When the Water Dries
"When the Water Dries" Part 1 Sermon from 2008
When I was about 12 years old, I was baptized.
I don’t think there was anything special about the day I decided to do it.
Maybe it was something the preacher said. Maybe it was the music.
But during the invitational hymn, I knew I needed to walk down that aisle and tell the preacher I wanted to be baptized.
I knew he would ask me some questions about Jesus, and I thought I knew how to answer those questions. But what I mostly remember about that moment is that my heart was pounding and there was a rushing noise in my ears and I felt like a HAD to walk down that aisle. So I did. And soon thereafter I put on a long white robe and was immersed in the waters of the baptismal pool.
Not a Methodist baptism, but a true baptism nonetheless.
That experience was and is and continues to be an important part of my faith journey. But honestly, when I began as an adult to look back on my baptism, I was left with some questions to ponder.
Was that heart pounding moment in response to God’s call?
Or was it my own desire to be like others in my peer group who had already made that walk?
Was it the Holy Spirit at work?
Or my already well-developed drive to do the right thing?
Did my request for baptism come out of a conversion moment?
Maybe some of you have had questions about your faith journey, maybe even about baptism itself.
I know at least one other person had similar questions.
I was reading recently about a preacher who was recounting his own baptism.
He told the story this way:
“I joined the church at the age of five. I well remember how this event occurred. Our church was in the midst of the spring revival, and a guest evangelist had come down from Virginia. On Sunday morning the evangelist came into our Sunday school to talk to us about salvation and after a short talk on this point he extended an invitation to any of us who wanted to join the church. My sister was the first one to join the Church that morning, and after seeing her join I decided that I would not let her get ahead of me, so I was the next. I had never given this matter a thought, and even at the time of my baptism I was unaware of what was taking place.From this it seems quite clear that I joined the church not out of any dynamic conviction, but out of a childhood desire to keep up with my sister.”
That five year old boy grew up to be the preacher Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
So whatever motivated my walk down that aisle toward baptism, I suppose it was at least as honorable as Dr. King’s motive.
We are only a week away from honoring Dr. King’s birthday and only a few months away from the 40th anniversary of his death right here is this city and not too very far from this corner where we gather. Over the coming weeks and months there will be media coverage calling attention to the occasion and hopefully to the many “beloved community” events that will be going on in our city. But every time you hear a sound clip of Dr. King’s voice - booming out: “I have a dream”, and “I’ve been to the mountaintop”, I challenge you to remember that at the core of his impact as a civil rights leader, was his calling as a preacher of the gospel. And first and foremost as a believer baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Dr. King knew that baptism is the beginning of the journey, not the end.
And you may be thinking, how is that possible? He was only five years old.
He admitted he only did it because his sister did.
Baptism is about what God does.
God’s Spirit is working within us and among us long before we know it.
But that’s not to say our response does not matter. Only when we respond can we live fully, seeking God’s presence and God’s purpose.
Some of you here have not been baptized, and if you have not been baptized, I really do not want you to feel left out or to give the impression that you are damned in some way or that you have not already been welcomed into this community of faith.
But I would offer this word, and that is that it is worth some attention to the matter. Pray about it. Think about it. Read about it. And ask some questions. I know several clergy here who would love to entertain that conversation with you.
Baptism places you in full membership with this church but also in the church universal.That means we are part of the same body of Christ with Dr. King or with Bishop Carder who will be here next week. But it also places us in community with the poor and the meek - with the hospice patient who is baptized on her death bed, with those in countries where religious persecution means to be baptized places one at risk for death.
So what did it mean for Jesus to be baptized?
We do not know the details of what prompted Jesus’ baptism.
There is a lot we do not know about the time preceding his encounter with John on the bank of the Jordan River.
But Matthew does tell us about the baptism itself.
From the text we know that this is an issue of righteousness - that’s how Jesus responds to John’s protest:
“Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”
Now this is more than just being proper as in doing the right thing or using good manners.
To fulfill all righteousness means to be faithful to God’s will.
“Jesus’ baptism expresses his faithfulness to accomplish God’s purposes and commission.”
And we know that this action pleases God.
The heavens open, the Spirit of God descends like a dove and a voice from heaven says “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
The moment in the water matters. It is a holy and sacramental moment in time.
