Does anybody want to hear my favorite baptism joke?
A old guy stumbled upon a baptismal service one Sunday afternoon down by the river. It was down south, back in the day, and this guy walked right down into the water and stood next to the preacher. The preacher turned and noticed the old guy and said, "Mister, Are you ready to find Jesus?" The guy looked back and said, "Yes, Preacher. I sure am." The preacher then dunked the fellow under the water and pulled him right back up.
"Have you found Jesus?" the preacher asked. "No, I haven't!" said the guy. The preacher then dunked him under for a bit longer, brought him up and said, "Now, brother, have you found Jesus?" "No, I haven't, Preacher." The preacher in disgust held the man under for at least 30 seconds this time, brought him out of the water and said in a harsh tone, "Friend, are you sure you haven't found Jesus yet?" The old guy wiped his eyes, gasping for breath and said to the preacher,."Naw preacher, are you sure this is where he fell in?”
Well, the good news is that today, no one is getting dunked in a river. The better news is that we are all definitely going to find Jesus!
This idea of dunking in the river started back in the time of Jesus when his cousin John was baptizing huge crowds of people in the river Jordan.
Nadia Bolz Weber helps us imagine the scene: A mass of unwashed sinners all crowding around, waiting their turn. Sun beating down, mosquitoes buzzing, children screaming. You see, John the Baptist had been preaching about preparing the way of the Lord and yelling for repentance. People were coming in droves to get that fresh start.
John’s arms must have been tired from dunking that many people in the river. One person after another. Preparing that one for the Lord and then the next one for the Lord and then wait a minute, the next guy IS the Lord! The next guy in line to be baptized was Jesus. John and his cousin Jesus then have an argument over who should be doing the baptizing. John doesn’t think he is worthy to baptize the Lord but Jesus insists that he is.
Jesus wins the argument … duh. John gives in and baptizes Jesus. And then things get crazy – the heavens open, the spirit descends and God speaks. It’s like the heavens could not contain the love of God and it just kind of had to spill out all over everything.
God the Father says; “This is my son, the beloved with whom I am well pleased”. God says this before Jesus had really done anything. Think about that. God did not say “this is my son in whom I am well pleased because he has proved to me that he deserves it, he has quiet time with me each morning and always reads his Torah and because boy, can he heal a leper.” Nope. As far as we know Jesus hadn’t even done anything yet and he was called beloved. The one in whom the Father was well pleased.
Now in your own baptisms, God proclaims that in you, his beloved children, God is also well pleased. In the waters of your baptism, God claims you and names you as God’s own. You are God’s beloved.
Back in the day, John was preaching a baptism of repentance. The word for it was metanoia. So it was not so much about repent, feel bad, beat on yourself for all the wrong you do. Repent, metanoia: meaning, to change your mind and change your purpose. Turn your head from worldly things to Godly things. This is true repentance, a change of mind and purpose and life. That’s what we do when we are baptized. We change, our lives change.
In today’s baptismal service, we will be reminded that in baptism we have been marked by the sign of the cross, sealed by the Holy Spirit, and sent into the world to share God’s love in word and deed.
We are charged by the sacrament of baptism to go and do the work of the Lord. Jesus Christ isn’t walking around amongst us so we have to be his hands and feet in the world. Now you know how your computer and phone have to be recharged all the time? Well, so do we. We come to church every Sunday to renew our charge, to be sent out again and again to do God’s work in the world.
We are called to seek and serve Christ in all persons, we are loving our neighbor as ourselves; we are striving for justice, peace, and dignity for every human being. This is not easy work. But it’s OK because we have each other, we have the church, we have the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit right here, walking right beside us, strengthening us every moment of every day.
Long before Jesus, the people of Israel were lost in a strange land and they struggled mightily. To these people, God spoke the age-old promise: "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you …the rivers shall not overwhelm you. Fear not, for I am with you.”
Today Sug and Phil will say yes to baptism. We will also renew our vows and say yes. Truly saying yes to our baptism is the daily work of the rest of our lives. It is saying yes to the world and yes to a life torn open by the love of God.
Today God looks down at us in this church and says, “You, you, you and you. You are my beloved. With you, I am well pleased.”
Let us pray. Lord, help us all to live into the promise of our baptism. Help us to live courageously and joyfully. Help us to know and share your great love for us every day. Amen.