WHERE DO YOU BELONG?
Here’s a good question. Where do you belong? I happen to think that all of us belong somewhere and that we function better and feel better when we are where we belong. The other side of that, of course, is that being where we don’t belong can result in us feeling some angst.
Have you ever been somewhere where you don’t belong? You know it pretty well right away, don’t you? I remember in the past, quite by accident because either I wasn’t paying attention or I had a dozen things on my mind, walking into the wrong public washroom. It’s not so bad if you realize it right away and jump back out. But sometimes you don’t and there’s the very awkward moment when you come face to face with a young woman who is in front of the mirror putting on some lip gloss. And she looks a you and you look at her and neither of you say anything but the expression on her face says, “You’re an idiot.” And you just feel so stupid because you really don’t belong there.
People have a tendency to need to know where they belong and to know where they don’t belong. They are more comfortable and more secure when they are with their own people. We see an example of that in today’s reading from Luke 3 which tells us the story of Jesus’ baptism. It starts off right away in Luke 3:21 (NIV) by saying this: “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too.”
Although, on the surface, there doesn’t appear to be much to this verse, when we dig a bit deeper, there is a lot going on. First of all, here’s the obvious question: why is Jesus being baptized? After all, isn’t he the Messiah? To answer that question, I want to take us to Acts 19 where Paul, while in Ephesus, encounters a group of new Christians with whom he gets into a discussion about the meaning of baptism. In Acts 19:4 (NIV) Paul defines what is meant by John’s baptism. This is what it says; “Paul said, ‘John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.’”
So again, the obvious question is why Jesus was being baptized at all? Paul tells us that John’s baptism is a baptism of repentance. That’s vital for most people because most people need to repent. But why do we need to repent? We need to repent because we have sinned. But did Jesus ever sin? The answer to that question is no, Jesus was the only perfect person to ever walk the earth who never sinned. So having never sinned, he did not need to be baptized for repentance. There was nothing to repent.
That brings us back to the original question: why does Jesus want to be baptized? The answer is in Luke 3:21 which again says, “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too.” Do you see it? The answer is glaringly simple. In fact, it’s so simple that it might just surprise you. Jesus wants to be baptized because everyone else is being baptized. So, Jesus was doing it because everyone else was doing it too.
I confess that that is not what I would normally consider good rationale. Doing something just because everyone else is doing it is not always a wise course of action. When you were younger and facing peer pressure, did your parents ever say something to you like. “If everyone was falling off a cliff, would you fall off a cliff?” You heard that too, right? But this is different.
Jesus wants to be baptized because he wants the people to know that he belongs with them. They are his people, the people who are baptized. It is with this group that Jesus wants to identify. He wants them to know that he is with them. They are in this together. Baptism, for Jesus, simply becomes a way of reinforcing that identity. It’s a way to demonstrate that he belongs.
TWO UNDERSTANDINGS OF BAPTISM
Jesus is baptized to demonstrate that this is where he belongs. Do we still baptize today for the same reason? That’s not an easy answer because it’s partially yes and partially no. To explain that, I’m going to just take a few minutes and delve into some Church history.
Basically, there are are two main theologies of baptism in the Christian Church. The older one is called pedobaptism and really is closer to what was going on when Jesus was baptized. Under pedobaptism, baptism is a rite of initiation. People are baptized so that, like Jesus, they could be recognized as belonging to the community of faith.
We see that in the Bible in a couple of different places. We see it, for example, in Acts 16 where Paul is sharing the Gospel in Philipi. There he meets a woman named Lydia who responds to his message. Then she is baptized. Why? Because it is demonstration that she now belongs to the people who called themselves Christians. Let’s read what it says about her baptism in Acts 16:15 (NIV): “When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home.”
Did you notice the wording? It says that when she and the members of her family are baptized, probably including men, women and children. Lydia is the one who received Christ and yet her whole family is baptized. Some people might argue that the rest of her family must have received Christ too but it doesn’t actually say that, does it, and we should hesitate to impose our assumption onto the text. All we know for sure is that Lydia accepted Christ. The reason why her whole family is baptized is because she is the head of the family and she wants her whole family to belong to the Church as well and so they too are baptized. In that way, her whole family belongs. All we hope at this point – but we don’t know for sure – is that under the teaching of Paul and the other disciples, the rest of her family also eventually came to Christ.
That’s pedobaptism, the idea that baptism is an intiation into the Church. You might recognize it because it’s the practice of the United Church along with the majority of Christians denominations today.
But then came the Reformation in the 16th century and things began to change. During that time, many people began to rebel against the corruption of the Church, and rightly so because the Church had become very corrupt. And one of the things that some of the Reformers rebelled against was the Church’s understanding of baptism.
Having said that, most of the major reformers, people like John Calvin and Martin Luther all supported the Church’s traditional understanding of baptism, pedobaptism. But there were a few, people Ulrich Zwingli and Menno Simons – from whom the Mennonites came – began to see baptism in a new light. For them, baptism was not so much as a right of initiation into the Church as it was a proclamation of personal faith. This is what is called credobaptism. So these groups decided that only adults could be baptized because only adults could have really have faith. Consequently, children were no longer baptized by these groups because they were too young to make a personal commitment.
