Isaiah 43:1-7; Acts 8:14-17
January 9, 2022 (Bapt of the Lord)
- Being a BAPTIZED people in a new year?
How many of you remember the day you were baptized? Some of you may. If you were raised in the mainline churches – Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopalian, or Presbyterian (and the like), you might not remember being baptized. I don’t. Those churches like to baptize infants. There is a very good reason for this since the act of baptism itself becomes a living expression of God’s grace that comes for us long before we are able to respond or know what’s going on. We call that PREVENIENT grace because it comes before our ability to really recognize it. In other words, God has been loving on you long before you were even born. Washing babies in that water of love and bringing them into the family of God is then just a natural expression of this.
The reason historically that we baptized infants was (frankly) in case the baby did not make it. The Catholic church especially believed that a baby had to be baptized in order to go to heaven, but that was not just a Catholic thing. Many of the churches historically had this notion. Thankfully, we think more of God’s relationship to infants now, and there is less of a rush to baptize the infants. Still, when I worked as a chaplain in a children’s hospital one summer in seminary, before I was even ordained, I was authorized to perform what they call emergency baptisms for Catholic babies who were in serious life-or-death struggles.
Finally, when the Bible talks about a whole household coming to faith and being baptized, we can easily imagine that babies were present and incorporated into the family of God then. We have even found baby spoons specifically used for Holy Communion for the smallest of baptized people. That is a beautiful picture of who is invited to take part in the worship of God.
But back to baptism: everyone would probably much rather remember their own baptism than to not remember. Ordinarily as a congregation in faith, we would be able to renew our baptism, reappreciate our baptism, reembrace our baptism every time we carry out the sacrament of baptism for someone new. However, for many of our churches, we do not get that opportunity as often as we would like, so today is the next best thing: REMEMBER YOUR BAPTISM, FRIENDS, FOR WE ARE FAMILY IN GOD TOGETHER.
That’s really the point today. This passage from Isaiah is extraordinary, if we stop to think about it. Well, for that matter, the Acts passage is really interesting, too, but the Isaiah passage paints a picture that revolutionizes the family of God. Anytime the prophets open their mouths, the people are in very tough times. The prophets NEVER work when things are going great. Maybe there should be a little more encouragement or cheerleading from them, but that is not what is recorded. When Isaiah is prophesying, it is tough times, bleak times, people losing their homes, their families and loved ones, their nation, their lives, their “everything” tough times. At this point in Isaiah’s work today, however, the tone has shifted. It is less focused on “repent and change your behavior” and more focused on “what’s going to happen now after you have suffered loss.” Isaiah is helping them to pick up the pieces and be a people, again. He is helping them to find hope and a future.
Obviously, we have been through a pretty difficult time, too, though we have not lost like the ancient Israelites did. What Isaiah does for them is give them a powerful reminder of God’s care: “You belong to me; you are mine; I have paid for you and redeemed you and even made you.” God’s intimacy here is profound. This is not some faraway god who just sits by and minds his own business. This is not some God who just wants to watch while the people make temples and burn offerings. This is the God who suffered for the people, who endured heartache and outrage for their sake, who became so upset that he wanted to start over, but that is not what happened. When things were their darkest, God gave a light. When things were most challenged and obstructed, God provided a way. When they were facing extermination, God provided salvation. Not only had God done these things in the past – made a way through water twice or led them with a massive pillar of fire, these very images will return in the biblical story as those two great forces of destruction and chaos (water and fire) bend to God’s control. Nothing is out there that can stop God’s plan for them from unfolding. There is a foreshadowing of Romans 8:38 and 39 with nothing in all creation separating us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
And there’s more…. This is why this passage is especially good for today as we think about baptism, because it is all about being in the family of God. Even though we have suffered and lost more than we expected, God is going to bring us together with more family. And Isaiah is not talking about coming up with a bunch of cousins that you don’t know about. If you have ever seen the shocking documentary called Three Identical Strangers, you know what a jolt it can be to discover you have family you did not know even existed. In that true story, three triplets were separated at birth and raised without any knowledge of each other until they managed to cross paths in college. It is a sad and tragic tale about strained family, but family does not work that way.
Isaiah’s picture of family is different, though, and does not depend on blood relations but God’s call. God is truly the one who brings these family to us. I wonder if you have ever known someone who just connected to you in a deep, profound, spiritual way – someone you loved like a brother or sister but were not actually related to. It might even be easier to have that connection with someone with whom you did NOT share a house. Something gives us those connections with others. We do not just make them up ourselves.
That’s what’s going on in the Acts passage. There is this new thing that has been happening in the followers of Christ Jesus. By being baptized, the new Christians are saying they want to be different and do different – to live in a whole new way. They feel called to be family together in Jesus, and baptism marks us for this new way of life as family in God through him. Because Jesus is family with God and he makes us family with him, we then also become family with God. There is this great calling and bringing together, this great gathering, but if the table is not set, there is no use coming to dinner.
That is what the early Christians found out. They had been baptized, but for some reason, there was a hold-up. The text is not really clear what and why this happened – just that the Spirit of God needed more of an invitation.
It is almost as if the Spirit of God did not want a bunch of random people becoming followers of Jesus WITHOUT the connection to the original witness, the home church. Yes, Peter and John are the two disciples in John’s Gospel who arrive at the empty tomb of Jesus to see what the women described. They are the original apostolic witness to the risen Lord. While the women were the original witnesses, the men in their society were responsible for that witness.
While it must have been frustrating to those early disciples there to feel like they maybe did something wrong. Had they not made the right gestures or said the right thing? Maybe Peter and John were a little annoyed at having to make that trip, but I don’t think they were. This was baptism. It is a connection to the water but more importantly, a connection to the Spirit. It makes us one. It makes us family. We cannot ever forget how we are related in God. This experience made their family even bigger, even more real.
While one day we may be the ones who have to walk through fire or water in the confidence of God’s grace, today, we remember our baptism into God’s family and how big this family is. We may think to ourselves that we already know all of this, but are there people out there who should be in our family who are not with us, not connected to us, not loved by us? If the answer is “yes,” then we do not have this message down as well as we think.
In a moment, we will be sharing in the Lord’s Table as God’s family. These two things are beautifully tied. Baptism brings us into life together, and Communion sustains us in this life. One without the other is incomplete, like for the early Christians in Acts. If the Spirit of God is calling to you, come and receive this blessing set before us today. Touch the water and remember your baptism. Remember how you are a washed and renewed person in Christ Jesus. Take a marble to help you remember, if you want. Also, come and receive this Communion. This is our family table, set by Jesus our Lord.
Looking into the new year, we seek the faith, hope, and love that makes all of this possible. This is God’s new way for us. Be washed; be fed; be sustained in God’s Spirit. To God be the glory. Amen.