Holy Baptism, October 2nd, 2022
It is a glorious morning for an outdoor service.
A Wonderful day for baptism at the lake..
When we talk about baptism, we talk about water.
In a few minutes, we’ll do more than talk about it—
we’ll splash in it, appropriate for today’s celebration.
Jesus was baptized in the waters of the Jordan River
to mark the beginning of his ministry.
Aznii will be baptized in the waters of the Tennessee River
to mark the beginning of her adult life in Christ.
When you think about it, it’s an odd thing to do.
To those unfamiliar with the Christian faith, it may just look like getting wet
But this ancient ritual is loaded with meaning—
And it’s been Practiced for over two thousand years,
with countless numbers Christians
who’ve been dunked or sprinkled along the way—
In baptism, we are marking ourselves as Christ’s own, forever.
Water is a sign of one’s beginning in the faith because in Water we find life, we enjoy refreshment, we recreate
We re-create — mimicking the beautiful story in Genesis where
God moves over the waters of creation to create life itself.
Water is part of our world’s birth and of our own births.
Water can also be scary and mighty.
It gushes powerfully over a waterfall;
it rolls in waves, some gigantic, in the vast and deep sea,
Even a drip of water over time can break rocks into pieces and a flood of water destroys land and homes (as we saw this week in Florida and last week in Puerto Rico and the surrounding islands.)
Lord Have Mercy.
When I was ten years old, we lived in Sewanee TN. Small town where university of the south is and later where I went to seminary.
We lived there in 1973 bc my father did his final year of seminary at School of Theology.
There is a lake in Sewanee called Lake Cheston. It’s really Small—Lake cheston is more of a pond. But it is deep at its center. An adult could not stand up.
There in the middle of Lake Cheston is a wooden platform. A dock, I guess you’d call it but it’s an island. Folks swim out to it and jump off, as the rest of the lake does not have jumping places—either a beach or wooded areas, too shallow to jump in.
My friend John Ham and I went out with our families to the lake one day.
We dropped our gear and excitedly, we started swimming toward the dock.
He was a good swimmer. I was a competent swimmer, but not practiced. Nevertheless, confidence has never been something I lacked, so I eagerly followed him. I guess didn’t realize how far it was to the dock. About halfway there, out in the middle of the lake, I panicked.
I don’t think I was tired, just stuck.
I remember my mom yelling at John, to go back and get me. He was already on the dock. I pretty sure she started undressing herself to swim out to me.
But John dove in and came to me, talking to me and helping me swim the rest of the way. No dramatic rescue was necessary. I made it finally. I just needed some help, some reassurance that I could do this. Out in the middle of a cold lake deeper than I was tall, I was alone with my mortality. I was scared.
I still feel cold when I think about it.
It evokes for us a flood of images and feelings, from Birth to Death—which makes it a perfect for baptism.
Dying to our old selves and being born anew.
We read on this day about the man Nicodemus
Who came to Jesus in the night to see just who Jesus was, what was he about.
Nicodemus was curious.
He says to Jesus,
we know God is with you, we can see it in the signs you perform.
But Before Nicodemus even gets to a question,
Jesus interrupts him: No, you don’t know, no you can’t see,
no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born from above.
Jesus is not scolding Nicodemus—he’s just stating a truth.
In fact, Jesus says,
No one can see unless they are born from above.
If you’re wondering if this is the biblical story
from which Christians in some denominations get the question,
“have you been born again?”
Yes. Yes, it is.
It seems Nicodemus is thinking literally, as he questions,
“how can someone go back into the womb?”
Yet, “born again” is not a great translation of the Greek,
A better translation is born anew or born from above.
Jesus clarifies this for him, no Nicodemus,
“What is born of the flesh is flesh, what is born of spirit is spirit.”
I find the bigger issue with the born-again question, is that
folks who go around questioning others about being born-again,
are often really saying,
“We have all the answers.”
But Jesus is clear on this point, too.
He tells Nicodemus, a leader of the most scholarly group of men,
You do not know, you cannot see. You are only human.
You will not have all the answers.
Then Jesus adds this remarkable phrase,
which must have both confounded Nicodemus,
and somehow encouraged him:
“The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.
So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Remarkably in these few words,
Jesus frees Nicodemus from having to know it all.
Barbara Brown Taylor preaches too, that,
This story does the same for all of us.
We tend to be like Nicodemus, not comfortable without all the answers.
Without all the right answers….
Yet, to be human means to be human and not God.
It means we will not know everything, and we cannot presume we ever will.
We are not God.
It has been a joy to get to know Aznii over these past few months.
In youth group and in inquirer’s class I’ve come to know a terrific young girl, She is unafraid to ask questions. She is Fearlessly curious.
This is who God made her to be.
Curious and Honest.
Maybe too honest at times, mom and dad might say.
They named her Aznii –which means beauty—
and who could argue with them for choosing this name for their daughter.
Beauty expresses itself in so many ways,
In appearance, in strength, we find beauty in nature and in our own actions.
What I wish for you, Aznii, is to remember you are a beautiful child of God in all these ways.
Moreover, I wish for you to comfortable with mystery.
Just as Nicodemus so long ago learned—
Jesus invited Nicodemus to be comfortable with mystery, with seeking, and to rethink what he knows for sure.
So that Nicodemus could learn something new.
How can we ever learn if we don’t open ourselves to mystery?
Nicodemus went away confounded after his encounter with Jesus that night
and yet, he Kept being drawn back to Jesus.
Once he gave up needing to be right, with knowing exactly who is right,
Nicodemus could see people differently everywhere he looked.
In the end, when Jesus died there was Nicodemus,
now a follower, having stayed close to him all this time,
he is there at his death, moving Jesus’ body from the cross and
burying him with an enormous measure of precious spices.
Aznii, we pray today that your journey with Christ,
Is curious and life-long like Nicodemus as you join the family of God.
We are a family who strives to Let Love lead us into life.
The kind of love as powerful as water
that can break open rocks and hearts alike,
as freeing as water that offers life anew.
Thanks be to God.