Creekside Church
Sermon of January 10, 2021

"Soaked and Sent"
Mark 1:4-11

Pastor
Rosanna McFadden

 

Good morning! The title of this morning’s sermon is Soaked and Sent. I’m guessing that In the middle of January with temperatures hovering around the freezing mark, especially if you are out in your car, but even if you’re worshiping indoors, the idea of getting soaked is probably not very appealing. Being soaked is of course a reference to baptism: Anne just read us the account for Jesus’ baptism from the gospel of Mark -- we’re going to be immersed in Mark, and briefly dipping our toes into the gospel of John, through the month of January and into February.

The baptism of Jesus is recounted in all four gospels, but Mark’s version is the shortest -- to be clear, that doesn’t necessarily mean this sermon will be short. There’s a lot to unpack here, and the fact that Jesus baptism is featured in every gospel suggests that it is important to his identity and ministry.

I know there are folks who are listening this morning who are not members of Creekside, and some who may not be familiar with the practice of baptism in the Church of the Brethren. This is really good news! It’s great information for me to share, not only with those of you who may not have heard it, but for those of us who may need to be reminded of the vows we take at baptism -- which is all of us.

Unlike many other Christian denominations, the Church of Brethren practices believer’s baptism: that is, baptism based on the candidate’s statement of faith and belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This means the person being baptized needs to be old enough to understand the importance and the implications of that statement, and not just recite a statement. The exact wording of these baptismal vows is not prescribed by the church; there is even some possibility of modifying them for folks with developmental disabilities, but in general, if you have been baptized or transferred membership in another faith body to a Church of the Brethren, you will have responded “Yes” or “I do” or “With God’s help I will” to a series of questions. I’m going to read those questions and I don’t want you to respond out loud, but I want to invite you to consider whether these are statements you agree with -- and then we’ll talk about what that might mean for us in practical terms. Are you ready?

Do you believe that Jesus Christ is God’s Son, and do you receive and trust him as your Savior and Lord?

Will you turn away from sin and endeavor to live by God’s grace and to live according to the example and teachings of Jesus?

Will you be loyal to the church, upholding it by your prayers, your presence, your substance and your service?

I had a seminary professor, Alan Kreider, who summarized these three pillars of the Christian life as Believing, Behaving, and Belonging. They don’t have to happen in that order -- maybe your behavior and belief were formed because you were invited to be part of a warm and accepting group of people. Maybe you were raised in a church family which felt like home before you understood who Jesus is. Believing, Behaving and Belonging are not static throughout our lives and our lives of faith: many of us have grew up with beliefs which seemed stable and comforting, and at some point those were challenged or questioned and had to wrestle with a different understanding of our faith. I’d say with about 100% certainty that changing our behavior by turning away from sin is a practice we have to do more than once -- maybe more than once per day.

The Church of the Brethren practices baptism by immersion, that is, hokey pokey baptism -- you won’t find that term in the Minister’s Manual -- but I think of it as hokey pokey baptism because you have to put your whole self in, and that’s what it’s all about. It is about soaking ourselves in the belief, behavior, and belonging of the kingdom of God and the mission of Jesus Christ. This has a couple of implications, which Mark has helpfully and succinctly laid out for us: In verse 4 we hear that John is proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin; this is the cleansing sense of water. Water washes us and makes us clean. But it goes even deeper than that -- deeper in a literal as well as a conceptual way: in baptism the believer does not just step into the water and step out again, they go all the way under: three times in the Church of the Brethren. This often causes some consternation, which is exactly what it is designed to do; going under the water is a symbol of dying. Dying to our former self so that we can rise into a new identity. Mark 1 verse 10 and 11 put it this way: And just as he was coming up out of the water he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”

So wasn’t Jesus God’s Son the Beloved before he was soaked in the waters of baptism? Of course he was: we are all children of God by birthright. Baptism is our way of claiming that birthright, and the responsibility which goes with it. Jesus made a choice to be baptized by John, and that choice, and God’s declaration of approval, set the course of Jesus life. Immediately after his baptism -- Mark loves the dynamism of that word “immediately” -- the Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness where Jesus is tested and tempted at the beginning of his ministry.

Whether or not we have been literally soaked in the waters of baptism, if we believe in Jesus Christ as God’s Son and receive and trust him as your Savoir and Lord, then there are some other things which need to happen for us to realize our purpose in the kingdom of God. We need to confess that we are sinners and that we are in need of God’s grace. We need to be willing to turn away from that sin so we can rise up a new creatures in Christ. And we have to accept that free give of grace, that waterfall of love which washes our sin away. That is an amazing gift; amazing grace. That is where we are at the start of our Christian journey: the beginning of new life in Christ. For most of us, there’s been a whole lotta livin’ since that happened: and that’s why we need the rest of the gospel. Belief might start as a personal thing between you and Jesus, but it never ends there. If Jesus had been only about his own relationship with God his Father, he would never have been baptized in the first place. He knew God was his Father, and Jesus was without sin--he didn’t need a baptism of repentance. He could have just stayed his sinless self, kept out of trouble, not rocked the boat, lived a long and comfortable life, and let other people be damned. But our purpose, if we are followers of Christ is never, never to stay out of trouble and take care of ourselves. There may be occasions when that is the prudent course to take, but our purpose always includes other people.

You don’t need to take my word on this. In Jesus’ last words to his disciples in the gospel of Matthew he tells them what they are supposed to do until he returns. It’s the closest thing the gospels have to a mission statement, and I know many of you have heard the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19 before and may even have it memorized: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them everything that I have commanded you. That mission is of reaching all nations is more than any one person can do; but a nation full of people who aren’t willing to reach out to even one person isn’t much good either.

I think reviewing and renewing our baptismal vows is a great way for each of us to recommit to the mission of Jesus Christ. If you want to know more about what these vows mean and how you could accept Jesus as Savior and Lord and live by God’s grace, please be in touch with me. I would love to talk to you about Jesus. Belief in Christ is the foundation of the church, but what we believe is not our mission. Our mission is to be sent out into the world, because that is where Christ commands us to go. How that mission translates for Creekside and our circumstances is something we should always be considering and exploring, because how we live out that mission changes: do we go out physically or digitally? Is the world continents away or in our neighborhood? What do we need for ourselves in order to have the resources to reach out to others? The answers to these questions may change, but our mission does not. We have been drowned in God’s grace, soaked by the cleansing water of baptism, and we are sent forth as followers of Jesus, to make disciples in Jesus name. Let us go in the power and purpose of Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

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