While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" They answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." So Paul asked, "Then what baptism did you receive?" "John's baptism," they replied. 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." On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all. -Acts 19:1-7 Read the whole chapter.
So, in the Christian year, as we've ended the Christmas season, the advent Christmas Epiphany season, we now enter into this ordinary time as it's called, but really it's not that ordinary, because today is referred to or known as baptism of the Lord Sunday, in which we are reminded of the fact that Jesus public ministry began with His baptism. Now, on this Sunday, it's difficult to get past the images of us often baptizing infants around the baptismal font when they're still very young, because we've gone from Jesus being born, we've gone from Jesus being presented in the temple and so well, newborn baby Jesus was being baptized, but it wasn't the case. We've actually fast-forwarded through all of his growing up basically, to come to the moment where Jesus emerges on the public scene. Now, in the Gospels, we find accounts of Jesus baptism in Matthew, Mark and Luke. John's gospel doesn't quite name the baptism of Jesus as much as John the Baptist says, “I saw the Spirit descend upon him.” Much like what happens when Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River by John. But Jesus baptism, particularly in the Gospel of Mark, heralds the beginning of this ministry, and for Mark, it's the most important moment because Mark doesn't waste his time talking about how Jesus was born. Mark jumps right in with Jesus shows up at the Jordan and as baptizing God makes His declaration that Jesus is His beloved son.
Now, we alluded to those words in our call to worship this morning, that Jesus was named and claimed that God spoke into that moment, and we can go around and around, did other people hear it or not, but it really doesn't matter. The point is, they got... In that moment of Jesus baptism, spoke and said, “This is my beloved Son. With Him, I am well pleased.” Jesus had a name, but yet God named him publicly as his Son, named Him as beloved, said He belongs to me, to the work that I am doing in and through this world.
So we come to this day to begin this new year of looking at what this life and ministry of Jesus is all about, but it's also a day in which we often are called to remember and to celebrate our baptisms. Obviously with our social distancing and other things, having people come forward and take turns touching the water and other ways that we remember this is not prudent or practical, but we are still called upon to remember this baptism, and what is it about this remembrance? It's so important in our reading this morning from Acts on the heels of all of these things that we see in the Gospels about Jesus baptism, we're near the end of this gospel, the story of these first Christians and Paul, on what many would refer to as his third missionary journey, his third trip kind of out around the Mediterranean to visit some of those communities where Christians were developing and growing, the church was young, the church was informed, but Paul was doing the work of bringing some order and purpose to it, driven by God in God's Spirit. When he came to this community in Corinth, or as when he came to Ephesus, He found some disciples and he asked him, ‘Have you received the Holy Spirit?’ And they said, ‘Holy Spirit, we haven't ever heard of this Holy Spirit.’
Paul says, ‘Then, who's baptism were you baptized in?’ And they said, ‘Well, John...’ Now, John's baptism was an anticipatory baptism. Even in the Gospels, when John is baptizing people, he says, ‘there is One greater than I who will baptize you with fire. And he points to Jesus and says, I'm not even worthy to untie the sandals on his feet.’ But John's baptism was an important one, it was one that said, Look, folks, things aren't going very well. You all need to change. You all need to repent. You need to accept this baptism that will help to remove your sins and to be ready to receive the baptism of the one who's greater than I. Now, Jesus underwent this baptism. And then as the church began to grow and develop following the resurrection, baptism became the sign of belonging, it was the sacrament, it was the ritual, it was the outward sign of what was going on internally, and so people were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ to be a part of that body. But more than that, this baptism involved a transformation for any of people's lives to what God was doing.
When we remember our baptism, many of us here today, we're probably baptized young, some may have little or no memory of it. I was going through a folder the other day that has a lot of our important papers and things in it, of birth certificates and social security cards, and we've got baptism certificates in there and mine's in there. I have a very small memory of my baptism because I was about four years old when I was baptized, my sister was still an infant and we were baptized on the same day. So as remembering that baptism, about finding that certificate and saying, No, I've got a piece of paper that says, I was baptized. Is remembering your baptism, remembering the feel of the water, of someone placing it upon your head or if you were immersed of going into the water, those are an important part of baptism, but when we're called to remember, is the piece of paper or the water itself, what we're called to remember, and the answer, and that is not what we're called to remember, is that baptism is God's invitation to each and every one of us to be named as one of his beloved children, to be claimed by God for His purposes in this world. When we remember our baptism, we remember that we are a part of the story of what God is doing to bring salvation and redemption to this world.
