“Into What Then Were You Baptized?”
Growing up I was involved with Cubs and Scouts. I enjoyed it. The things we learned by earning badges, spending time with friends, exploring the outdoors on hikes and camping trips. I also remember we had to state the Scout oath every meeting. We all know the motto, “Be prepared” but I also remember reciting the oath, or promise.
“On my honour
I promise that I will do my best
To do my duty to God and the Queen
To help other people at all times,
And to carry out the spirit of the Scout Law.”
It’s a nice promise to make. Who doesn’t want to do their best or their duty as citizens? And certainly promising to help out other people is a noble promise to make.
I remember the pressure each week when the leader would come to me and ask “Did you do a good deed today?” You knew it was coming, but to a 10 year old, that’s a mighty big question to ask. Now, I’m not saying I lied, but there may have been times when I stretched a little bit in providing my answer.
But motto, promises, oaths, mission statements, they are everywhere. Look around and they are easy to find.
The United Way’s campaign for 2011 was to “build up the person/community”. Their motto is “Change starts here.”
The Red Cross likes to say, “Help us be ready.”
Sierra Club Canada says it, “empowers people to protect, restore and enjoy a healthy and safe planet!”
Simply put, most clubs or groups like these have a nice statement where they proclaim that they exist to make the world a better place. The work at things like helping people, helping animals, helping the environment, or some combination of those options.
In the publication We Have This Vision, Exploring United Church Identity in the 21st Century, A Study Guide for Small Groups which is available through the United Church Resource Distribution Centre, it contains a list it calls “18 Attributes Of The United Church of Canada”
The list contains the following:
- Offers the possibility of personal transformation
- Is open to change
- Offers new ways of looking at faith
- Engages both emotion and the intellect
- Encourages questioning
- Respects all people
- Celebrates all peoples and lifestyles
- Respects personal freedom and choice
- Values all ages
- Is welcoming to everyone
- Builds relationships with other traditions
- Builds deep personal relationships
- Respects the earth and the environment
- Translates personal faith into action
- Emphasizes helping people
- Works with the poor to improve their situation
- Reaches out to the needy
- Works for justice in the world
It’s a nice list. But how is this list any different than any other club out there?
This brings me to the question in the title of my sermon this morning. It’s the question Paul asks the people of Ephesus when he enters their city for the first time. He learns that they have been baptized, but they did not know anything about the Holy Spirit. So Paul asks the question, “Into what then were you baptized?”
This is an important question. If all your doing is ritual without any meaning, then what’s the point? I confess that I struggle with infant baptism. I know it’s a wonderful thing to do for a child, but if that child isn’t raised by a family that goes to church regularly, I struggle because how can that child grow as we wish God to help them grow when the promises made by the family and the church cannot be fulfilled?
Don’t get me wrong, I am only going to turn down a baptism request in the most extreme circumstances, in fact I can’t even think of a reason today why I would turn a family down asking to baptize their child.
But the question does nag at me, “if all we’re doing up here is ritual, then is there really a point?”
Yes, there is a point, simply because we’ve asked God to bless the child and to work with the family and the church to raise this child. We’ve asked God to take part and to be present in this child’s life. There is the point. We can’t tell God what to do, nor can we limit Him, but we put our trust in God that He will do His part in the life and growth of all who undergo baptism.
In the end, I find rest and comfort in knowing this.
What we do in the church is more than just ritual, although it may seem that way to people unfamiliar with the intimacy and Spirit of God. I look at how the Ephesians responded to Paul when he asked his question, “Into what then were you baptized?” and they say “Into John’s baptism.”
In other words, they went through the ritual without fully understanding what it was really about. They didn’t know what the Holy Spirit is and what it means to receive it.
In short, they joined a club.
Looking back at those United Church attributes I mentioned earlier, how many of them mentioned Jesus Christ? How many mentioned God or the Holy Spirit? None of them. Not one.
Yet we are the church, we are the body of Christ living in the world. We are agents of the Holy Spirit working to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ in the world.
This is our difference from being just a social club.
We are not a social club that does good things. We are the body of Jesus Christ, people moved by the Holy Spirit through our baptisms and through our ongoing relationship with God, our Father, through Jesus Christ, the Son.
We are first transformed from within to become more like Jesus in our hearts and through our actions, not just here in the church, but when we leave and interact with the world in which we live. This is done through the power of the Holy Spirit, first seen in the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist.
When we baptize people in our sanctuary, we are asking God to bless them, to pour into them the Holy Spirit and to touch their lives with His blessing.
Just as we have asked in our own baptisms; just as we did when we made our promises, or the promises made by our parents on our behalf.
Baptism is a Holy moment. It’s is more than just a sprinkling of water, it is a moment where we ask God to reach down into the life of the one being baptized and work within and through them all their days.
When I was at a conference last spring, we were asked to break into small groups and discuss memorable baptisms we remember. 7 of the 8 of us in my group talked about what happened during an adult baptism, whether their own or someone they knew.
There’s something special about someone stepping forward in an act of faith in Jesus Christ and asking to be baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Just as it can be when parents who believe in Jesus Christ do the same for their child.
Just as we remember being seeing done in this church over and over again. Promises made, lives touched by water and by Spirit. Celebrations of what God can do, and is doing in the world.
It began with John the Baptist, it became Holy through Jesus Christ, and it continues with the church today.
We are people who are touched by God. We are filled with the Holy Spirit through our baptisms in the name of Jesus Christ. We are not a social club, we are the body of Christ in the world.
Into what then were you baptized?
Were we baptized into the United Church of Canada? Or a social club that does good things?
Or are we baptized into the family of God through a life altering event that lasts for all eternity?
What does your baptism signify for you? What does what we do here in our sanctuary say about who we believe in?
How does the understanding of the presence of the God in our lives help us to live?
Baptism is not just a ritual, it is a sacred, holy moment. It is just the beginning of a life blessed by God. Forever.