Sermon: Proper 12 RCL C – "Baptizing them…"

Colossians 2:6-19


As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.

Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.

This Sunday we Baptize Gabrielle.

Our reading from Hosea began, When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.”  I read that for our first reading and thought, “I could preach from that,” but then decided that maybe I couldn’t.  I wouldn’t know where to start.  So…

The young son of a Baptist minister was in church one morning when he saw for the first time baptism by immersion. He was greatly interested in it, and the next morning proceeded to baptize his three cats in the bathtub.

The youngest kitten bore it very well, and so did the younger cat, but the old family tomcat rebelled.

The old feline struggled with the boy, clawed and tore his skin, and finally got away. With considerable effort the boy caught the old tom again and proceeded with the “ceremony.”

But the cat acted worse than ever, clawing and spitting, and scratching the boy’s face.

Finally, after barely getting the cat splattered with water, he dropped him on the floor in disgust and said: “Fine, be an Episcopalian if you want to!”

Folks have been arguing about baptism since day one.  At first they argued about who baptized who. Later, came all the arguments about “how” a person was to be baptized: full immersion, in a tub, in a river or just a sprinkling.  And then they argued over whether a person should be baptized as an adult or baby.  On and on the arguments have gone.

Several years ago a church member wrote, “the church I belong to is torn in a fierce dispute.  One section says that baptism is IN the name of the Father and the other that it is INTO the name of the Father.”  He says, “I belong to one of these parties.  I feel most strongly about it.  I would die for it in fact, but I forget which it is!”

We all have a tendency to make things a lot more complicated than they need to be, but the truth is, it’s not about what we think.  It’s about God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and it is about what He is doing.

So, what is God doing in Baptism?  There are three things that St. Paul in his writings makes very clear.  First, God through our Baptism is cleansing us from the defilement of sin.  Second, He is creating a mystical union between the baptized and Christ.  And third, He is incorporating the baptized into the Church, the body of Christ.  I can assure you that not even the raging waters of the Mississippi river could accomplish any of this unless God Himself is involved.

Archbishop Michael Ramsey wrote, “Baptism is the first significant fact about a Christian.  It declares that the beginning of a man’s Christianity is not what he feels and experiences, but what God in Christ had done for him.”  Which, as we said, includes forgiveness of sins, mystical union with Christ and incorporation into the Church.  Paul summarized those points in his letter to the Colossians which we read, “When you were buried with Christ in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God who raised Him from the dead.”  When we are baptized, when we go under the water, it is symbolizing our death – death to the old self.  When we rise back out of the water, it is symbolizing our rising again to new life – the new life in Christ Jesus.  The water is a symbol and it is pointing to the reality which God is accomplishing in us – new birth – a resurrected life  in Jesus Christ.

Paul confirms this all in his letter to the Romans, “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

The only specific instruction we have with regard to baptism comes from Jesus himself.  He says, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”  As long as we follow the instructions of Jesus, I honestly don’t think God cares about “How” we go about it, immersion or sprinkling, child or adult.  I believe God’s primary concern is that we are obedient and to fail to be baptized, in whichever form, is to fail to be obedient to God.

God does not care about the “How” of our baptism as long as it is in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but he does care that we as his children, through our Baptism or the renewal of our Baptismal Covenant, publicly acknowledge Him as our Lord.  He cares about the fact that we as adults solemnly vow, that with his help, we will assist in the raising up all children in our charge into the knowledge and love of Him.  And, finally, he cares that we keep all other aspects of the covenant that are there to draw us and others closer to Him.

With regards to all the arguments, in the words of St. Paul to Timothy, “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.”  Which means that we are to focus on what it is we are saying or have said in the Baptismal Covenant.  They are not empty words; therefore, we should not be making empty promises as we say them.  We must focus on what God is doing in our life and in the life of the one baptized.  At that point, maybe.. MAYBE.. when we get all this right we can then turn our attention to the foolish and stupid arguments, but for now, we have a long ways to go, so let us keep our focus where it belongs.

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