Baptized Into Ministry

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Water is one of the most powerful elements on the face of the planet. In the Bible, water serves as both deliverance and destruction. And in the waters of baptism, we are infused with the Spirit to do God’s will.

Sermon Video

This Week’s Sermon Was Drawn From the Following Scriptures


Matthew 3:13-17

Water is one of the most powerful elements on the face of the planet.  In the Bible, water serves as both deliverance and destruction.  And in the waters of baptism, we are infused with the Spirit to do God’s will.


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Full Text of Sermon

On my last visit to Grand Canyon National Park several year ago, I could finally appreciate how the canyon was formed.  I was on a rafting trip on the Colorado River which flowed through and along the canyon valley floor.  Seeing the canyon from the perspective of a river coursing its way along the floor of the canyon, I was visually impacted by the fact that it took centuries of the flowing waters of the Colorado River to chisel and form and shape the Grand Canyon.  Water is important to fishing, recreation, industry, boundaries, crop irrigation, and transportation routes.  In homes, water is used for cleaning, bathing, and preparing meals.  Our body weight is made up of about 60% water.  Our health and survival is determined in many ways by water and hydration.  A person can survive without food for about 3 torturous weeks.  But humans can only survive approximately 3 days without water.  We need water for life.  Water is powerful and fragile at the same time.  70% of the earth is covered by water and it is one of the most important natural resources we have.  The lack of clean water is one of the causes of poverty and disease in the world today.  Water is vital to the sustenance of humans, animals, and vegetation.  I read recently that the waters of the Ganges in India is so polluted that it is no longer safe for humans to wade in.   In recent years, we have followed the disturbing news about Flint, Michigan, and the health crisis caused by the unsafe drinking waters.  Care for the Earth’s water supply is essential to the continued survival of the planet.


Images of water are a significant part of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.  Genesis provides us a glimpse of water as the source of God’s creative activity as well as destruction in the story of Noah and the Ark.  The Israelites escaped Egyptian enslavement by crossing water.   The Old Testament prophets depicted God’s justice in water imagery.  The Gospel of John provides the story of living water and the Samaritan woman at the well.  Water in this morning’s scripture lesson is for the purpose of baptism.  Jesus arrives at the Jordan River to be baptized by John.


Many, if not most, of us here this morning have been baptized.  We have children who have been baptized by the water in this font.  As common as the experience of baptism is for us, there remains a lot of misconceptions of the meaning of baptism and why baptism matters.  A common misconception of baptism is that it serves as an insurance policy to keep you from going to hell when you die.  And you hear people say “I was baptized a Catholic”, or an Episcopalian, or a Methodist, and of course a Presbyterian.  In a recent private, home baptism which I did, the grandmother of the infant provided water from Lourdes which she carefully brought home in a jar.  I was baptized at the age of 12 following confirmation class.  And I have to confess that the statements of faith I have heard from the young people here at Calvary prior to their baptism put me to shame.  I can recall quite vividly how I stumbled through the statement I made before the Session at the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown.  I have to confess that I was following the crowd as many of my peers had decided to be baptized and so I did the same thing not fully understanding what I was doing, much less what I was getting myself into years later.


So on this Baptism of Jesus Sunday which occurs on the second Sunday of every new year, clearly Jesus’ baptism is quite significant.  And similarly, our baptism is no less significant.  The Gospel of Matthew has been our primary gospel throughout this past season of Advent and Christmas.  We heard the story of Jesus’ birth, his being threatened by the murderous King Herod, homages paid to him by the magi.  And today, with Matthew’s depiction of Jesus’ baptism, Jesus has not yet even begun his public ministry.  Not only that, his ministry doesn’t even come until after his experience of temptation in the wilderness, following his baptism.  Up until now, not only has Jesus not performed any miracles, he has not even spoken a word.  Baptism is not something you earn.  You may not even be ready for it.  At Jesus’ baptism in today’s reading, the focus of the story is on the descent of the dove and, especially, the voice from heaven.  The words of the Divine at the baptism are significant—“…my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  Baptism is bigger than which church, which denomination baptized you!  And baptism is far bigger than keeping you from going to hell.  Just as Jesus’ baptism is the inauguration of his public ministry—speaking the gospel and spreading God’s healing presence—we are baptized to that same ministry even when we do not feel qualified or prepared.  It is our ordination, our commissioning to ministry!  The words of the Divine are no less for us than it was for Jesus—“You are my son, my daughter, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased!”  Yes, baptism is that big.  It is a sacrament.  And not surprisingly, like Jesus, we find ourselves time and time again in the wilderness, struggling with temptation.  How best do I serve God in my career, my marriage, my family, my church, my country?  Who truly is my God?  To be baptized is to be a disciple of Jesus.  It’s that big.


