Thursday, January 6, 2011

Baptism

Next Sunday, January 9, is Baptism of the Lord Sunday. And, it’s Matthew’s year to tell the story. John the Baptist baptizes Jesus. Baptism has some history in Judaism. If you converted to Judaism, you were bathed, to move you from one way of living to another.

John’s Baptism was for the repentance of sins, to get people ready for the coming Kingdom of God. Some scholars believe that John was a member of the Essene community which was a group that had moved out to the desert, away from the evil city, to get ready for the coming Kingdom of God. We learned about the Essenes when we discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls.

See Jesus coming up out of nowhere. John is in the River Jordan baptizing. Others are waiting. All of a sudden, John turns around and there in front of him is Jesus of Nazareth. “Baptize me,” says Jesus.

John protests: “You come to be baptized by me; you need to baptize me.” Jesus is the coming Kingdom of God. John has prophesied that he is baptizing with water but there is one coming after me who will baptize you with the power of the Holy Spirit.

Scholars say that reflected in that conversation is the church’s embarrassment that Jesus would be baptized. If John’s baptism is for the forgiveness of sins, they why would Jesus need to be baptized? Jesus simply says: “Let’s do this to fulfill all righteousness.”

Jesus is saying: “I am coming down here, down into the water, down to your level. I am standing with you in this. Let me come to this place of beginning, just as you have come to this place of beginning.”

Jesus is baptized and there’s a dove and a voice from heaven.

I do think it’s interesting that Jesus, rather than identifying himself with the Pharisees or the Sadducees, he identifies himself with the Essene community.
Not with the keepers of the law who spend their time arguing the minutest detail of its meaning, but he comes to the Essene community that is getting ready for the Kingdom of God.

Did Jesus need to be baptized or not? Doesn’t matter. What matters is that he was baptized and with that he has launched his public ministry. We believe that Jesus is about 30 years old here.

Every year we rehearse the story of Jesus: birth, life, death, resurrection. Jesus was baptized.

The United Methodist Church will baptize a person in any of the three historic modes: sprinkling, pouring, and immersion. Every once in a while, someone who has not been baptized will request to be immersed. And, we will do it.

And, like the majority of the Christian church we baptize babies who are children of Christian parents. In the New Testament, there is evidence that when someone was converted to Christian faith the whole “household” was baptized.

Just as a child receives the gift of American citizenship by being the child of an American, a child of Christians is given Christian identity. It is a gift. Someone may say: we should wait until the child is old enough to choose to be an American for himself; no, we give them that identity for themselves- before they can think or choose for themselves. That decision is just too important to leave to later. They will as adults choose whether to accept that identity or not.

The same is true with baptism. We baptize the baby, nurture and teach the baby, until that child is old enough to decide for himself or herself whether to accept that identity and Jesus Christ for him/herself. Some scholars say that that baby is as much a Christian as he/she will ever be- since we are Christians because of the grace of God.

Everyone who comes into the church must be baptized. It is an initiation rite. It is the way in. It is the door to the body of Christ.

Jesus, freshly baptized, is now ready to do battle with the devil.

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

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Welcome

Thanks for checking out my blog. I'm new to this, as you can probably see. But, I, like you, have convictions and ideas worth sharing. I hope this will be an opportunity to connect with others who are Christian and/or religious. I am happily United Methodist. I am committed to the basic teachings of our church, and to the compassionate outreach to the world.

I hope these pastoral ponderings will generate something in you that is hopeful.
Blessings!
Dave

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A graduate of Newberry College and Duke University Divinity School.  I have served as a pastor in the United Methodist Church since 1975.

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