Sunday’s sermon: What’s in a Vow?

baptism

Texts used – Isaiah 43:1-7; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

  • “Bless by your Holy Spirit, gracious God, this water. By your Holy Spirit save those who confess the name of Jesus Christ that sin may have no power over them. Create new life in the one baptized this day that s/he may rise in Christ. Glory to you, eternal God, the one who was, and is, and shall always be, world without end. Amen. Child of God, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” And so we bless the water, we bless the child, and we baptize.
    • What is baptism?
      • UCC: The sacrament of baptism is an outward and visible sign of the grace of God. Through baptism a person is joined with the universal church, the body of Christ. In baptism, God works in us the power of forgiveness, the renewal of the spirit, and the knowledge of the call to be God’s people always. Baptism with water and the Holy Spirit is the sign and seal of our common discipleship. Since baptism is God’s gift, the Holy Spirit is called to be upon the water and those being baptized. The act of baptism also marks the beginning of new life of discipleship with Christ, the human response to that gift.[1]
      • PC(USA): In Jesus Christ, God calls people to faith and to membership in the Church, the body of Christ. Baptism is the visible sign of that call and claim on a human life and of entrance into the membership of the church. The baptism of children witnesses to the truth that God’s love claims people before they are able to respond in faith. The baptism of those who enter the covenant of membership upon their own profession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior witnesses to the truth that God’s gift of grace calls forth a response of faithfulness. Thus, the triune God, incarnate in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, gives to the Church not only its mission but also its understanding of membership.[2]
    • Today, in the life of the church, we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan River. So I wanted to take a look at the vows that we ask parents to make, and the vows that we make as a congregation, when we baptize anyone in this congregation. What are we asking? What does it mean? What does it say about our faith and our life as a congregation?
      • Realize that we’re working with 2 different denominations here, but when you compare the questions side-by-side, they’re basically asking the same 6 questions
  • QUES #1 sounds obvious: Do you desire to have your child baptized? [UCC: into the faith and family of Jesus Christ?]
    • Layered within this question is a proposal: picture any of those wedding proposal videos that you see where there’s that tense moment before the person being proposed to says “yes” → baptism = God’s proposal – an extension of God’s promises of love and grace, leaves God waiting for our reply
      • God’s proposal to us: I do love you. I have loved you. I will love you. Will you join me in that love?
      • Emphasis = not mandatory → Friends, love simply isn’t love if it’s forced. Love … devotion … admiration … These things must be given freely in order for them to be true.
        • Gary Chapman (author of popular The Five Love Languages[3]): Love is always freely given. Love cannot be demanded. We can request things of each other, but we must never demand anything. Requests give direction to love, but demands stop the flow of love.
        • Hear God’s love for us in Is: But now, says the LORD – the one who created you, Jacob, the one who formed you, Israel: Don’t fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine. … Because you are precious in my eyes, you are honored, and I love you.[4]
          • Tender
          • Devoted
          • Hear that God truly cherishes us
    • But how are we to respond? Baptism is our answer. We respond by choosing to return that love as a member of God’s own family.
      • Anonymous quote: Family isn’t always blood. It’s the people in your life who want you in theirs; the ones who accept you for who you are. The ones who would do anything to see you smile and who love you no matter what. → Friends, this speaks to God’s love for us, too. God wants to be a part of our lives. God accepts us and loves us no matter what. But we have to make that choice to say, “Yes” to God. And when we choose baptism – when we declare our intentions to deliberately enter into that family of faith (either for ourselves or for our children) – we are choosing to say, “Yes” to God, to reciprocate that incredible love.
  • QUES #2 → denying evil
    • UCC: Will you encourage this child to renounce the powers of evil and to receive the freedom of new life in Christ?
    • Pres: Trusting in the gracious mercy of God, do you turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and its power in the world?
    • Important because recognizes that there is darkness → vow to embrace/be the light
      • In light of recent blockbuster – Star Wars: The Force Awakens → The Force = both darkness and light, both hatred and love, both malice and forgiveness, both suffering and peace
        • Yoda: Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.
      • We all know that these things are a part of our world, a part of our lives, and a part of our days. And each and every day, we are presented with choices between this darkness and the light. Some are serious choices. Some are less weighty but are no less important. In baptism, we acknowledge the presence of that darkness while consciously choosing to live in the light.
        • Is – we will not be alone in that choice: When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; when through the rivers, they won’t sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you won’t be scorched and flame won’t burn you. … Don’t fear, I am with you.[5] → Do not fear, I am with you. Ease your anger. Release your hate. We are embraced by grace upon grace.
  • QUES #3 → teach/instruct/disciple
    • UCC: Will you teach this child the s/he may be led to profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior?
    • Pres: Relying on God’s grace, do you promise to live the Christian faith, and to teach that faith to your child?
    • Baptism is a step of faith.
      • Step to embracing life of faith
      • Step to embracing family of faith
      • First step in life-long journey of faith → journey that involves learning, growing, discipling
        • Being guided and instructed by those who have come before
      • Perfect e.g. of this = new confirmation class
        • Students already have an experience of faith
          • Families and churches
          • Worship, prayer, Sunday school
        • But the point of confirmation is to help them to learn and grow in their own faith. → people who do that
          • Pastor
          • Parents
          • Mentors (yes … this is an advertisement! Still need mentors)
    • Even Jesus had a mentor of sorts: John the Baptist
      • Someone close to Jesus
      • Man of faith – descry. from Mt: In those days John the Baptist appeared in the desert of Judea announcing, “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!” He was the one of whom Isaiah the prophet spoke when he said: The voice of one shouting in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight.” John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. People from Jerusalem, throughout Judea, and all around the Jordan River came to him. As they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River.[6]
      • Participated in Jesus’ faith – baptized Jesus in the Jordan
      • Declared his faith in who Jesus was/power of God – today’s text: John replied to them all, “I baptize you with water, but the one who is more powerful than we is coming. I’m not worthy to loosen the strap of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”[7]
      • As we are going through our own journeys of faith, we all need people to lead us, to teach us, to strengthen us, and to believe in us. We need those people, and we need to be those people, and so that role is a part of our baptism.
  • Along similar lines: QUES #4 → profess/affirm personal faith
    • UCC: Do you promise, by the grace of God, to be Christ’s disciple(s), to follow in the way of our Savior, to resist oppression and evil, to show love and justice, and to witness to the world and word of Jesus Christ as best you are able?
    • Pres: Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Lord and Savior, trusting in his grace and love? And will you be Christ’s faithful disciple, obeying his Word and showing his love?
    • Sort of self-explanatory → in order to grow in faith and in order to raise someone else in faith, that faith must be present
      • Call to declare faith in ps for today: You, divine beings! Give to the Lord – give to the Lord glory and power! Give to the Lord the glory due [God’s] name! Bow down to the Lord in holy splendor![8]
  • QUES #5 → participate in body of Christ
    • UCC: Do you promise, according to the grace given you, to grow with this child in the Christian faith, to help this child to be a faithful member of the church of Jesus Christ, by celebrating Christ’s presence, by furthering Christ’s mission in all the world, and by offering the nurture of the Christian church so that s/he may affirm his/her baptism?
    • Pres: Will you be a faithful member of this congregation, share in its worship and ministry through your prayers and gifts, your study and service, and so fulfill your calling to be a disciples of Jesus Christ?
    • Two sides of faith – personal vs. corporate
      • Just talked about personal faith
      • Corporate faith = just as important
        • Ps (ancient worship songs from Israel) = some personal, but many corporate
        • Theme throughout Paul’s letters (Corinthians, Ephesians, Romans, etc.): importance of variety of gifts from God, importance of embracing and utilizing those gifts in community
      • Talk about it here all the time: see God in each other, be God for each other
        • Jesus in Mt: Let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise [God] who is in heaven.[9]
        • Other – C.S. Lewis: Don’t shine so others can see you. Shine so that, through you, others can see [God].
  • Reciprocation of that vow = QUES #6 (congregation) → congr. support
    • UCC: Jesus calls us to make disciples of all nations and to offer them the gift of grace in baptism. Do you, who witness and celebrate this sacrament, promise your love, support, and care to the one about to be baptized, as s/he lives and grows in Christ?
    • Pres: Do you, as members of the church of Jesus Christ, promise to guide and nurture this child by word and deed, with love and prayer, encouraging him/her to know and follow Christ and to be a faithful member of this church?
    • This is one of my favorite things about the UCC/PC(USA) tradition: There can be sponsors for you and/or your child – traditional “godparents,” as it were. But in the tradition of our church, the entire congregation pledges to play that role: to guide, to teach, to nurture, to encourage, to love.
      • Continue to care for one another
      • Continue to pray for one another
      • Continue to lift each other up
      • Such a crucial and beautiful part of the identity of this congregation
  • And so we come together to remember and reaffirm our baptism – to say “yes” again to the love of God; to choose the light in the face of the darkness; to affirm our own faith and our support of our brothers and sisters in faith; to recommit to participating in the body of Christ, here and around the world; and to again choose to be disciples – teaching and leading and learning with each other. I’m going to ask you to come forward, to dip your fingers in the waters of the font, and, if you choose, to receive a blessing.

