January 13, 2019    Baptism of the Lord

Scripture reading – Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22

Sermon: “Why Do We Baptize?

One of my mentors in ministry is the former pastor of St. Giles Presbyterian Church, my good friend the Reverend Greg McDonell. Each and every time Greg officiated at a baptism, he always started by asking all of us two questions:

“What are we doing?” and “Why are we doing it?”

After he would ask the congregation those questions, he would answer them each time.

On this day in which we celebrate the baptism of the Lord, these are good questions to ask and answer again. Let’s start with those questions – and perhaps a few others.

 What are we doing? What is baptism?

In simple words, baptism is a sacrament, one of only two sacraments that we Presbyterians recognize and practice; the other being Communion. We believe that sacraments are those holy acts that Jesus demonstrated for us that can be found in the Gospels.

How do we baptize?

This question is always answered with an explanation. First of all, there are three ways baptism are done:

  1. sprinkling, which is the method we do the most. In this one, the minister dips his or her hand into a baptismal font or bowl full of water, then sprinkles the water on the head of the one being baptized;
  2. dunking, which is when the minister and the one being baptized both stand in water, and the minister lowers the head of the one being baptized into the water three times;
  3. immersion, which is when the minister completely submerges the one being baptized under the water.

The third one is the one that comes up most often in the movies or on television shows, but the others are done just as often.

What do we believe about baptism?

First of all, we accept ALL baptisms done in any way in any Christian church in the world. We do not and should not encourage anyone to be “rebaptized” if we believe in the universal church of all believers. So, no matter who baptized you…no matter how you were baptized…no matter if you were an infant, a teenage, or an adult, we accept all baptisms. Other churches, other denominations may not, but we do.

Second, because we accept ALL baptisms, we should not believe that some are baptized “better” or “more accurately” than others. To do this is to ignore what Scripture tells us plainly. Paul writes in the fourth chapter of his Letter to the Ephesians, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Third, although we believe and accept all these things, you have to admit that we Presbyterians seem to prefer sprinkling. Picture the reaction if I insisted that all baptisms had to occur in the lake outside. Or picture the reaction if I insisted on a baptismal pool being built in the sanctuary of any new building we might someday build. I can just imagine the conversation Session would have with me.

But…I can also imagine how baptisms might change around here. It’s a problem we won’t address today…

Now let’s get to the most important question for today:

Why do we baptize? What is the real answer to Rev. Greg McDonell’s question? Why are we doing it?

The answer is pretty simple: we baptize because Jesus himself was baptized.

Did Jesus NEED to be baptized? No, of course not. He was born the Son of God. He didn’t need any sins washed away in anyway. But he set the example for all his followers.

Did Jesus actually, physically baptize anyone? Not that we know of from Scripture.

Did followers of Jesus baptize in his name? Of course! Scripture is full of examples of this happening:

  • Philip was traveling with the Ethiopian eunuch when the eunuch asked, “What is stop me from being baptized?” Philip stopped the chariot, took the eunuch over to a nearby pool of water – that just happened to be on the side of the road – and baptized him immediately.
  • In Acts 16, Paul baptized the Roman prison guard and his entire family after an earthquake opened the prison and Paul and Silas walked out.
  • On the Day of Pentecost, the Book of Acts tells us that 3000 people were baptized by the Apostles.
  • And, of course, all four Gospels tell us clearly that John the Baptist baptized the people in Judea, and then he baptized Jesus.

We also baptize because Jesus told us to baptize.

On the day Jesus ascended into Heaven, he stood on a hill with his beloved disciples around him, and he gave what we call the Great Commission:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, 2and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

 We baptize…because Jesus told us to.

So let us all stand and renew our baptismal vows:

[Lead the congregation in renewing their baptismal vows from the Book of Common Worship]

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