Come on In, the Water’s Fine

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

Ezekiel 26:22-29 – Matthew 28:16-20

Today is a very special day at the Kirk. Maybe you noticed that by the beautiful arrangement set up for worship… as we consider the gift of Baptism. We baptize of course because Jesus instructed us to do so. It is his last instructions in Matthew’s gospel… the last words for them to follow. There they are gathered – and Jesus gives them these instructions:

  “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me, go there for and make disciples of all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father and Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always to the end of the age.”

And ever since we have been baptizing people … adults, youth, children… sometimes in the early church, whole households were baptized… even the slaves… and still today… we are baptizing if for no other reason than this: Jesus told us to go… make disciples/students/followers… and baptize them…

If you talk to people about what baptism means… if you read the theology of baptism… you will find that baptism means many things to many people:… at least as many as the ways we baptize- sprinkling, pouring or immersing… all faithful ways to baptize…

Today, instead of preaching from the pulpit, I want to explore some of those meanings by sharing some stories of baptism that come to mind—hoping that in sharing these stories, they will evoke your own. But you will need to follow me because the stories from different parts of the sanctuary—each with a baptism font. Think of this as a traveling sermon… a journey with baptism…

GO TO THE FIRST KIRK FONT-

– This is the font where Cader Howard Jr. was first baptized…  Many of you were either baptized at this font… or brought your children…

–  In many congregations the font is placed permanently right her in the midst of the congregation… a reminder that baptism is not a private event… but a family celebration. We are welcoming someone into the family… the family of God… We belong to the body of Christ…

You enter the church through baptism…

I was welcomed into the family on December 23, 1956. My parents brought be to a huge stone baptism font… Dr. Albert Kissling… and from that day on my life was changed… though I didn’t know it at seven months old. I didn’t know that what my parents were doing was to welcome me into the life of a family of faith that would shape me and tell me who I am… that I am a child of God… I am beloved by God…

I didn’t know of their hopes for me one day… that one day I would profess my faith… and though I was not able to express faith… my parents did… my home church did… my mother church… with promises that they would raise me in the nurture and the teachings of the Lord… they would teach me about Jesus and what it meant to be a disciple…

Thanks to a font very much like this, to the faith and hopes of my parents… my life was changed forever as my life was being formed to become a disciple of Jesus… though I didn’t know it at the time…

There were times in the church—and there are still times in the church—when it wasn’t so easy to be baptized… to enter the church. By the 4thcentury—there were baptism buildings… and those who wanted to be baptized had to undergo three years of preparation, instruction and training before receiving baptism…I remember a woman in Korea who was baptized only after a year of instruction… I remember my mission trip to Zambia. 85 Baptisms in one day in a Mud Church in Zambia—all ages… having prepared to enter the family of faith with instruction—giving me a memory verse… 

85 times—I baptize you …

85 people welcomed into the family of faith… disciples of Jesus Christ… they came to the church through their baptism!

I wonder what you remember or know about your baptism… when, where and who? As I move to the next font, let think about that for a moment

GO TO THE CURRENT BAPTISM FONT

TODAY, THIS FONT IS A VERY SPECIAL FONT—Months ago when we were planning this service, what we didn’t know is that we’d have two baptisms today—how providential… Norma Baker will be receiving the sacrament of Baptism as an adult…

Avery and Rochelle are bringing Ethan forward to be baptized… how providential that this would happen on this day when we are reflecting upon the sacrament of baptism.

I remember when our first child Anna was baptized… Dr. Dick Ray, my colleague in Bristol was asking us the questions you get asked. And we didn’t hear a word of them. Good thing we knew them… Anna was screaming the whole time… When Anna was baptized, a new dimension of the Baptism came alive for me… Baptism as a sign of the prior unconditional love God has for us. I remember holding Anna… saying “I love you” and she could say nothing back… she could throw up.  I looked forward to the day when she would say, “I love you Daddy”. Which she did.

I wonder if it is something like that with God. God loves us before we ever have a hint how to love God. Baptism is a sign of God’s deep love for each one of us. Before we love God… God loved us… hoping that one day we might respond.

Which is why it is important for children who are baptized to participate in the community of faith… for in this family we will be the ones who are an important means of expressing the love of God…   — teaching, youth leading… at heart the job is to love the children with the love of God…

We gather here because God first loved us… Baptism celebrates that.

MOVE TO COMMUNION TABLE BAPTISM FONT

One of the things God does for us out of love is to forgive us… to cleanse us of sin. This is an important thing to remember. My strongest memory of this meaning comes from a story I may have shared with you… but let me repeat it.

In a previous church I had been counseling with a very nice young woman who had come to me… On the face of it in worship and based on her activity in the church… you would have never known what was going on inside. Inside, she was struggling… fighting demonic messages given to her by her alcoholic and abusive parents… As we explored her story she told me that the message she received from her parents was simple: She is nothing but a pile of crap. Nothing but crap. So she grew up believing that.During months of meeting… I listened and shared with her God’s unconditional love for her… that her parents were wrong… that she was a beloved child of God… But that was hard for her to hear. One day she said to me, I’d like to be re-baptized. She felt so dirty. So dirty.  We spent some time exploring that… and I agreed with the Session’s permission to “renew” her baptism… with an elder present… a loving and trusted elder.

We stood at the font… and I asked her the questions for renewal… and sprinkled waters of renewal on her… and then I said, “See what love God has for all of us, that we should be called children of God and that is who we are!”

It was a day I’ll never forget.

What sins do you think are unforgiveable?… what is it in your life that seems so stained that nothing can get the sin out?… know that these waters remind us of  the one who is able to embrace us and make us clean again…

Remember the movie,  “O Brother Where Art Thou”? It has one of my favorite baptism scenes: , set in the 1930’s, Delmar, Pete and Everett are three escaped convicts making their way to a treasure.  Lawmen have been following their trail as they move from one mishap to another.  In one scene they’re in the woods eating gopher for dinner when a congregation comes walking through the woods.  They’re all in white and sing,

As I went down in the river to pray studying about the good old way

And who will shall wear the starry crown, good Lord, show me the way…

O sinners let’s go down, let’s go down, come on down, O sinners let’s go down,

Down to the river to pray…

They are singing as they make their way to the river, and the preacher begins baptizing them one by one.  Delmar is mesmerized by the whole scene.  The music, the baptism, the people dressed in white, the possibility that he could be washed clean not only on the outside but on the inside:  he’s overwhelmed and crashes through the water as he makes his way to the preacher.  Stands in front of the line, says something to the preacher, and the preacher places his hand over Delmar’s mouth and nose and dips him backwards into the water.  Baptizes him right there.

Delmar rises from the water, his face lit up and he takes in new breath.  Makes his way back to his friends and says:

“Well, that’s it boys.  I’ve been redeemed.  The preacher done washed away all my sins and transgressions.  It’s the straight and narrow from here on out.  And heaven everlastin’s my reward.”

Everett isn’t impressed:  “Come on, Delmar, we got bigger fish to fry.”

“The preacher said all my sins is washed away, including that Piggly Wiggly I knocked over in Yasoo.”

Everett:  “I thought you said you was innocent of those charges.”

Delmar hesitates for a second:  “Well I was lyin’ and the preacher said that that sin’s been washed away too.  Neither God nor man’s got nothing on me now.  Come on in boys!  The water is fine!”

Here… thanks to the grace of God… the water is fine indeed. Mighty fine. Come on in!

Amen!


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