FENELON FALLS UNITED CHURCH
The “B” Words
I’m hoping if you read the title for the message this morning that you are intrigued
and maybe have tried to think about what the “B” words might be that we are going
to hear about this morning. Any guesses?
In this first week after Epiphany, the theme of revelation continues to echo as we are
called to ‘see, understand and act’, not only on who Christ is, but who that makes us.
And what better way to do that then looking at who we are through the lens of some
specific ‘b’ words.
Jesus was an ordinary boy, then an ordinary teen and now in the scripture read he was
an ordinary man, but with an extraordinary task. And although he was an ordinary man,
he knew in his heart that he was also something else altogether. And now was the time
to start showing people his other side; it was time to start off on the Great Mission. So,
to get things going Jesus left his home in Nazareth in Galilee and he travelled south, down
to Jordan to the river, where John (who just happened to be his cousin) was telling people
about God, teaching them new ways, and baptising them so they could all have a fresh start.
John was an ordinary man, but he had been a miracle baby, and he had chosen to be God’s
last great prophet, he was the messenger who had to tell the world that the saviour was coming.
John was busy, every day hundreds of people came to listen to him; to hear the news
about God; and every day the people came down to the river to be washed clean of their old lives,
so they could start new lives with God. This is where Jesus came too. He came down the hill
to the river, he wanted to get baptised too. John was shocked as he knew it wasn’t right that
this was Jesus, Son of God, Jesus who was without sin. Jesus knew for him to be baptised
was part of God’s big plan. Jesus looked John in the eye and whispered it was okay. As Jesus
came up out of the water something amazing happened. First a bright shaft of light just as
if heaven itself was open, then came a dove which rested over Jesus head and then a voice
“This is my Son, and I love Him.” Wow! God in the voice, the spirit in the dove and the
Son in Jesus. That in a nutshell is the story of Jesus baptism so remember, the water moves
and lives to remind us that God is alive and with us wherever we go. As I was giving my quick
synopsis of Jesus baptism did you have a “been there done that moment” reflecting back on
your baptism or did the words spoken generate questions about baptism.
Baptism proclaims that we are all insiders in the circle of God’s grace. No act of ours can
nullify the grace of God. Yet, in saying “yes” to God’s baptism each day of our lives, perhaps,
with our own acts of refreshment and cleansing, we become conformed to God’s vision for us
in new and wondrous ways. We may discover God’s spirit enlivening and energizing us. We
may discover with Peter that the baptism we experienced is a call to welcome all people in their
wondrous diversity. We may with Jesus live joyfully and actively, sharing the grace we’ve received,
out of the abundance knowing we are God’s children. Do you believe that baptism is not necessary
for salvation but it is a sign of God’s grace and opens the door for experiencing a greater impact
of God’s energy of love in our lives and communities?
The people John baptised believed they were washed clean of their old lives and were then
starting a new life with God. I question this. As I believe people we meet, things we do and
experience every day of our life make us who we are right this minute. This quote sums up my
belief “Your past has given you the strength and wisdom you have today, so celebrate it. Don’t
let it haunt you.” If we washed those memories and experiences of our past away then really
who are we? Have we not all heard stories that something in someone’s past life has brought
them to God? An alcoholic or drug addict perhaps. How many stories can one read about the
prisoner who while incarcerated found God? Even though we know we should let go of our
past (easier said than done), we do need to keep the lessons it has taught us.
I don’t know about you but when I was baptized, not even a year old yet, in Valentia United
Church the heavens didn’t part, and a dove didn’t descend but my faith was declared for me.
The sacrament of baptism, which is the single rite of initiation into the Christian community,
the church, was bestowed upon me that day in April. Now that I am older, I understand that
baptism is an act of faith, a celebration of grace and an enactment of the Word of God. When
one receives baptism, one is saying that they want to be a follower of Jesus. Baptism is when
we go public with our faith. To some it may be a mystery, to others a gift but the bottom line
is baptism is our reminder that a loving God created us. How cool is it that the same God who
created mountains and oceans and galaxies looked at you and thought the world needed one
of you, too?