Those two understandings of baptism are still very much alive today. Pedobaptism is seen as a rite of initiation into the Church, the body of Christ. It focuses on the being part of a community of faith in which the person will eventually accept the faith themselves. Credobaptism, on the other hand, emphasizes the individual and the faith of the individual rather than the community. As far as I am concerned, it doesn’t matter to me which tradition people follow as long as they lead to faith in Jesus Christ which, clearly, either can. What I am saying, however, is that the older tradition of the Church, from the time of the Apostles, is that baptism is a rite of initiation and closer to what happened when Jesus was baptized by John in an effort to demonstrate that he belonged.
So that’s my attempt to teach a bit of Church history and theology. Let’s move on.
The bottom line is that it is important to know where we belong. It’s also important to show that we belong. Jesus did that, at least partially, through baptism. It was his way of demonstrating that he belonged to that group. So, here’s a question: how else do we demonstrate that we belong together. I mean, it’s one thing to say it and that’s important. But sometimes it’s even more important to act it out. And that’s what I want to talk about now.
Next week, on Sunday afternoon, we are hosting an event sponsored by the Essex Ministerial in our Fellowship Hall. It’s part of our way of celebrating the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. That’s interesting because the whole purpose of the Week of Prayer is to demonstrate that we belong together – do you see that tie in? – that as Christians we are all part of one body who believe in and worship Jesus Christ.
At that gather next Sunday afternoon, what we’re going to be experiencing is something called a blanket exercise. After announcing it last Sunday, I’ve had a number of people ask me what exactly it is. To be honest, I really didn’t know because I’ve never been to one before so I went online and looked it up. Here’s some of the things that I learned.
What was really interesting is that blanket exercises have become popular as teaching tool. In fact, the RCMP have incorporated blanket exercises into the basic training programme for new recruits.
The whole idea of the blanket exercise came out of an ecumenical Christian group called Kairos. What Kairos saw was that there is, in Canada, a fairly wide chasm exists between indigenous and non-indigenous people. It saw that a lot of people of European descent, like most of us, have little interest in or understanding of first nations issues. I think Kairos also saw that indigenous people really didn’t have a very good idea of how to express their real issues with the dominant Canadian culture that we represent. So, there were these two solitudes that really weren’t communicating or connecting. Basically, there really wasn’t much of a sense of belonging by either groups.
I have to admit that I’m guilty of that too. When we lived in Espanola for fourteen years, we were surrounded by indigenous people on first nation lands. To be honest, I just got sick and tired of hearing about first nation issues and first nation problems. I also saw the abuses that were so obvious on the reserves and the lack of financial accountability. And it just seemed that the only response to the real problems of indigenous peoples was for successive governments to just throw more money at it. I got to the point where I just threw my hands up and said, “Until someone starts to address the real core issues here, I’m done.” And frankly, I’ve been done for about fifteen or twenty years now. And I’m pretty sure that there are more than a few people sitting here today who have similar thoughts even if political correctness means that you can’t actually say it out loud.
But I also admit that, recently, I’ve been rethinking this whole thing. I’m not saying that I don’t still have frustrations but I also know that one of the sources of my frustration is that I really don’t understand the issues from a first nations perspective. And I need to do that. That’s partly a general thing in our nation. But it’s also become a congregational thing. We have indigenous people right here at Cottam United Church. They are sitting with us and among us. I think most of us know that our good buddy Shad is indigenous. And where would we be without Shad? Shad is the mayor of Cottam and part of the glue that holds this community together. And then, back in June, we had the privilege of baptizing Sierra who comes from an Inuit background. Who can forget that beautiful ceremony where we incorporated first nations music and watched Sierra dance around in her joy. That was an amazing way to demonstrate that Sierra belongs in this community and we are so glad that she is here.
I knew we have two indigenous people in the congregation. Until last week, I did not know we have three. After announcing the blanket exercise last Sunday, someone came up to me and told that they also have indigenous blood running through their veins. And I had no idea. And no, I’m not going to tell you who was because that’s their story to tell.
The point is that we have people in this congregation who are directly and indirectly affected by first nations issues so it is incumbent upon us, if we want to minister to and with them, to understand those issues and seek reconciliation. It’s a way of helping us to see that we belong together.
And that’s what the blanket exercise does. It looks at the last 500 years of Canadian history and it helps us to see how we got to where we are today. And it asks us to consider if that is a good place to be or would we like to do things differently in the future. I think that’s a pretty good goal and something that could help us all.
But what does a blanket exercise look like? It starts off with bunch of blankets in the middle of the floor and people go and stand on the blankets. But then the blankets change. Some of them disappear and some of them are folded. And as they change, the people standing on them are asked to do things differently. And I don’t know how that all works but after the exercise is completed there is an opportunity to talk about it. Some people talk and other just listen and that’s okay. I understand that the whole thing will take between sixty and ninety minutes and then we will have some goodies and refreshments because what would a church gathering be without goodies and refreshments?
