Tag Archives: baptism

The Rest of the Story

My notes from my Sunday sermons at Reynoldsville: First UMC yesterday.
First Scripture Reading: Mark 1:4-11
Second Scripture Reading: Acts 19:1-7
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This morning, we look at a short passage from the book of Acts, where Luke has recorded details impressed upon him as important by the Holy Spirit of God, as he follows the ministry of Paul and the early church. But it’s part of a bigger story…
In the chapter before this, Paul has been on an extended tour, preaching and teaching about how to faithfully live life as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Paul’s travels, in that one chapter alone included stops in Athens, Corinth, Syria, Ephesus, Caesarea, Jerusalem, Antioch, Galatia, and Phrygia… and the Bible says that he “held discussions” (18:4,19), and he was “preaching the message” and “testifying” (18:5), “teaching” (18:11), “greeted the church” (18:22), and “strengthening all the believers” (18:23).
And we know that this took a while, first of all because there were no turnpikes… or airports… or taxis, but also because we know that he spent at least a year and a half in one spot alone, Corinth (18:11).
And in our text this morning, he’s at it again and ends up back in the city of Ephesus, where he had stopped briefly in his last set of travels (18:19-21).
And the first thing Luke tells us… is that Paul gets there to Ephesus… “while Apollos was in Corinth…”
OK… so who’s Apollos… and why do we care that he’s in Corinth when Paul gets to Ephesus?
Well, at the end of the chapter before this, in verse 24, we find that Apollos was a Jew who was “eloquent” when he spoke and had a “thorough knowledge” of the Scriptures.
Verse 25 of chapter 18 then lets us know that he had received instruction in “the Way of the Lord” and was able to teach others the facts about Jesus… correctly in fact.
In fact, he ends up teaching and preaching in Ephesus, where Paul had stopped back in verses 19, 20, and 21, but where Paul had not been able to stay long enough to do any long term explanations or teaching or discipleship.
And here comes Apollos, filling in the gap… teaching what he knows… and doing it really well.
But, the Bible goes on to say that Apollos “knew only the baptism of John.” (18:25)
And then here we are now in chapter 19 with Paul encountering Christians from that very same Ephesus and he finds that they “haven’t heard” that there even was a Holy Spirit, let alone received the Holy Spirit.
They, like Apollos before them, had only received a piece of the story… and had followed the form of what they thought was good religious practice… they were baptized in the way that John the Baptist had done… a baptism of repentance.
Folks, without stepping too deeply into the deep waters of baptismal theology, I think there are a couple of things God might be saying through these verses for you and me as we minister here in this place.
First of all, we, like Apollos and the Ephesian Christians Paul encounters, may have all of the instruction and training about Jesus and still be missing a major piece of the life of a Christian disciple.
The head knowledge about Jesus is good, and it’s a great place to start… that’s why we spend so much time and effort and money in having Sunday Schools… We want our children (and even us as adults) to have the godly, Christ-centered head knowledge to make informed and godly decisions… about salvation, about discipleship, about living in the midst of the world as an ambassador for Christ…
But that’s can’t be where it ends… Like Apollos, it’s not enough to simply be knowledgeable, or even eloquent and convincing…
Luke spends several verses, over the course of two chapters, explaining the difference and the incompleteness of Apollos and these Ephesian Christians who only had the baptism of John… Their baptism was simply a response on their part to symbolize their own repentance… And twice, Scripture emphasizes that that simply isn’t enough…
Christian baptism isn’t just a symbolic representation of your repentance or mine… that became clear when Jesus insisted on John baptizing him… Jesus had nothing to repent of… and John knew it… If you remember, John didn’t want to baptize Jesus and said ‘no Lord, I need you to baptize me…’ Because in John’s mind, baptism was a matter of repentance.
But, as would be the case so often in Christ’s ministry, Jesus turned John’s whole idea of baptism on its head… It could no longer be just about repentance. Jesus refused to baptize John in a baptism of repentance and insisted that John baptize him… and Christian baptism changed from that moment on.
John found out from Jesus, Apollos found out from Aquila and Priscilla, and these Ephesian disciples found out from Paul. Christian baptism doesn’t represent what you and I do or decide…
That’s why we, as United Methodists, don’t get all hung up about baptizing children and infants… because it’s not about their repentance, it’s about God choosing to pour his grace and mercy out on people who were still sinners and don’t deserve the gift of salvation… and yet God chooses them anyways.
And babies, toddlers, children, teens, adults, and even senior citizens all need God’s grace equally… and God pours out his grace on each one… whether they’ve repented yet or not… Baptism is a visible sign of what GOD has already done and is still doing… Offering and grace and mercy to all…
In fact, Scripture teaches that God’s grace is what enables us to even experience the gift of repentance so that we can respond to Christ’s offer of salvation…
Baptism represents God’s grace…
“Well, preacher,” you may be thinking, “I don’t see why this is so important… what difference does it really make anyways?”
Well, enough of a difference that it was included in the Scriptural text as part of the words of God that are for our instruction, doctrine, correction, and training in righteousness. God Himself felt this was important enough to make it into the book…
It makes enough of a difference that the Ephesians were then baptized as Christians in the name of Jesus… because the baptism of repentance simply wasn’t good enough… not for a Christian who had freely experienced the grace of God poured out on him through no effort of his own.
So what do we see here that we can specifically apply, in our day and age, in our situation, in our lives?
First, On this day when we remember Jesus’ baptism, let’s not get baptism and repentance confused… repentance is US recognizing our sin and US choosing to give up that sin. However, baptism is all about what GOD does… not what we do.
Second, let’s take a lesson from Paul, and make sure that we leave people like Aquila and Priscilla, good and mature Christians who can follow up and disciple newer Christians… It’s not enough to have Sunday School training and head knowledge, but rather we want to entrust our young in age and young in faith to people who are living out the Christian walk of faith… and can lead by example as well as by words…
Third, let’s remember that our journey of faith, including our baptism, and also times when we respond to God, are nothing until we allow God to pour out His Holy Spirit on us… filling us and immersing us in His presence and His power through His Spirit.

