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Remembering our Baptism – A Reflection

January 9, 2021
The baptismal font at Carrollton Presbyterian Church in Carrollton, Georgia

This was where I was going with tomorrow’s sermon this past weekend and earlier this week. I record my portion of the service, including the sermon on Wednesdays at 4pm (EST).

On this Sunday (Baptism of the Lord), we read Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism by John in the River Jordan. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke Jesus’ baptism marks the beginning of his public ministry. As Jesus rose up from the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending on him in the form of a dove. Then he hears the voice of God saying: You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.

As a cradle Presbyterian, I was baptized as an infant, so I don’t remember what happened at my baptism. The question that my parents answered on that day was: In presenting your child for baptism, do you confess your faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior; and do you promise, in dependence on the grace of God, to bring up your child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? The congregation was told that I was now received into Christ’s Church and they promised to nurture me in my faith with the hope that one day I would make it my own. On Palm Sunday of 1975, I confirmed my baptismal vows. That was the first time that I “remembered my baptism” by confirming the promises made on my behalf by my parents at my baptism.

So how can we remember our baptism? Each week when I pour the water into the baptismal font as a part of the Assurance of God’s Grace, I invite you to remember your own baptism. There is even a liturgy in the Book of Common Worship for a congregation to remember their baptism. I wonder how often Jesus remembered and took comfort in the gift God gave him at his baptism. You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.

The image of the heavens being torn apart is only found in Mark’s account. Matthew and Luke both say the heavens opened up at Jesus’ baptism. For me this reveals that Jesus’ baptism was not just some sort of simple ritual. John and Jesus both preached about a radical change in life. John’s baptism with water was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus’ call was an invitation to make a radical life change.

And then the attack on the US Capitol happened… homegrown-terrorists (who are broken, hurting people) committed multiple horrible acts as they attempted to overtake the halls of the Capitol. Democracy was threatened by their actions. As I watched these events unfold, I was overcome by a multitude of deep, visceral emotions and feelings. Anger… horror… disbelief… rage… and a deep sense of sorrow. After all for 26 years, I had sworn to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Now as I look back at the baptism of Jesus and the hope for a Messiah that was discussed in the opening of Mark’s Gospel, I wonder anew. A significant portion of the people thought the Messiah was going to come as a political/military leader who was going to overthrow the Empire. Jesus wasn’t that sort of leader though. He did not come to create chaos and disorder. He came to call the people back to the original covenant of God which was summarized in two Commandments: Love God with all of your being and love your neighbor (every neighbor) as yourself. John and Jesus both called for repentance on the part of the people who were the children of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

I am still processing what happened this past week. At the same time I am reflecting on my own call as a pastor and Christ-follower. That calling is a combination of prophetic witness and pastoral leadership. In my seminary class which begins next week, we will be exploring how we can engage in a complex, often times messy, multi-faith world. All of this continues to weigh on my heart as I prayerfully discern how we are being called to respond to the hatred, fear, and terror in this nation and world.

Thomas Merton wrestled with his call to be a contemplative monk as well as a leader and prophetic voice for peace. I can relate to that wrestling myself. If I was able to sit down with Merton, I would ask him for his advice on how to be that pastor and prophet and to speak to what I have experienced this week and at other times of crisis. Even though I can’t speak to him in person, his words speak to my struggle and offer me much to consider.

In a quote from his book, No Man Is an Island Merton speaks to my heart: Man’s intelligence, however we may misuse it, is far to keen and too sure to rest for long in error. It may embrace a lie and cling to it stubbornly, believing it to be true: but it cannot find true rest in falsehood. The mind that is in love with error wears itself out with anxiety, lest its error be discovered for what it is. But the man who loves truth can already find rest in the acknowledgment of his mistakes, for that is the beginning of truth. The first step toward finding God, Who is Truth, is to discover the truth about myself: and if I have been in error, this first step to truth is the discovery of my error. (p. 246)

Will you walk with me in this journey to discern the way of God and find our way through this crisis? Will you join me in looking deep into our souls and asking the Spirit to show us where we are resting in falsehoods. Thank you, Thomas Merton, for helping me to discern and follow the call of God first expressed in my own Baptism.

5 Comments
  1. Reblogged this on Anniegoose's Blog and commented:
    This is an awesome post.

  2. Thanks! Being both pastoral and prophetic is a difficult path in these strange times we live in.

  3. pynkoski2 permalink

    Thank you, Michael. Perhaps the first acknowledgement i have read that sees the mob as hurting people. Chris Hedges captures that vividly in America: The Farewell Tour.

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