January 13, 2019

2018 BaptismJan13

Baptism of Christ - Year C

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger

 

Way back in the 1990s, I taught the high school Sunday School class at Trinity Cathedral in San José. We spent some time visiting other Christian churches to experience different types of Christian worship. One church we visited performed a full-immersion Believer Baptism on the Sunday we attended.

 

After some extensive Googling, I think the church was the Jubilee Christian Center. It was a megachurch at the north end of San José, which, at the time, was completely undeveloped. It was the southern tip of the San Francisco Bay, there 1st Street meets Hwy 237, if you know the area. It was smelly salt flats, but it is now fully developed tech company campuses and live-work-play apartment complexes.

 

The building remains, and is now occupied by the mega megachurch Redemption Church Bay Area. When the Cathedral Kids and I went, the auditorium-sized sanctuary had a huge wall behind where an altar would be. So, imagine the wall behind me being as wide as our entire plot of land. In the center, where our Christ the Good Shepherd Window is, there was a painted mural of the San Francisco Bay. It comprised the center third of the wall, and it was painted from the perspective of someone looking out from where the building was and up the Bay, south to north, including the Bay and Golden Gate Bridges.

 

When it was time for the Baptism, curtains parted, and that was when the mural was revealed, as was the Baptismal Pool. The Pastor, in his hip waders, climbed the staircase on one side; the catechumen, in her white robe over her swimsuit, climbed the staircase on the other side. The Pastor held the catechumen in position, and submerged her 3 times, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

 

This was the first and only time I have witnessed a full-immersion Baptism. It was a bit more drama than I had expected, but in general, I think full-immersion Baptism is pretty cool. If a new member of St Stephen’s came to me for Baptism and wanted to be Baptized in the Pacific Ocean at Avila Beach, I would happily try to make that happen.

 

Full-immersion Baptism is not without its problems, however. In 2005, Pastor Kyle Lake, of University Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, was electrocuted while standing in the church baptismal pool while adjusting a microphone before baptizing a woman. He tragically died in front of 800 people, including his wife and children. It was found that faulty electrical heating lines had something to do with the tragedy.

 

Witnessing the Baptism at Jubilee Christian Center in San José, though, has lodged in my mind, not the difference between full-immersion and what we do at the Font, but the difference between strict Believer Baptism and the option for Infant or Child Baptism and what that means for those of us who practice Infant Baptism.

 

The World Council of Churches, of which The Episcopal Church is a founding member, agreed on five tenets of the meaning of Baptism:

  1. Baptism is ‘participation in Christ’s death and resurrection’.
  2. Baptism implies ‘confession of sin and conversion of heart’, with ‘a new ethical orientation under the guidance of the Holy Spirit’.
  3. 'The gift of the Spirit’ marks the baptized and ‘implants in their hearts the first instalment of their inheritance as sons and daughters of God’.
  4. Baptism brings ‘incorporation into the Body of Christ’, uniting people in faith to Christ, to each other, and to the church of every time and place.
  5. As a ‘sign of the kingdom’, baptism initiates the reality of new life in the midst of the present world and anticipates the universal confession of Christ as Lord.


In issuing this statement, the WCC addressed the difference in belief on whether or not infants can be Baptized. It professed that Baptism ‘takes place in the church as the community of faith’ and expects growth in its understanding. This means that Baptism is not an end-point but a beginning-point. Regardless of age or knowledge, we are on a journey to “come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ,” as it says in Ephesians 4:13. Theologically, Baptism is not just a nice day in Church; Baptism comes with an expectation of development and maturation.

 

As we grow into the full stature of Christ, moving along our lifelong journeys, we should understand our Baptism as a Cultural Disruptor. In the Early Church, simply being Baptized would get you murdered by the authorities. Christianity, membership of which was through Baptism, was seen as a threat to the stability of the Roman Empire. The refusal to worship the Roman Gods, and to swear your allegiance to Jesus Christ instead of the Emperor were seen as treason. Christianity, signified by one’s Baptism, was a Cultural Disruptor. Those who were Baptized knew that death would be the result of their Baptism, yet they still entered into the Body of Christ.

 

As we move through the Sundays in the Season of Epiphany, we will be reminded how Jesus Himself was a Cultural Disruptor in the Gospel we will hear after today’s Baptism in the Jordan.

  • The Wedding at Cana
  • Teaching in the Synagogue
  • Being run out of town
  • Turning fishermen into fishers of people
  • Telling us to love our enemies
  • And one of the biggest Cultural Disruptors of His ministry, The Beatitudes, through which Jesus declared that the mighty must be brought down from their thrones and that God will lift up the humble and lowly.


All of those are models of how we are to express the Gospel in the world around us today. We are to continue the Cultural Disruption that Jesus begin – not to subjugate others, but in order to liberate all of God’s Children so that they will know the love of God and have the opportunity to thrive as the Child of God they were created to be.

 

Whether we were Baptized as adults or infants, our journey as Christians needs to incorporate an understanding of how our Baptism – our faith – is a Cultural Disruptor – one for the good of God’s people. Regardless of how we were Baptized or at what age, being Baptized is our “full immersion” into the work of proclaiming the Gospel to the world around us.

 

We will soon renew our Baptismal Covenant. In it, we discover the WCC tenet that Baptism draws us into ‘a new ethical orientation under the guidance of the Holy Spirit’. In today’s divisive times, living the Covenant is cultural disruption and a new ethical orientation:

 

  • To confidently continue the faith practice begun by the Apostles and Christ Himself at the Eucharist.
  • To resist the evil of worldly temptations.
  • Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
  • To live the Gospel of love for all God’s people.
  • To love our enemies and love our neighbors as ourselves.
  • To respect the dignity of every human being.


These nice ideals are actually difficult to live out, yet our Baptism calls us to be beacons of these ideals. How do we take up the challenging mantle to be Cultural Disruptors? The Baptismal Covenant tells us how: “I will, with God’s help.”

 

As it states in the Catechism, “Holy Baptism is the Sacrament by which God adopts us as His children and makes us members of Christ’s Body, the Church, and inheritors of the Kingdom of God.” Let us be Christ’s Body in this world as we await the coming of God’s Kingdom. Let us be Cultural Disruptors in the quiet, subtle yet persistent ways, and let us be Cultural Disruptors in the loud, belligerent and unbending ways.

 

The conviction with which the Baptism in San José took place, and the sacrifice made for the Baptism in University Baptist Church in Waco, TX, and every Christian Baptism brings us together to spread the Good News of God in Jesus Christ – to spread the Love of God – to the world around us. This Baptism we share with one another and with Jesus Christ is the source of the love in this world that will disrupt the hate and evil around us.

 

It states on page 298 of the Book of Common Prayer: “The bond which God establishes in Baptism is INDISSOLUBLE.” So, we are stuck with this responsibility. Let’s make something good out of it. And when we renew our Baptismal Vows and go out into the world to disrupt evil and hatred, when we cross ourselves with Holy Water, when we assert that we are Christians, let us hear that voice from Heaven:

 

“You are my child,
who is beloved;
with you I am well pleased.”

© 2019 St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
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