An acknowledgement and celebration of God’s grace, God’s presence . . .
But to understand the full truth of the moment, we have to keep it in its proper context as part of a continuum.
Jesus was responding to what he already knew to be God’s will for him.
It’s the same with us.
Before the water ever touches our skin, God is at work, God is present.
And the real question for many of us becomes – what happens when the water dries?
How do we respond to the baptismal covenant?
We know how Jesus responded. His baptism in the Jordan launched his ministry.
Right after the voice of God calls Jesus the Beloved Son, the very next verse in the gospel of Matthew is “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Our baptism does not protect us from temptation, but it does prepare us for dealing with it.
Following his time in the wilderness, Jesus began his ministry in Galilee.
Long after the water dried on 5 year old Martin, he was living out his baptism as a prophetic voice in our world.
But you really don’t have to be Jesus or Dr. King to respond to the Spirit’s call.
We have people living out their baptismal vows right here in this community as well.
When Celeste Wray stands on the corner in protest and says that life matters, she is living out her baptismal vows.
When our youth group stands along side her for their PeaceJam project, they will be doing the same.
When Jaime Winton and the rest of you travel to the coast to rebuild homes that were destroyed, you will also be building hope for those you help, and that is living out your vows.
When Nancy Hargrove offers us a new way to keep our bodies strong and reinforces that connection between strong body and strong spirit, she is living out her baptismal vows.
But there is still much work to be done.
We have already begun the reaffirmation of the baptismal covenant together. Earlier in the service, we renounced sin and professed our faith. In a few minutes we will offer a time for you to come forward so that you may “remember your baptism and be thankful."
And then together we will voice our “faithful participation in the ministries of the church by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, and our service” - not just for our own betterment or because it is a good thing to do, but so that “in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”
When you come forward to remember your baptism, let the water remind you of the covenant made. But ask yourself this question: how will I continue to live out that covenant long after the water dries on my skin?
When the water dries, how will you continue to respond to God’s call?
How will you live out the covenant that has been made?
You don’t have to wait until Lent to strengthen your spiritual disciplines.
When the water dries, you can read your Bible every day or spend time in prayer or silence before God.
You know someone who is lonely. When the water dries, give them a call.
When the water dries, you may decide that yes, you want to try teaching that children’s Sunday School class, or you may commit to one hour a week tutoring at Bruce School.
It’s right next door.
But living out the baptismal covenant does not only come down to individual choices.
We as a community of faith have made promises to people.
Directly we have made promises to those who were baptized in this sanctuary.
I am still new enough in this congregation that I do not know everyone’s history. I do not know who has been here a few years and who has been here their whole life. So I had a conversation with Russ Walker the other day, and something made me ask him “did you grow up in this church?” and his immediate response was “I was baptized here.”
I was not here when that happened. But somehow all of us, young or old, new members or lifelong members, if we are worshipping in this space and participating in the life of this church then we become part of the promise that was made to Russ when he was baptized. We are all called to nurture one another in our discipleship. That means encouraging one another and also holding one another accountable in love.
So what will we do as a congregation when the water dries on us today?
We really do believe that stuff about open doors, open minds, open hearts. I have seen it in action. But when the water dries, we have got to do more than just open the doors of the church.
We have to offer real community to everyone who joins us.
That means meeting each person where they are, at their place of need and discipling them according to their ability.
We are already paying attention to how we host our guests in the soup kitchen. But as the water dries we must keep asking ourselves those challenging questions about how we offer true hospitality along with a good plate of food.
When the water dries, will we be a collective voice crying out for justice in our city, our country, and our world?
The water is a symbol of our baptism.
But we are born of water and Spirit.
When the water dries, the Spirit remains.
May the Spirit of God renew us this day and lead us forward in our journey of faith.
May the Spirit of God be with us in times of prayer and reflection, bringing God’s holy word to life.
May the Spirit of God nudge us toward action, urging us to move from places of comfort and stagnation toward faithful voice and demands for justice.
May the Spirit of God continue to reveal for us the Good News of Jesus Christ – our hope and the hope of the world. Amen.
Watch Rev'd Renee Dillard's "When the Water Dries" sermon HERE.