A Baptist minister was in the process of baptizing a somewhat reluctant 10 year old boy. So, as you know, Baptists baptize older children and adults, and when they do it is by full immersion – which means that they go all the way under the water, head to foot.
So this Baptist minister is baptizing this boy – immersing him under the water. And as the boy comes up from the water, the pastor asks him, “Do you believe?” And the boy says, “No.” So the pastor puts him under the water again, brings him up, and asks, “Do you believe?” And the boy says, “No.” So the pastor puts him under the water for a third time, brings him up, and asks, “Do you believe?” And the boy says, “No.”
Frustrated, the pastor asks, “Well then, what do you believe?” And the boy says, “I believe you’re trying to drown me.”
Thankfully that wasn’t the case on the day when Jesus was baptized by John in the river Jordan. We’re told that when Jesus comes up out of the water, the heavens are torn apart, and the Spirit of God descends upon him in the form of a dove. And a voice from heaven declares, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
No attempts at drowning took place that day, let me tell you. But something important happened that day. When the voice from heaven spoke – the voice of God the Father – we discovered the identity of who Jesus is – for the very first time – we discover who Jesus is. The voice from heaven declares that this Jesus is indeed the very Son of God.
And you know what else? In that declaration, God puts His stamp of approval on Jesus – “With you I am well pleased.”
For most of us here today/tonight – for those among us who have experienced baptism – we too have an identity. Just like I told you last week – your new identity is as a son – as a daughter of God. You can also go by the name of disciple or Christian. Because that’s who you are.
And the other thing I want you to know is that you have found acceptance by God. You’ve got God’s seal of acceptance. Did you know that? Even though most of us probably can’t remember our baptisms – but then again there are some here [tonight] [this morning] who can – and it doesn’t matter whether we can remember our baptisms or whether we can’t – we who have been baptized have God’s seal of acceptance. We have been marked with the sign of the cross forever.
And through our baptisms, God creates for Himself the church.
Now, unlike that young boy in our opening story who apparently didn’t know what it was that he believed, I did a little googling this week to find out what it is that Americans do believe. The latest data I could find were from 2013. This 2013 Harris Poll shows that 74% of Americans do believe in God or a god. Now that compares to about 92% from a 2011 poll. So, apparently belief in God is on the decline. Whether you believe those numbers or not, that’s what the polls say. And then, 23% of Americans identify themselves as “not at all” religious – a figure that has nearly doubled since 2007, when it was at 12%.
And then there is another category of believers who say they are spiritual but not religious. Apparently, this group just doesn’t care much for churches and religious organizations. They don’t believe in organized religion. When I hear that I tell them, “Oh, well then, you’ll love our church. We’re not always all that well organized.” They’re believers, but not joiners. One of the church’s challenges – is to evangelize and connect these so-called believers with the body of Christ. You know anybody like that? You know anybody who says that they’re a believer, but they aren’t connected in any way to a church?
And then there are the “nones.” I’m not talking about the religious sisters you’ll find in the Roman Catholic Church. No. I’m talking about the nones, N-O-N-E-S. When asked what their religious affiliation is – these are the folks who will answer, “none.” And in talking with Pastor Tim Madsen from St. Paul’s in Williamsville at lunch this past Tuesday, I learned that if these nones might have been affiliated with a church at one time, we might even call them the “dones.” They’ve been to church – they’ve tried church – but now they’re done with church.
Quite frankly – I find this sad. You see, one of the things that Jesus did was to form a community of friends. You know what we might call these friends? Not the nones. Not the dones. But the ones. The ones. Again, a phrase I stole – I mean I borrowed from Pastor Tim. But the ones are those who live their lives as disciples of Jesus Christ. They are not believers living in isolation from other believers – but those who live in community with other disciples. And through baptism, Jesus is still gathering to himself the ones – the community of the baptized – the body of Christ – otherwise known as the church.
I want to make this very clear. You cannot be in Christ – you cannot be a Christian – without being attached to the body of Christ. Again – it’s another reason why I keep telling you that church matters.
I would find it very difficult to be outside of the body of Christ. By the way –we call that the lone ranger approach to Christianity – and quite frankly, it doesn’t work. It just doesn’t work.
Now I know that people today have lots of options when it comes to how they learn what it is they learn about God – about the Bible – about Jesus. There’s Christian radio – there are what we call TV evangelists. There are opinion blogs on the internet on just about every faith topic you can imagine. Pastors post their sermons on the internet – either by live-streaming – or an audio version – or as in my case – a written transcript of the sermon itself. And the radio and TV and the internet are tools – these can be great tools for growth in discipleship. Anybody can get any kind of inspiration or Christian teaching by staying at home.
But you know what? That’s not the church. It’s how the church might choose to get the message out – but it’s not the church. In fact, it’s a poor substitute for the church.
We need – I know I need – to be in fellowship – I need to be connected with the rest of Christ’s body, the church. I need to be connected with all of you. And through your baptism – and through my baptism – through the work of the Holy Spirit – Jesus is building His church. Baptism is not a once and done thing. And right there is another way to use the word done. “Pastor – I need to get my baby done.”
Listen! Christ is calling us to be – not the nones – not the dones – but the ones. Again – it’s why church matters.
Now – you know what the problem is in preaching a message like this? Those who need to hear it the most – aren’t here. They aren’t here.
But let me tell you – God waits patiently – day after day after day – for lost sons and daughters to return to him. And quite frankly it is our job – the church’s job – to go in search of them. Inviting. Welcoming. Loving them – and baptizing them – teaching them – so that they too might enjoy the fellowship of the church – and to learn once again what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
So in baptism, we have a new identity, and we have God’s seal of acceptance. Now let me say one more thing about what your baptism can mean for you.
Let me share with you a story I came across this past week. Sarah Jo Sarchet is a Presbyterian pastor in Chicago. A 10 year-old boy in her congregation named Cameron, walked into her office and said he needed to talk to her. Fresh from soccer practice, and wearing his Cincinnati Reds baseball cap, he had a request for her. “I'd like to be baptized,” he said. “We were learning about Jesus' baptism in Sunday School. The teacher asked the class who was baptized, and all the other kids raised their hands. I want to be baptized too.”
Using her best pastoral care tone of voice, she said, “Cameron, do you really want to be baptized because everyone else is?” His freckles winked up at her and he replied, “No. I want to be baptized because it means I belong to God.”
She was touched by his understanding. “Well, then,” she said, “How about this Sunday?” His smile turned to concern and he asked, “Do I have to be baptized in front of all those people in the church? Can't I just have a friend baptize me in the river?” She asked where he came up with that idea. “Well, Jesus was baptized by his cousin John in a river, wasn't he?”
Caught off guard, she conceded, “You have a point. But, if a friend baptized you in the river, how would the church recognize it?” Realizing this was a teachable moment, she climbed up on her foot stool to reach for her Presbyterian Book of Order that was located on the highest shelf. But before she placed her hand on the book, he responded.
“I guess by my new way of living,” he said.
She nearly fell off the foot stool and left the Book of Order on the shelf. Cameron's understanding was neither childish nor simple. It was profound. Baptism calls us to a new way of living.
My brothers and sisters – my baptized brothers and sisters in Christ. Your baptism is how you got your start – your beginning – in the church.
• Because in baptism you have a new identity – you are a daughter – you are a son of God.
• In baptism – you have the promise of God’s acceptance.
• Baptism is a new way of living.
• Because in baptism – we are neither the nones nor the dones. We are the ones.
And that is why church matters. Amen