yearA baptism


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          Matthew 3:13-17    -    "The Water That Brings A New Beginning"
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Water is not one of the more popular images these past two weeks. So I was a little distressed that this Sunday in the church year is the Sunday that celebrates the Baptism of our Lord. We have learned all to well that water can destroy as well as give life. The very thing that killed close to 200,000 people in south Asia is now the very thing they need the most: water. Clean fresh life giving water. I want to think about that positive image first.


There are two very different ways to think about baptism. The first approach recognizes the time of baptism as a saving moment in which the person being baptized accepts the love and forgiveness of God. The person then considers herself "saved." She may grow in the faith through the years, but nothing which she will experience after her baptism will be as important as her baptism. She always will be able to recall her baptism as the time when her life changed.


The second approach wouldn't disagree with any of that, but would add to it significantly. This idea affirms baptism as the time when God's love and forgiveness are experienced. It also recognizes baptism as a time of change. However, where the first approach isolates the act of baptism as the most important moment, the second approach understands baptism more as a beginning. While it is true that in the waters of baptism God laid claim on our lives, it is also true that we spend the rest of our lives trying to figure out what that means. The first understanding often overlooks the journey which follows baptism.


Baptism too frequently carries the connotation of having arrived. Sometimes people say to their ministers, "I want to be baptized and join the church as soon as I get my life in order." Of course, if that is what any of us are waiting on, we will never be baptized. None of us will ever have our lives sufficiently in order to be baptized. Baptism is not something we earn, nor is it a sign that we have found all the answers. Nothing could be further from the truth.


Baptism is a beginning. It is the desire to see the world differently, to see each other differently, and even to see ourselves differently. Baptism is a fresh start, not a destination. Baptism calls into question our previous lives, it does not bless them. Baptism is not a trial-free membership, but a rite of initiation into a way of life in which Jesus promised there would be trials.


Jesus' baptism serves as a model for our baptism. For Jesus, baptism represents the beginning of his ministry. While some ultimate questions may have been answered when he was with John the Baptist in the Jordan River, Jesus continued to deal with questions and temptations throughout his life. The baptism of Jesus is one of our favorite stories. We love to hear how the heavens opened, to imagine the dove descending, and to hear God's blessing on the Son. We would like to think something like that happens when we are baptized. What we should be prepared for is that our journey of faith, much like Jesus' journey, continues to unfold long after our baptism as we try to discern what our baptism means in our daily living.


We can begin to understand more about our baptism by thinking of it in three ways.


1. First, baptism is about beginning anew.

2. The second part of baptism is the good news that we have been included.

3. The third part of baptism is ordination. With baptism comes the Spirit, and with the Spirit come gifts to be used in the service of God.


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Responsive Reading and or Prayer:


Minister: Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.

People: Answer me, O LORD, out of the goodness of your love.

Minister: I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold.

People: In your great mercy turn to us.


Minister: I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me.

People: Answer me, O LORD, out of the goodness of your love.

Minister: I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched.

People: In your great mercy turn to us.

Minister: My eyes fail, looking for my God.


People: Rescue me from the mire; do not let me sink;

Minister: Answer me, O LORD, out of the goodness of your love.

People: Deliver me from the deep waters.

Minister: In your great mercy turn to us.


People: Do not let the floodwaters engulf me

Minister: Answer me, O LORD, out of the goodness of your love.

People: or the depths swallow me up, or the pit close its mouth over me.

Minister: In your great mercy turn to us.


Brett Blair,, Adapted from Psalm 69: 1-3, 14-16. You might follow this responsive reading with a moment of silence.


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What Is Unique About Christianity?

The story of Jesus sitting and debating the Law with rabbis reminds me of another debate that took place in a comparative religions conference, the wise and the scholarly were in a spirited debate about what is unique about Christianity. Someone suggested what set Christianity apart from other religions was the concept of incarnation, the idea that God became incarnate in human form. But someone quickly said, “Well, actually, other faiths believe that God appears in human form.” Another suggestion was offered: what about resurrection? The belief that death is not the final word. That the tomb was found empty. Someone slowly shook his head. Other religions have accounts of people returning from the dead.

Then, as the story is told, C.S. Lewis walked into the room, tweed jacket, pipe, armful of papers, a little early for his presentation. He sat down and took in the conversation, which had by now evolved into a fierce debate. Finally during a lull, he spoke saying, “what's all this rumpus about?” Everyone turned in his direction. Trying to explain themselves they said, “We're debating what's unique about Christianity.” “Oh, that's easy,” answered Lewis, “it's....


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