Monday, January 2, 2012

Looking Forward to January 8, 2012 -- Baptism of Jesus Sunday

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Acts 19:1-7
  • Mark 1:4-11

The Sermon Title is Baptism? What's that?

Early Thoughts: It is something we do on a regular basis (or at least a semi-regular basis) in our worship services. But what does it mean to put water on someone's head while saying some specific words?  Why do we baptise?

In one sense it is easy. We celebrate baptism because Jesus was baptised and because at the end of Matthew's gospel (and only in Matthew's gospel) Jesus tells us to baptise people.  Protestant tradition recognizes 2 sacraments -- Baptism and The Lord's Supper/Communion.   And the criterion that is used is that these 2 have direct links to Jesus as his life is told in the Gospels.  It is also worth noting that these two practices are shown to extend to the earliest days of the Christian movement.

So that is WHY we baptise people.  But what does it mean?  This Sunday our readings talk about Baprism.  In Mark we read about the baptism of Jesus and in Acts Paul teaches about the difference between John's baptism (which was all about repentance) and Christian baptism.  And so it seems logical that we take some time this week to think about the meaning of baptism.

From the earliest days of the Christian movement Baptism has been the Rite of Entrance.  It is through Baptism that one became, part of the community.  But beyond that there is a distinct lack of cohesiveness about what it means.  Some traditions maintain that because it is the Rite of Entrance Baptism should be the choice of the person, and so they practice Believers (aka Adult) Baptism.  Many other traditions (in fact most Mainline denominations, and arguably the majority of Christians worldwide) Baptise at any age, and this often means young children or infants are baptised.  In that case the parents make the statement of faith on behalf of the child and then promise to raise the child with an awareness of (or within) the Christian faith.

One of my professors in seminary identified 4 distinct theological understandings of baptism within the United Church of Canada.  Each one focusses on a different aspect of the sacrament.  Some people see baptsim as all about the freely given gift of God.  Some see it as focussed on those promises, the covenant.  Some see it as primarily about belonging.  And some see Baptism as one of those Rites of Passage, a way to mark a significant life-event.  And in any one congregation there will be a combination of those understandings.

SO come on Sunday to think about Baptism.  And also to remember your Baptism (if applicable) and/or the baptism of your child(ren) (if applicable) -- note that this may include a bit of water flying around.  And after our reflection we will be invited to renew the covenant made at our Baptism, and re-made whenever we re-affirm our Baptismal faith.

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