So, I’m really encouraging you to come and take part. I think it’s going to be a very worthwhile not just for us but also for all the other Christians from the other churches who will be joining us in recognition that we belong together.
WE BELONG TO GOD
Jesus was baptized as a way of demonstrating that he belonged with these people. They were part of the same community of faith. But then it goes on in Luke 3:21b-22 (NIV) where it says: “And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’”
What this tells us is that not only does baptism connect us with each other. It also connects us with God. It reminds that we belong to God because we are part of God’s people.
And here’s the interesting thing. We know that in baptism, we do something. We express our faith in God as a community and our commitment to Jesus Christ. We wash with water and anoint with oil and we give thinks. But do you know who else is active? God is active. God also does something during baptism. In today’s reading from Luke, at Jesus’ baptism, God makes the heavens open up and the Holy Spirit comes down in the form of a dove. Why is this? It’s because the Holy Spirit was the sign of God’s presence. God is there with Jesus and with John and with all of the other people being baptized that day on the banks of the Jordan River.
What that means is that, in baptism, God still comes to us. God sends his Holy Spirit to rest upon his people so that we can be filled, inspired and strengthened by the amazing power of his love. In God’s Spirit, we are all tied together in community of faith that we call the body of Christ. It is to that body that we belong.
We may not see heaven open up when we baptize. We may not hear a voice – although I’m open to that possibility. But God still speaks to our hearts and says to us, “You are my people, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
God calls us to be one people. And
frankly, whether you tend to be on the side or pedobaptism or credobaptism, we
are still called to be one people, baptized by water and the Spirit, to do the
work of Christ and to seek to build his kingdom in this world by sharing the
Good News of salvation which comes through faith in Jesus Christ. That is what
we do when we belong to Christ.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
God of Love, we come with our prayers of thanks and praise for you have shown yourself worthy of honour and glory. Your stars shine in the heavens. Your waters roll across the seas of the earth. Your wind blows where it will and whispers words of your grace and peace.
We give you thanks for the constant assurance of your ability to deliver those who place their faith and trust in you. Even in situations that seem impossible, you are able to do far more than anything we could ever ask or even imagine. When we face difficult circumstances, help us to pray as Jesus prayed, believing in your word and promises, and trusting confidently in your holy promises.
We pray for the people of Oshawa as they contemplate what it means that a major employer may be moving out of town. We pray for all those who suffer from job losses or lack of employment. We pray for those who struggle to support their families and to raise their children. But we give thanks for those who find the energy and the resources to help those in need, whether they be family, friends, charities or government agencies. We do pray, O God, for an end to poverty and that prosperity may be shared by all.
We remember those who are sick and pray for their healing that their recoveries may be quick and complete. We pray, especially, this morning for Sharon and Lyle as they look towards you with hope. We thank you for those who watch over us in times of need offering support and comfort.
Gracious God, we are grateful for the confident assurance of your absolute faithfulness. You will always do all that you have promised. Others may fail, intentionally or otherwise, to keep their word but you are truth and your promises will never fail. We can rest securely in the knowledge of your limitless unconditional love, knowing that even when others may fail, you will never leave or forsake us.
Our prayers we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
January 13, 2019 / Baptism of Jesus
Psalm 29; Isaiah 43:1-7; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22; Acts 8:14-17
CALL TO WORSHIP
The love of God reaches the heavens; his faithfulness touches the sky.
God’s righteousness rises like mountains, and justice like the depths of the seas.
Come to us, God, in your unfailing love; comfort us under the shadow of your wing.
PRAYER OF ADORATION
We come, God of Love, as a community of faith, gathered to give you humble worship and praise. Speak to us of your love. Hold us in your arms. Protect us in the comfort of your wing. As Jesus turned the water into wine, we ask that you would transform us that our of the clay of our lives, you would fashion vessels of grace and righteousness. Renew us. Refresh us. Perfect us. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
We come to your holy house out of the goodness of your world. We, also, come in awareness of our sin for all have fallen short of your glory. We fail to live by the standard you have set for us. We hope to do what is right but our human hearts turn us in another direction. We watch television while others sit in loneliness. We waste our resources on lottery tickets and casinos while children in our own community go hungry. We lament the high cost of living while we plan foreign vacations. Forgive our self-centeredness and enable us to live for others with simplicity and dignity.
ASSURANCE OF FORGIVENESS
Although we are far from perfect, our perfect model for living is found in Jesus of Nazareth. His standards are high but when we fall short, we have forgiveness through his love and sacrifice. Hear the Good News; when we humbly repent and confess our sins, we are forgiven.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
We offer you our gifts, O God of Creation. We ask that you, who turned the water into wine, would use our offerings to transform the world. May the hungry be fed and the thirsty be refreshed. Enliven us for mission and give us a sense of purpose. May the name of Jesus be heard and known in our words and actions that others may come to receive him as Saviour. Amen.
As God’s own people, baptized in the blood of the Lamb and saved through faith in Jesus Christ, we are called to share the Good News of salvation for all the world. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. May we share that Gospel and live it every day of our lives.