This morning, I want to encourage each of us to ask ourselves a question…
Where do we find ourselves in these passages?
Are we like these twelve Ephesian disciples? Trying to be faithful, doing all of the right things as best as we can understand them? And yet, still basing our entire Christian walk on our efforts and our decisions and our rational choices and logical understandings?

If so, reach out in prayer to God and allow him to take you beyond mere religious response and fill you with His Spirit… that your life would be a life marked by the outpouring and experience of grace, not merely a religious set of ‘gottas’ and ‘can’ts’ based in your own understanding.
Perhaps, you have already come to that place where you’ve gone beyond the head knowledge and have experienced the power of God being poured out into your life… If so, then according to Scripture there is some gift of the Holy Spirit that He has also given you… for these twelve Ephesians it was tongues and prophesy… Do you know what spiritual gift (or gifts) He gave you when He poured out His Spirit on you?
Finally, are you one who’s experienced the maturing power of God in your life? Then, like Paul, and Aquila and Priscilla, we need you to be reaching out in ministry to those who are still en route… What ministry are you actively involved in… where you are using those spiritual gifts and helping to teach, preach, encourage, or strengthen those younger in the faith like Apollos or the Ephesian disciples?
Can we… WILL we… take that next step?

–Adapted from a sermon I preached Jan. 12, 2003 in Patton, PA

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Remembering Baptism…

One of the all-time highlights for me as a pastor, and as a father, has been the privilege and honor of being a part of the baptism of my daughters, Michele and Sarah.

With the help of Pastors Joe Short and Dave Heckman and with 170 people from six different United Methodist churches watching from the shore of Glendale Lake, Michele was baptized on August 18, 2001. And on September 17, 2006, with the help of Pastor Seth McClymonds and some 40 people from the Reynoldsville United Methodist Church watching on the banks of the Parker Dam resevoir, Sarah was baptized. Each girl publicly affirmed her relationship with Jesus Christ as her Lord and proclaimed that she was turning her back on evil in order to live her life for Christ.

But, as proud as I’ve been of my girls, there was more going on at their baptism than just their commitment. There was more than just saying the words and then baptizing them by immersing them in the waters of those two lakes.

As United Methodists we teach how baptism and communion are called “sacraments” because they are the two things that Jesus Christ instructed us to go do. We do a lot of things in the church, but these two are commands from Christ Himself. So part of what was going on on those two occasions at those two lakes was simply a matter of obedience. Jesus said that we were to do it, so we did it.

The greatest part of our understanding of baptism, however, is that it is one of the ways we know that God uses to pour out His grace on people. Baptism is a physical symbol that gives us a “picture” of God’s acceptance of us through His Son Jesus and symbolizes the way that God showered us with his grace. That’s why United Methodists don’t re-baptize. Since baptism is a picture of what GOD did, then why would we then picture Him as having to do it over? It’s not like God is in Heaven saying: “Oops… I guess that one’s baptism didn’t take. I must have messed up my aim the first time… the grace didn’t stick. I’d better get them baptized again and try to get them with my grace this time.” Jesus Christ, God’s Son, paid the price of our salvation once, and it was good for all time. We NEVER need another sacrifice to satisfy God. Nor do we ever need a second (or third or tenth) baptism, no matter how many times we might mess up. Because baptism’s not about us and what we’ve done… It’s about what HE does… and what HE did.

It’s this dimension of God pouring out His grace on the one being baptized that has helped convince the Church through the centuries of the appropriateness of baptizing babies and children. We were able to accept Christ even though we don’t personally remember His crucifixion or His resurrection. But by faith, we “remember.” So too, baptism, done at any age is valid and acceptable, even if you cannot remember the historic event of being in the waters of baptism.

The specific act of being baptized, whether as an infant, a child, or as an adult, is a reflection of God’s work… and our work is to live life in remembrance of that baptism and the work that God did.

Another part of our understanding of baptism is centered in the ancient baptismal rituals of the early church, which focused on the welcoming of someone new into the community of the people of God called “Christians.” Baptism, in a sense, is partly an “initiation rite” that identifies the baptized one as part of the Christian group, similar to how circumcision of a baby Jewish boy identified him as a part of the Jewish community of faith (even though the baby boy will never remember the act of circumcision). That’s another reason why United Methodists, and the early church, included infants in baptism. We baptize babies, in part, as a “welcome to the family” event where the parents and the congregation dedicate themselves to helping the baptized ones grow in the knowledge of the Christian faith so that they may be introduced to Jesus Christ and then, hopefully, one day accept Him as their Savior and Lord as well.

One more thing happens in baptism: the congregation renews their commitment to Christ and to living out their faith individually and corporately as a congregation. They promise the baptized one that we, the church, are going to be there for them to help them walk the faith walk and to look to Christ throughout their lives. This is why in United Methodism we don’t need to specifically have “godparents” in baptism; the whole congregation makes a vow to God that we together will take on the role of godparents.

How many times have we been in the service of baptism, and not understood? Or worse, have not taken seriously the vow to “nurture” these ones we are welcoming to the community?

Maybe, in the words of our Wesleyan tradition, it’s time to “remember our baptism” once again.

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