We know the counsel, “To avoid disagreeing and even fighting, don’t talk about politics and religion.”
Among Christians we might add, “And don’t talk about Baptism!” It can be a volatile subject that explodes into controversy with two words. One is “When?” When should Baptism happen? – when an adult, or an infant or young child? The second is: “How?” How should the water of Baptism be applied, by dunking, pouring, or sprinkling, in a river, indoor pool, or at a font?
There is another word that waits to be used to defuse the explosive “When?” and “How?” and literally be like oil poured on troubled waters. It is the word “Why?” Why Baptism? – with answers echoing through today’s Scripture.
The “Why” carried in the very first lines in the Bible’s very first book:
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,
the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep,
while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
And God said, “Let there be…”
The creative Voice of God, like wind sweeping over the waters to bring order out of chaos, light out of darkness, and life from a faceless void.
Bible scholars believe these lines date back to when the Hebrew people were living in exile in Babylon; yet, when they put their faith stories into writing, this one was placed first. As the Rev. David Lewiski reflected on this placement, he said, “I think the reason is this story…shows us…when the world feels like chaos, when we find ourselves trapped in the formless void…of loss or grief or despair, when God seems to us to be nowhere...in that time when we are desperate for a new beginning, we have this story. We have a Creating God who reshapes the chaos into order, even into beauty.” (quoted from his sermon for Jan. 8, 2012)
The “WHY” of Baptism – the evidence that new beginnings are happening every day; the creating Voice of God is forever calling forth a new creation; the Voice carried on Baptismal waters to give us the reason to say, “This is my story; God is acting to reshape the ‘chaos in my life into order, even into beauty.’”
So that he would not forget, Martin Luther is said to have touched his forehead every morning and said to himself:
"Remember Martin, you have been baptized."
Ask, “Why Baptism?” and remember: Baptism is the sign of God’s creative action, in you, in me.
Another “Why” of Baptism echoes through the reading from Acts where we hear the Apostle Paul asking, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?”
If any of us answer “No,” as they did, there is the second “Why” of Baptism: to be open to, to receive the Holy Spirit; to, as Paul said to Christians in Corinth, let the “clay pot” cracked, misshapen, and leaking vessels of our life hold the breathed in life of God, which is like a spring of fresh water that needs to be tasted and received afresh each day.
Another reason to say as Martin Luther said: "Remember, you have been baptized."
Remember to quote the Apostle Paul, (Romans 5:5) “…God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” – to empower us to survive the worst that life can throw at us, and to “prophesy”- to tell others of what God can do, to give a personal story of God at work in one's life.
Notice the comment made in the reading from Acts: all together there were about twelve of them.
“Twelve” a signal to us to remember we are today’s disciples, who are forever changed by the ultimate “Why” of Baptism dramatized in today’s Gospel scene when:
Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.
And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
The Creator’s voice that swept through chaos and darkness, tears open the heavens to become visible in Jesus, Who, as Barbara K. Lundblad says, “began tearing apart the pictures of who Messiah was supposed to be –
Tearing apart the social fabric that separated rich from poor.
Breaking through hardness of heart to bring forth compassion.
Breaking through rituals that had grown rigid or routine.
Tearing apart the chains that bound some in the demon's power.
Tearing apart the notions of what it means to be God's Beloved Son.
Nothing would ever be the same, for the heavens would never again close so tightly.”
Christ, God’s “Beloved,” coming to share that name with us; the ultimate reason to say as Martin Luther said:
"Remember, you have been baptized."
The “Why” echoing through Baptismal waters that have us remembering what God wills and acts to do:
bring order out of our chaos;
pour His life-breath into the clay vessels of our life;
make us His “beloved.”
“Beloved” – the word Jan Richardson turns into a poem:
“Is there any other word needs saying,
any other blessing could compare with this name, this knowing?
Comes like a mercy to the ear that has never heard it.
Comes like a river to the body that has never seen such grace.
Comes holy to the heart aching to be new.
Comes healing to the soul wanting to begin again.
Keep saying it and though it may sound strange at first,
watch how it becomes part of you, how it becomes you,
as if you never could have known yourself anything else,
as if you could ever have been other than this:
Beloved.” – the one word answer to, “Why Baptism?” Amen.