As I pondered baptism this week, and of course have no recollection of my own other than a
story being told to me after the fact (that when my older sister saw the water being poured on
me she ran up to the front to ask my mom and dad if they got soap in my eyes) it makes me
question if baptizing a baby or young child is too early. The United Church offers baptism to
all ages. On the website it states “we believe the gift of God’s love doesn’t depend on our ability
to understand it, so we baptize people as infants right up through adulthood. With children,
instruction is given to parents or sponsors to equip them for the child’s Christian nurture. During
the ceremony, which usually takes place as part of a regular worship service, everyone in the
congregation pledges support for the child and their parents. Sounds good to me but of course
my mind won’t let it go that maybe we baptize at too young of an age but then I realized before
I could eat my parents fed me, before I could walk they carried me, before I could dress myself
they dressed me so why can’t they believe for me before I can believe for myself? And then it
really hit home that it is okay to be baptized young when I re-read the verse that was in my
son’s card thanking him for being Carter’s godfather “Uncle Devin, Born into this world, not
very long ago, my parents give me all I need and all the love to grow. Mom and Dad will raise
me strong and will always keep me true. But their trust and love for me is also shared with you.
I need an extra pair of hands to help me learn and grow. I think that yours would be the best,
cause mom and dad said so!” I guess I can confidently say we are all on this faith journey
together no matter what the age.
This leads me to the next “b” word, belonging.
Psalm 29 sings a demand that everything and everyone in heaven and earth recognize that
they are of God. When we are baptized we belong to a people. Jesus was baptized to show
that he came to be with us, even more than that, he was baptized to become one of us so that
we would become like him. Through baptism we belong to God. You can always look back on
your baptism and reply with confidence “I am God’s child: he said so at my baptism.” We live
in a culture that promises acceptance only if we are: skinny enough, strong enough, successful
enough, rich enough, popular enough and so on. We need to remember that we belong, and
that God has declared that we are enough and that God accepts us just as we are----we belong!
We come to worship knowing God loves us, that is what we believe. Even perhaps when we
hear voices when we were children through report cards that tell us we are not smart enough,
as teenagers we may have heard voices through the cruelty of other teens who tell us that we
were not cool enough. As adults, we may hear voices that tell us that we are not successful
enough or that we do not have enough money. We often hear voices through the media and
other people that our bodies are not attractive enough. And lo and behold, somehow, God’s
voice gets drowned out, and we are tempted to forget who we are. But you see, we gain our
identity, our sense of belonging, our belief through our baptism. We may all be tempted at
times to forget that God loves all people the same. Perhaps we forget this when we meet a
drug addicted homeless person, perceive others as unattractive or attach any sort of negative
labels to other people. If we don’t pay attention to our actions, we will find that God’s voice
gets drowned out by our own judgements, and because of our words, actions or in-actions.
How do we make sure this doesn’t happen?
The first thing we need to do is keep these words ringing in our ears “You are my beloved, with
You I am well pleased.” Baptism matters because it tells us who we are by reminding us whose
we are: God’s beloved child. Beloved, what a beautiful word. To be beloved is to be adored.
To be beloved is to be cherished, is to be treasured. Do you imagine yourself as beloved? We
are all God’s beloved children, and each time we wash, each time we are near water, we
remember that name ‘beloved’ and are renewed in faith, hope and courage.
In seeking baptism, Jesus signals his willingness to follow the path that God sets before him.
In our baptisms, we too become one with the desires and dreams of God. The baptism of
Jesus is a sign of glorious promise for the entire world. Let’s keep that sign of glorious promise
alive by: praying for the sick, ministering to the needy, loving our fellow humans, giving hope
to a dying world, serving others.
Because of our baptism we have been called to serve, knowing that someone somewhere is
depending on us to do what God has called us to do. We are God’s children and we can be patient,
forgiving and pure in thought, word and deed. We can learn that justice is a way of being, a way
of living in a relationship of respect and love with all of God’s creation. People of faith don’t
trample others underfoot in a race to the top or a race to be right. So speak gently and thoughtfully,
don’t drown out the voices on the margins or silence those whose voices are muffled by poverty,
fear or oppression. God’s justice is not about one side winning and another losing; no, it is an
embedding reality where power realigns and is shared.
I believe that as we feel a belonging to our church community, and we are beloved in God’s eyes,
that we can bless our baptism by simply getting on with doing good and that, my friends is going
to get us a thumbs up and a “well done, good and faithful servant” from God.
Maxine Jordan, January 19, 2020