Romans 8:14-17, John 3:1-6
Well it is clear that something special is happening here today. We have the font up in front, we have special bulletins, we have experienced something different with our music. We are celebrating! Today we are baptizing L and baptism is always a cause for celebration. Most often in our church of course, we baptize babies, tiny little ones whose moms and dads bring them to us for baptism because it is part of the parents’ faith tradition to do so. And that is a wonderful thing. Because baptism is the sacrament that carries the lineage of the faith. It makes us one with Christ, and as it says in the Baptismal liturgy, “marks us as Christ’s own forever.” But it also makes us part of the family of Christ, makes us part of the body, of the community of believers. It gives us our directives as what it means to be followers of Jesus, too, in the promises we make as part of the baptismal covenant. So it’s a wonderful thing when parents want this for their child.
But when a full-grown adult person steps forward and asks to be baptized as L did – that to me is quite a wonderful and amazing thing. Something that might make us stop and think for a moment, might make us ask, why? Why would this person who has been going along unbaptized up until this point makes this decision, and why now?
So I asked L this question. And he had what I thought was a very good answer. He said, “Because I want to follow Jesus.” As we talked more about what that meant he talked about wanting a new way of being, a new life, in a sense being born again.
As we looked at the readings we could choose from for today, the Gospel from John we heard this morning seemed very fitting to both L and I. When I initially met L he was in a very dark place. But in that dark place he had already encountered Jesus. He, like Nicodemus had belief and faith, and a desire to know more about God. Like Nicodemus, he was, and is, searching for answers to some very big questions about the truth of God and the ways God would have us live our lives. Nicodemus had a sense that Jesus was someone who could give him some answers. L has a sense that belonging to this faith community will help him continue to grow in his own faith journey. That by making this commitment to a faith tradition, he becomes part of something larger than himself, a community of believers who will both sustain him in his own faith and who he will give to in turn. That to follow this Jesus, he needs to know him better, and that this is a safe and good place in which to do that, that this is a place where we study and learn and practice the ways that Jesus taught us to live and can support him in doing that, too.
Because baptism is a two-way street. In baptism we say that we are “born-again” of water and the Spirit. What does that mean? To be born of the water of course references the cleansing of our sins and imperfections in the baptismal waters. It reminds us that we truly do begin anew, putting on a new person in Christ, making a new beginning from today forward. What does it mean to born of the Spirit? It means to have the peace and love of Jesus living inside in us. It is having the Spirit of Jesus taking up residence in us and living within us. It means we can be strengthened to do the things that alone we could not do, to face the things we could not face, because we are doing them not on our own strength alone, but on the strength of that indwelling Spirit of God.
But it also means that expectations are placed on us. At baptism we make a covenant. As we are “born-again of water and spirit” we are given some directives and make some promises as Christians…these are “to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ, to seek and serve all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves and striving for justice and peace among all people and respecting the dignity of every human being.” L has promised this today as he commits himself to Christ. And we have promised to help him and to help each other do this as we renewed these promises. It’s a tall order, isn’t it? But the good news, as it says in Romans, is that we have received the Holy Spirit and by this power we call God “Abba,” Father. This God is closer to us than our very breath and loves us more than we could ever imagine. As L will be in a few moments, we are all baptized by water and Spirit, marked as Christ’s own forever, beloved and called. May we all, like L, follow Jesus.