in that, then we're not going to be able to perceive this heavenly kingdom, this invisible spiritual kingdom, even though it's happening all around us.

So well, the best part of heaven is our relationships. And the baptism does point to our relationship with God and with each other. This spiritual significance, this outward, visible sign of the inward and invisible grace. One way that Paul talks about it is as being clothed in Christ. And he said in Galatians, and this is in the message also translation, "By faith in Christ you are in direct relationship with God. Your baptism in Christ was not just washing you up for a fresh start. It also involved dressing you in an adult faith wardrobe, Christ's life, the fulfillment of God's original promise."

Put on Christ

By faith in Christ you are in direct relationship with God. Your baptism in Christ was not just washing you up for a fresh start. It also involved dressing you in an adult faith wardrobe—Christ’s life, the fulfillment of God’s original promise. Galatians 3:27 (MSG)

In our funeral ritual, we have some of these verses that are so important to us throughout life that are taken in different ways, pulled together in the ritual. And one of them is this part here when we say, "As in baptism, we have put on Christ. So now may we," our family and friends who've gone on, "may they be clothed in glory as they have put on Christ. Now, may they be clothed in glory." And this putting on of Christ is a powerful image because just like our shirt, we put that on and that becomes our garment. That's what we're wearing. That's how we go out. That's how we go in. That becomes a part of our whole appearance and our whole approach to life that day, by what we're wearing.

There are several examples of this through the scripture where the attire is described for the priestly attire in the Old Testament to the wedding attire that Jesus talks about in his perils of the wedding feast about people can come from, doesn't matter where they come from or what they've been up to. They're invited to become a part of this fellowship, but they are expected, as the wedding they're invited to the wedding, they're still expected to put on the right clothes when they get there and come to it. And we still have those expectations that we will cloth ourselves in dressed in his righteousness alone as one song puts it, that we will close ourselves in love and goodness, and in good works and in a good relationship and reconciled relationship with God and with each other and with all of creation. So we put on this new life, we put this on as a garment and dress and it becomes an image of who we are.

Mystical Unity

There is one body and one Spirit, just as there is one hope to which God has called you. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, there is one God and Father of all people, who is Lord of all, works through all, and is in all.           Ephesians 4:4-6 (GNT)

In Paul's letter to the Ephesians, he speaks this way, and this is in the Good News translation. He said, "There is one body and one spirit just as there is one hope to which God has called you. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism. There is one God and father of all people who is Lord of all and works through all and is in all."

A part of the effective nature of our baptism or the part of that actually produces actual change for us, an actual result, it begins with the application of the water itself because everybody that gets baptized gets baptized by somebody who has been baptized by somebody else, going all the way back to the time when John baptized Jesus. And before that, when he was baptizing other people. It includes everybody who's been baptized by somebody who's been baptized. So there's a physical connection there.

In the laying on of hands for people who were baptized through an application of water in the hand and sprinkling or pouring, or in the immersion where somebody is held and immersed, all of those is a physical contact with the water and with the person extending the baptism to another person and bringing them into that fellowship of everybody who's ever been baptized in all time for all these thousands of years. That's quite a connection to contemplate and to think about where all those people are now. Most of them are in heaven and we'll all join them shortly. And we're all, in the meantime, scattered around the world. And there's a lot of us here in the world and a lot are crossing now as one of the Wesley hymns says, many have crossed before and it's a lot of crossing even now at this hour. People are crossing over from the physical, seen state to the unseen spiritual state. And yet that relationship remains that began with this baptism in water.

As we sort of migrate our thoughts or let our thoughts morph to the spiritual, more spiritual and less tangible part of this baptism, the spirit baptism part of it that John pointed to Jesus about, baptized with the Holy Spirit. Even the water that touches us and even when we touch water and apply it to ourselves or have it applied to us in a renewal of our baptismal covenant, or reaffirmation of our baptismal covenant, then even that water we know is recycled and it travels everywhere. Who knows where all that water has been over the centuries and over the millennia and since the beginning of creation, when the spirit of God moved across the face of the waters.

And that's something just keep your mind busy on to contemplate the unity of Christ and of God's creation. Just think about the water cycle and how the water that we touch and that we absorb and how then it goes and gets recycled and comes back to us again in the clouds from other parts of the world and is carried from here to other parts of the world underground and in the air and everywhere.

So that water is a pretty powerful image of something that is a part of our everyday life, a part of our existence. Most of our body, most of the earth, most of anybody else's body of all the other creatures that God ever made is, most of that is composed of water. And we need a continuous supply of it. Can't live without it.

That's how it is with the Spirit of God. We're connected together with the breath of God, with that invisible connection with God and with each other, with all who have gone before and all even who are yet to come and all who are scattered around the world, wherever they may be in this moment. Those that are being born and being received into the fellowship of humanity and then into this fellowship of the mystery. Paul also speaks out of him in Ephesians, as he's lifting this up. And becoming a part of the body of Christ, becoming a part of the love and fellowship and friendship and family of God and growing, and we grow and learn, and we nurture each other and encourage each other in faith. And together then, but we're one body in Christ and growing into the oneness and the unity of him that filleth all in all.

And that gives us plenty of room to think about things. All in all, that means, as I say, all means y'all and y'all. All of humanity, all of creation, all of everything that is a part of who God is, what God has created, what God has wrought in us and in eternity. So it's a mystical unity and a sign of our mystical unity in Christ. It goes beyond us as the people of God and the fellowship of believers. But we do have this distinction as the mystical body of Christ that is represented in the baptism and is pointing to this spiritual unity that makes us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in service to all the world. We are called and authorized in our baptism to extend the love of Christ to the rest of the world.

Bring Everyone into the Relationship

Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Matthew 28:19 (GNT)

We're called and empowered in our baptism to love everybody around us, regardless of what they believe or don't believe and to extend to them the grace and love and forgiveness that God has poured into us. This is where we become vessels they say of the living water. And we extend that to the world around us. We're united in our service as the people who are a part of the body of Christ. And we bring everyone else into it. That's the great commission that we have in Christ, where Jesus said, "Go then to all people everywhere and make them my disciples. Baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." That's how Matthew 28:19 is phrased in the Good News Testament.

We go, we baptize, we bring people into discipleship. We bring them into the fellowship of the body of Christ, of people who are disciples of Jesus who are living into that role. We're learning how to live as Jesus has invited us to live. We're learning how to serve as Jesus has invited us to serve. That's our discipleship is to become who God has created us to become and to bring others into that same experience of learning and growing together, encouraging and strengthening each other.

So may God bless you in your quest as you seek a deeper relationship with your creator and with all of God's creation. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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