Acts 19:1-7 (NRSV) Mark 1:4-11 (NRSV)
When I was a kid, my grandmother would take us to the local pool as an escape from what can be terribly hot and humid southern Minnesotan summers. It was a great pool, outdoors and huge, maybe two or three times a normal Olympic sized pool. The place was packed, with all the kids from town. My grandmother would set up her lawn chair and umbrella to keep off the sun and then as my brother and sister and I dashed off to plunge ourselves into the cool water, inevitably we would hear her high and slightly shrill voice shouting after us, “Be safe and don’t get too wet!”
But despite my grandmothers admonition, in one tremendous and often well synchronized cannon ball, my brother, sister and I, would be “all in” plunging into the water with great delight only to surface a moment later, completely and totally soaked– through and through.
But before we explore how any of this may have anything to do with the text this morning, let us pray. “Holy God, we can live without many things but we will not last long without water and without love. So wash us this day in the waters of your love. Help us to feel the belovedness of belonging to you. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you. Our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
Whether the waters of our baptism or sprinkled on our foreheads or whether they close completely over us, to be baptized is to be all in, as wet as wet can be. There is no “sort of baptized” or a little bit baptized as if we could keep a part of ourselves on dry ground. To be baptized is to be plunged into the current of Christ, drenched to the core in the love of God.
But as lovely and dramatic as the moment of Baptism is, what is equally dramatic and terribly important is what comes before and after that moment when the water of love wash over us. Baptism is both about being called out and being called in. Let’s take a moment to consider each.
As we step into Scripture this morning, we enter the scene not on the steps of the temple, not in the public square, but out on the edge of the wilderness. Or perhaps better said, in the wilderness itself. For the Jordan River was a wild place. The thick vegetation that grew along the river’s banks gave cover to lions and leopards. And John, the baptizer is as wild as river around him. For John comes not out to the halls of power or the power of privilege, but he comes out of the wilderness wearing not comfort but a camel haired coat and satiated not by opulence, but by a simple, if not a rather challenging, diet.
It is from this wild place, and by this wild prophet that the call to repentance and its renewal, the call to baptism first comes. And what is amazing is that the people hear the cry and come! John’s cry to repentance must have stirred something in them, awoken something in them, for they stream out of the Jerusalem and flood across the country side. The text tells us that there is a great tide of humanity coming down to the river.
John’s call is one of repentance of sins and most of us hear that call as a call to face our individual failings in the ways we may not having lived up to the expectations of God. We hear a call to face how we may have fallen down or fallen away from living as God would have us live.
But the Biblical understanding of repentance is not so much a personal confession of individual failings as it is a radical reorientation. To repent is to turn with the emphasis not so much on what one is turning from (our failings) but much more so on what one is turning towards (our God). Marcus Borg Biblical scholar and author writes in his book “Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary” identifies John as part of a religious renewal moment in the Judaism of the day and says that “To go to this figure, as Jesus did, was to seek out a movement of protest and renewal.”
It is in this light that I have come to see this morning’s scripture as a kind of second Exodus story. It’s the Roman Empire now, not Pharaoh, but John the Baptist like Moses before him calls the people out of Empire and into the waters, to cross over as it were into renewed life oriented towards God.
And perhaps that is why, Jesus came that day. Like the others, perhaps he too was yearning for a renewal and reorientation of living that was God centered and not one consumed by keeping one’s head down and out of the way of Empire. Perhaps Jesus was yearning for big and bold way of life guided not by fear but by the unfolding of God’s will.
So as the waters run down the forehead of the newly born or close over the one who has come of age, the first movement of baptism is to be called out, called out of all of the ways that our lives have grown into complicity with death dealing ways of Empire, called out of fear, called out of preoccupation with just me and mine.
But baptism is not just about being called out, it is about being called into. Paul’s question of the people of Ephesus is a good one. “Into what then are we baptized?” I had said that to be baptized is to be all in, body and soul but into what?
Baptism is to be called into a life infused and animated by the Spirit, the life energy and love of God that knits us one to another in a life lived together. Baptism is the revelation and affirmation of belovedness and the initiation into the communion of people seeking to be followers of Jesus, disciples of Christ, sustained and nourished by the Holy Spirit. To be baptized is to say yes to living in the way of Jesus, which in all places and all times, I believe will continue to be the renewal movement found not in the centers of power but on the edge of the wilderness, on the path of Exodus.
And what specifically does that life look like? In the passage from Act this morning it looked an awakening to gifts they did not imagine they had. For us it could look like a life lit up by the Holy Spirit, guided by compassion and forgiveness; a life on the look-out for those that are lost or hurting; a life naming what is broken in our common life and working towards justice and peace; a life of belovedness, humbly swimming with each other and the Holy Spirit in the waters of God’s love.
Now while baptism is a sacrament of in the Christian tradition, does belovedness belong only to the baptized? Not at all! Belovedness is the birthright of creation and all people, baptized or not are beloved. I have come to understand baptism as not a ritual through which one is transferred from a state of sin to a state of grace, as if baptism brings about an ontological shift in the essence of the person from worthlessness to worthiness. Instead, I have come to understand baptism as a revelatory event of belovedness and initiation into an intentional and communal walk of discipleship. Baptism reveals belovedness. It does not create it. And so we in the Christian tradition stand with and celebrate the belovedness of all people and walk together will all people of faith seeking to love kindness, do justice and walk humbly with our God.
So, why does any of this matter? The revelation of belovedness and the walk of faith matters because living in this world is not easy. No let’s just put it out there. Living in this world is hard. We may live in zipcodes of relative stability and we may do all we can to protect our kids, but we are not immune to fear. We are not strangers to uncertainty. The unimaginable seems to be making the news with alarming regularity these days and message of “you are alone and life is inherently meaningless” is getting louder and louder, tearing apart our social fabric in terrifying ways as so many turn to violence against themselves or others.
The revelation of belovedness and the commitment to live a life that makes manifest the love of God, confirms identity and gives purpose and in doing so ignites a light of hope and meaning that burns in resistance to the despair of our times.
Now it is my hope when one of our beloved children meet that bully on the playground or boardroom that tells her she is not enough and never will be. Or when one of our beloved children meets that bully in the locker room or courtroom that tells him he doesn’t measure us and never will. Or if in that moment when pressured to act in ways that do not feel right, that push against the boundary of ethical behavior, or to scapegoat another in order to reinforce the power of the tribe in whatever social, economic or political form that could take – that in that moment we will remember our belovedness. And in doing so we will have the courage to testify to belovedness of all and to the disarming presence of love that has the power to tear open the sky and open for us possibilities for the peace and redemption that as of yet remain unimaginable.
You are beloved children of God, in whom God is well pleased, May we remember that belovedness is our foundational truth of our being and the charge of our living. And so as our walk of discipleship begins anew this year, as we set out following Jesus, let us be all in, plunged into the current of Christ, drenched to the core in the love of God, completely and totally soaked– through and through. Amen
 From UCC Sermon Seeds for January 11 by Kathryn Matthews Huey.http://www.ucc.org/worship_samuel_january_11_2015.