Pastor Becca Ehrlich
A man stumbles across a baptismal service on Sunday afternoon down by the river. He proceeds to walk into the water and stand next to the old country preacher. The minister notices the man and says, "Mister, are you ready to find Jesus?" The man looks back and says, "Yes, Preacher: I sure am." So the minister dunks the fellow under the water and pulls him right back up. "Have you found Jesus?" the preacher asks. "No, I didn't!" said the man. The preacher then dunks him under for quite a bit longer, brings him up, and says, "Now, brother, have you found Jesus?" "No, I haven't, Reverend." The preacher now holds the man under for at least 30 seconds this time, brings him out of the water, and says in exasperation, "Man, have you found Jesus yet?" The man wipes his eyes and says to the preacher, "Are you sure this is where he fell in?"
Luckily, John the Baptist didn’t have to look very far to find Jesus! In our Gospel reading from Luke, we hear about John, Jesus’ cousin, baptizing people in the Jordan River. And he tells them that he is baptizing with water, but the Messiah, God’s chosen one, will baptize with the Holy Spirit.
And sure enough, when Jesus is getting baptized with a whole bunch of other people in the river, the Holy Spirit comes down in the form of the dove and God’s voice comes from heaven: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Sounds like a pretty awesome moment.
Jesus’ baptism was the start of his ministry here on earth. That powerful moment jump-started his travels, where he chose his disciples, and taught and healed and cast out demons and shared God’s love, until he finally saved the world by dying for us and being resurrected. A powerful baptism for the powerful ministry of God in human flesh.
It’s easy to forget how powerful baptism really is. On the surface, when we baptize someone, it doesn’t look like much. There’s water, and the promises of God are said. It’s pretty simple, actually, and doesn’t take a whole lot of time.
But being baptized is a huge deal. In a minute, I’m going to show a short clip from the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? Some backstory: Everett, Pete, and Delmar are all convicted criminals and have escaped from the chain gain. And then THIS happens. (Show clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RDXJ6duyQ_A)
“Come on in, boys! The water’s fine.” Delmar’s baptism was a powerful moment, and completely changed his life. He knew that he was forgiven by God, loved by God, and that “heaven everlasting is [his] reward”.
In fact, Delmar’s baptism was so powerful, that Pete runs toward the river, ready to be baptized himself. Pete wanted to experience that life-changing moment, too.
And during the rest of the movie, both Delmar and Pete live their lives differently because of their baptism. Even though they were criminals before, they no longer live that way. They treat people differently, look at the world differently. That’s not to say that they act perfectly, of course—everyone makes mistakes. But their baptism wasn’t just a one-time thing that didn’t mean anything later. It was a powerful experience of God’s love that affected the rest of their lives.
Baptism is like that for us, too. When you were baptized (and if you haven’t been, please see me after worship so we can talk about it and make that happen!), you had a powerful moment of God’s forgiveness and love and grace when God’s promises were spoken to you and that water was poured on you or you were dunked. Your baptism is a life-changing moment when, just like at Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit is present in a special way and comes to live in you. You have GOD IN YOU. And no matter what age you get baptized—baby, child, teen, adult-- that is the jump-start of YOUR ministry on earth.
Because when you’re baptized, you are claimed as God’s own child. You become the son or daughter of God. And as God’s child, you are loved no matter what. That’s grace—all the good stuff that comes from God: love, mercy, forgiveness. In baptism, we receive God’s grace, and we are always God’s children.
Doesn’t matter what you’ve done. Like Delmar and Pete, all your sins are washed away in baptism, even if you were baptized many years ago. That washing happens every day. That’s how powerful baptism is—it lasts your whole life! You are a new person every day because of your baptism.
When Jesus was baptized, the heavenly Father’s voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Well, God says the same thing when you are baptized. God says, “You are my son, my daughter, the beloved. With you I am well pleased.” You are God’s son or daughter, and God is pleased with you! How cool is that??!!
The Isaiah passage we read earlier reminds us of God’s promises to us. God says:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 3For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
“I have called you by name, you are mine.” In baptism, you are called by name, and God says “you are mine.” And God is with you, in everything. Even when it feels like you’re drowning in life, when it feels like your life is going up in smoke. God. Saves. YOU.
And because of what Jesus did for us, dying on the cross and being raised to new life, we die to our old self and rise to our new self in baptism. That’s how we can be a new person, every day. Our baptism actually puts to death our old self and brings to life our new self. Delmar and Pete knew that in our clip, and we can remind ourselves of that every day. As God’s child, you are a new person, every day of your life.
And so, when you come up for Communion, you are invited to celebrate baptism at the font, and remember that you are God’s child and what Jesus did for you on the cross. If you would like, you can dip your hand in the water and you can make the sign of the cross. You are God’s child, with you God is well pleased.
So on this day, when we celebrate baptism, as Delmar says, “Come on in—the water’s fine!” Amen?