I baptized my 3 children when they were mere infants and many others in my years of ministry.  In all these baptisms, what truly mattered was not what I the minister did, while necessary and important.  It was the moment the congregation was asked:  Will you, as members of the church of Jesus Christ, promise to guide and nurture to the best of your abilities, by word and deed, with love and prayer, encouraging Samantha, Margaret, Mary, Annie, Max, Michael, Sam, Jack, Andrew…to know and follow Christ and to be a faithful member of his church? (If so, please answer, “We will.”)   My three children were nurtured and guided by Sunday School Teachers and Youth Leaders like Nancy Hall and Julio Ramirez at the First Presbyterian Church in San Anselmo.  Nancy and Julio were among the many in the congregation who answered “We will”.   Those who answered “We will” included the adults who served as chaperones on Mission Trips, who provided transportation and food, who sent birthday cards, who checked in on them to see how they were doing.  When their faith wavered, my children knew there were people who were ready to listen, not just their minister father.  They knew there were people who made a promise to be with them in their life of faith.  Those two words “We will” is at the heart of what it means to be in Christian community and to be disciples of Jesus.


Along with a surprising number of Calvary members, I have a membership at the Jewish Community Center where I take full advantage of the fitness center.  Every January, the center gets very crowded with new members who add fitness to their New Year’s Resolutions.  At this time of year, we make all sorts of promises to ourselves.  This is the year we go to that place or do that thing.  We make plans to achieve a career or relationship milestone.  So why not renew our baptismal vows on this Baptism of Jesus Sunday, which we celebrate annually on the second Sunday of every new year.  At every baptism, three questions are asked of you.  As I repeat these same three questions, I invite you to listen prayerfully and answer silently to God:   TRUSTING IN THE GRACIOUS MERCY OF GOD, DO YOU TURN FROM THE WAYS OF SIN AND RENOUNCE EVIL AND ITS POWER IN THE WORLD?  DO YOU TURN TO JESUS CHRIST AND ACCEPT HIM AS YOUR LORD AND SAVIOR, TRUSTING IN HIS GRACE AND LOVE?  WILL YOU BE CHRIST’S FAITHFUL DISCIPLE, OBEYING HIS WORD AND SHOWING HIS LOVE?


And now I will ask the all important WILL YOU QUESTION:  Will you, as members of the church of Jesus Christ, promise to guide and nurture to the best of your abilities, by word and deed, with love and prayer, encouraging one another to know and follow Christ and to be a faithful member of his church?  And your answer?


As you come up from under the water, take a breath, look up and see the Spirit descend on Jesus and on you.  Listen.  As you feel the water of life pouring over you, listen for the voice of God whispering into your ears:  This is my child, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  Know that through Jesus Christ, this is who you are—a beloved child of God—and live accordingly.


Let us pray:  We give you thanks, Eternal God, for you nourish and sustain all living things by the gift of water.  In the beginning of time, your Spirit moved over the watery chaos, calling forth order and life.  In the time of Noah, you destroyed evil by the waters of the flood giving righteousness a new beginning.  You led Israel out of slavery, through the waters of the sea into the freedom of the promised land.  In the waters of Jordan, Jesus was baptized by John and anointed with your Spirit.  We thank you, O God, for the water of baptism.  In it we are buried with Christ in his death.  From it we are raised to share in his resurrection.  Through it we are reborn by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Pour out your Spirit upon us and upon this water, that this font may be your womb of new birth.  May all who pass through these waters be delivered from death to life, from bondage to freedom, from sin to righteousness.  Bind us all to the household of faith, and guard us from evil. 



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