So, what does all of this mean for us in light of the pandemic that we have going on in light of all of the upheaval and turmoil in our country and in our government, part of remembering our baptism is remembering who we are and whose we are. I have a lot of friends and a lot of pastors that are commenting and sharing their thoughts on everything on social media, and quite honestly, I have thoughts and opinions about it, but they're just my thoughts and opinion because quite frankly, I don't see what I have to add to this narrative by saying what I think is right or wrong. One of the things that gave me a little clarity the other day, I was watching a very profound program... It's called Cobra Kai. It's a Netflix series that's a spin-off of the 80s Karate Kid movies, Daniel Russo, who was the karate kid, and his high school nemesis and rival Johnny Lawrence are now adults, and they still don't like each other, and they still bicker back and forth and have this rivalry between them, and the episode I watched the other day was the girlfriend Ally, who first date Johnny and then Daniel and ended up somehow in the middle, she was home for the holidays to visit or parents.
And she's talking with them, and Daniel and John are going back and forth, and she said, ‘You know what the problem is for the two of you, you have your version of things, and you have your version of things,’ and One of them chimes in and says, ‘I know there's always two sides.’ She said, ‘No, no. There's actually three sides.’ She said, ‘There's your side. And there's your side. And then there's the truth.’ And I thought, boy, what a perfect illustration for where we're at right now, we've got the left, we've got the right, we've got the Republicans, we've got the Democrats, we've got... Whatever you want to call it, who have their opinions and the others have theirs, and then somewhere else in the middle is something closer to the truth. And the problem that we're facing today is that much of the decision making, even on the level of individuals who vote is that we're self-centered, that everything is about us. I think it's magnified with many of these political leaders, but it's self-serving protest, riots are people that are upset that they didn't get their way, but that's the thing about a democracy is everyone gets a vote. But not everyone gets their way. What makes a democracy work is that when you don't get your way, you kind of accept it and move on and tell that next time to vote and see if things will change, but the problem is that things have gotten violent. I don't think anybody thinks that's the right way. And we can sit back and say, ‘Well, I wasn't in DC and pushed down those doors of the capital, but I'm trying to distance myself from it right now, but in my social media feed, the words that people are using to describe people who have different views than them is nothing short of violent, that we are carrying one another down, and it's not helping anything.
So where does our baptism fall into this? It's about remembering that baptism, it's about remembering who we are and who we are, it's about remembering that through baptism, just as Jesus was declared to be God's beloved and the one with whom he was well pleased when we undergo baptism, it's a dying to our old self, and arising to new life with Christ, in Christ because of Christ. And if we're truly going to call ourselves Christians, we need to be different, we need to be different than the world around us, we need to be different than all of those things that we see happening that clearly are not working, we need to be different... in the sense that Jesus did not think first and foremost of himself, Jesus as Paul tells us, ‘who taking on the form of a human humbled himself and became obedient even to death, death on a cross.’ This is the same Jesus who was faced with that arrest and that looming crucifixion, who prayed in the garden, ‘God, if this cup can pass Me by, may it be. But not My will. Thy will be done.’ Jesus didn't think and look to himself and his own needs first, he considered those around him. Friends, you and I are often small in the scheme of things, and we think, ‘What difference can we make?’ But it has to start somewhere. I want to recommend and encourage that we remember our baptism, that God is the One who has named us and claimed us, and if we live like we've been named and claimed by God, we will be a part of bringing that good into this world. We will be instruments of God's peace, will be agents of God's love, when there seems to be a shortage of it, and the way that people are treating one another right now, the mask and the distancing are insignificant barriers, they're there to keep people safe from the spread of a virus, but they cannot and should not stand in the way of a spreading God's love in this good news that we find in Jesus. This time doesn't seem that ordinary, apart from church life, 2020 ended and 2021 is saying, Yeah, you all stand back and watch, but it doesn't matter, because we don't need to live and do things by the standards of this world through baptism. We have been named. We have been claimed. We've given a purpose and a mission. Remember that. Amen.