There are some questions that defy easy answers. Like why do they lock gas station toilets, are they afraid someone will break in and clean them? If a turtle doesn't have a shell, is it homeless or naked? And why do they put braille on the drive-through bank machines?
On a more serious note, in today's epistle reading there are a couple questions that made me wonder. First, Paul asks some disciples in Ephesus, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” And when they said “No.” he asked, “Into what then were you baptized?”
It seems they didn't know anything about the Holy Spirit, but they did know about their baptism. They told Paul they were baptized, “Into John’s baptism.”
So as we consider what we're reading and what we've experienced, it seems there are at least three different baptisms! John's, the Holy Spirit's, and the church's. Before I look into this, I want to emphasize that I am not teaching that there are three baptisms. But part of studying the scriptures is taking what we read, reflecting on the questions it bring us, then comparing and contrasting it to the rest of the bible to come to a conclusion that fits it all together.
So I want to start with the baptism of John. We read about John's baptism quite a bit through the church year. On the church calendar, today is officially The Baptism of Jesus. I've preached on this passage many times often speaking to the why of Jesus being baptized. Today I want to reflect on the ones who came to see John. As Mark writes, John had people coming from “the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem.” Why? What did John's baptism mean? In the passage Darlene read, Paul explained to those disciples in Ephesus, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance.” Repentance. The people came to hear John teach and preach and as they were moved, they repented. And the sign of that repentance was being immersed in the waters of the Jordan River. But John never claimed that his baptism was for salvation, it was an act which showed that the person being baptized knew their need for forgiveness.
We know that John understood he was not the one; he told leaders that in John's gospel. And today he tells his followers, “I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” And here it is, the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We have both John the Baptist and the apostle Paul referring to it. The apostles Peter and John also used this phrase when they taught in Samaria, they “came down and prayed for the (Samaritans) that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
The baptism of the Holy Spirit came up in our Tuesday morning bible study this week. Because Jesus too used this phrase. At his ascension he told his disciples, “For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
So here we are, we've got the baptism of John and the baptism of the Holy Spirit... and of course our infant baptisms. Confused? What is the deal with all these different baptisms? Maybe I should throw out a couple less complex questions again... If a parsley farmer is sued, can they garnish his wages? If the police arrest a mime, do they have to tell him he has the right to remain silent?
So enough with the dilemma part of the sermon, how about some answers.
I found a kind of pattern here. In John's baptism, he teaches the need that we all have for God's forgiveness; we've all sinned and fall short of God's perfection. And we've seen that John’s baptism was one of repentance, not necessarily faith unto salvation. John’s message pointed to Jesus, but did not result in justification. We are justified through faith in Jesus. I believe that when we confess faith in Jesus as Lord and savior, we receive the Spirit in our lives. You do not need to be re-baptized to receive the Holy Spirit; Paul makes clear that baptism is not something we do over and over. In Ephesians 4: 5 he declares there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” And so the baptism of the Holy Spirit is an effect more than an action. The effect is the fruit of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. As believers in Jesus Christ, we can claim these gifts in our lives, we can know God's presence through the presence of the Holy Spirit.
I find it interesting that the flow of the “three” baptisms corresponds with our theology of grace in the church today. We acknowledge our sinfulness in our confessions on Sunday. God's grace calls us to confess, not because that's how we are saved but in response to the fact that God forgives. Our forgiveness is not contingent on our confession and repentance, we confess and repent in response to God's grace. Grace comes first! This premise is why I believe that infant baptism is a legitimate baptism. God chooses us! Our faith is not simply a result of our good sense, it is brought about by God's Spirit working in our lives, our minds, our souls. But the process of the three baptisms is still legitimate. We confess our sinfulness, We declare our faith in Jesus. We live a life of faith in the power of the Holy Spirit.
I'm going to invite us to do a kind of renewal of our baptismal vows this morning. As I put the format on the screen, notice this same pattern. I will ask three questions, one deals with repentance, one deals with faith and one deals with living out our faith. I invite you to respond to these three questions:
Trusting in the gracious mercy of God, do you turn away from the ways of sin and denounce evil and its power in the world? I do.
Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Lord and Savior, trusting in his grace and love? I do.
Will you be Christ's faithful disciple, obeying his Word and showing his love?
I will, with God's help.
Repentance, faith, faithful living; the road map of life with Jesus. And today as we ordain and install our church officers, we see a similar map. I will ask questions about faith and life; the confession was already part of today's worship. It is a similar yet very different ceremony than baptism because it's focus is on living out our calling in Christ. It is a verbal acknowledgment of a purposeful response to God's call to a life of faithful service. And it is an acknowledgment that we are to trust in the Spirit's leading in how live our our faith. We as the church agree to pray for our leaders, and we also pray for special grace as we ordain Robbie and install Don. Our leaders are always to seek to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit rather than the wisdom of the world.
We here, to the best of my knowledge, have all been baptized. And when you joined the church, you acknowledged faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Our lives should be reflecting that at all times. But life can can bring up questions that are hard to answer. COVID and racism and political unrest all tend to crowd out our awareness of God's Spirit with us. As we face the trials of this world, may the words of confession and faith we share in community be a constant reminder that we are not in this struggle alone. We as a family of faith share the struggles and we have the Holy Spirit in us, guiding us, teaching us, strengthening us. Know that presence and then answer God's call to serve. We sing that response now in the ordination hymn, Here I am Lord. Let's sing together...
Hymn: Here I Am, Lord