 

  • Post-remembrance blessing[11]:

May your life be a river.
May you flow with the purpose|
of the One who created
and called you,
who directs your course
and turns you ever
toward home.

May your way shimmer
with the light of Christ
who goes with you
who bears you up
who calls you by name.

May you move
with the grace of the Spirit
who brooded over
the face of the waters
at the beginning
and who will gather you in
at the end.

[1] “About Baptism,” http://www.ucc.org/worship_baptism, accessed Jan. 7, 2016.

[2] Constitution of the PC(USA), Part II: The Book of Order, 2013-2015, G-1.0301. (Louisville, KY: The Office of the General Assembly), 2013.

[3] Gary Chapman. The Five Love Languages. (Chicago, IL: Northfield Publishing), 1995.

[4] Is 43:1, 4a.

[5] Is 43:2, 5a.

[6] Mt 3:1-6.

[7] Lk 3:16.

[8] Ps 29:1-2.

[9] Mt 5:16.

[10] https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005ZJMVSK?ie=UTF8&*Version*=1&*entries*=0.

[11] Jan Richardson. “Blessing” posted on The Painted Prayerbook, http://paintedprayerbook.com, posted under “The River of John,” July 8, 2012, accessed via http://re-worship.blogspot.ca, Jan. 9, 2016.

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