Monday, January 13, 2014

Baptism

January 12 was Baptism of the Lord Sunday. On that Sunday, the Gospel was/is Matthew 3: 13-17. Jesus goes to the Jordan to be baptized by John and John refuses- at first. John says: “No way, man, I need you to baptize me.” But, Jesus, obedient to God’s will that he enter fully in to human experience, goes down into the water. He reaches the bottom of our human experience and identifies with us. He also identifies with the Kingdom of God. He sees the Spirit descending on him like a dove. That’s an interesting verse. He “sees” the spirit. How in the world can you see the Spirit? The Spirit by its very nature is invisible, isn’t it? In John 3, Jesus is speaking with Nicodemus and says: “The Spirit blows where it wills. You don’t know where it comes from or where it goes. You only see the results of it.” When the wind blows, you see the trees moving. But, you can’t see the wind. It says: “Jesus saw the spirit”. Stevie Ray Vaughn was a rock guitarist and when he died he wanted a grave side service and he wanted his fellow musicians to lead everyone in singing: “Amazing Grace.” The pastor who was leading the service said that he was utterly moved when he heard and saw Bonnie Raitt, and Stevie Wonder leading the singing. Others well-known people were there as well. But, the pastor says that it was interesting seeing and hearing Stevie Wonder sing: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me; I once was lost but now I am found, was blind but now I see…” Was blind but now I see. Wow. So, we see with eyes of faith at a level deeper than just our physical eyes. Grace comes to Jesus and is in Jesus for all. When we are baptized, it is a gift of God’s grace in Christ. It’s not that suddenly I became smart and did this. It’s that God, in his mercy, has come to me, to us, and offered his love and grace. And, we spend our whole lives figuring out what it means to now be a disciple of Christ in the world. For us United Methodists, Baptism is a one-time, once-in-a- lifetime thing. And, whether we are a child or an adult, Baptism is a gift, a sacrament, an outward, visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace. Don’t you have to accept it for yourself? Please. Of course, salvation is that transaction between us and God that is only complete when we accept it for ourselves. But, Baptism is just the beginning of that life of faith. Some say: “Babies don’t know what they are doing yet. They don’t understand.” That’s true. And, yet, I have seen those who claim to baptize only those who know what it means, baptize a seven year old. Now, I would argue that that seven year old knows no more than a baby – really. And, then, when it comes down to it, even we adults don’t understand grace. It’s really hard to understand an awesome gift. It comes to us before we can think or decide for ourselves. God is busy loving us into his love. I know. Some take our children who have been baptized and immerse them and claim them as converts. Nonsense. They are already baptized. The grace of God was there claiming and loving that child the first time. Love has always been a hard thing for some folks to accept and they try to turn into something that we do. No, the beauty of baptism is that it says that God loved us first. It’s about grace. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound…I was blind but now I see. Salvation is growing in grace to see more and better all the time. Blessings! Dave Nichols

Thursday, January 2, 2014

IT'S AN ADVENTURE

When I got to church this morning, the Christmas Wreaths were already down. And, it’s time to move on with the New Year, 2014. As always, Advent/Christmas was filled with anticipation and joy. Choirs inspired us with their gifts. Children drew us into their excitement. At Christmas Eve we joined in our usual wonderful service of Lessons, Carols, and Candle lighting. It was amazing. Here at the church during this season we saw some of the neediest of our neighbors coming here for help. We shared with many children through Salvation Army and we gave generously to the church and to the Bethlehem Center. Next Sunday, is sort of the last hoorah of Christmas. Jan. 6 is officially Epiphany Day, the twelfth day of Christmas Season. So, we celebrate Epiphany on the nearest Sunday, along with beginning a new year together. Epiphany is the day when the Magi brought their gifts to Jesus: gold, frankincense and myrrh. In the darkness, Magi, astrologers followed a star to the place where Jesus was. After Epiphany we enter the season after Epiphany and quickly move from Jesus as a baby to Jesus being baptized by John and growing into his identity as Messiah. This Sunday, we will try to take it all in; Christmas is put away for another year. And, we start out in faith on another year. For some of us, there are things that we need to leave behind in the old year. You can make your own list. Is there baggage that you should put down and move on from? Now is a good time to get on with it. One person recently told me of a Sunday in church when it dawned on her that she had to forgive and go forward. She said during worship she experienced a miracle. (Her words) There are some things that we, maybe, can’t let go of yet. Grief, over the loss of someone we love, is a process. It takes time. For most of us, a year is not enough time to move on from it. So, we should be gentle with ourselves. It’s hard to let go of a spouse, a parent, or someone close. But, even in grief, you can’t linger there forever. No matter how deep the pain, we know that we have to move forward or we die too. There are some things that we are searching for, like the Magi. We are following the star. So, think of the New Year as another adventure ahead of you. As with any adventure, there will be valleys and hills. There will be losses and gains. There will be good experiences and experiences that you’d just as soon not have to face. The Magi are on a mission. They want to get to Jesus. What is your mission? You have a mission too. God has called you in Jesus Christ to this adventure that we call Christian faith. It is an adventure that relies on the guidance of the Spirit of God. When the Magi started out, I can sense their excitement. They had prepared and studied and prayed. Now, they packed their bags, which couldn’t be too heavy to put on a camel. They had their maps. They had faith that they were going to the place God wanted them to be. They had each other. We don’t know how many there were. The church said there were at least three, for three gifts. There may have been more. Let us begin this New Year 2014 as another adventure in faith. We have our map (Bible). We have our preparation (prayer and study). We have the light of the star and the assurance that our lives have meaning and mission given to us by God. And, as we go forward, we have each other. Some of us know each other well. Others of us do not know others across the aisle, but we do know that by God’s grace we are together on this journey. God has not brought us this far to leave us here. God is moving on; who knows what God will yet do with us and through us? Blessings! Dave Nichols

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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About Me

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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