Acts 19:1-7 and Mark 1:4-11
Monday morning of this week,
I was working preparing today’s worship service.
The scripture passage about the Baptism of Jesus
was occupying most of my thoughts.
I was also thinking about how Adrienne from Water for Good
would be bringing us a presentation about their mission –
Which is providing clean water to people in Central Africa.
Needless to say, I was doing a lot of thinking about water.
So, I barely noticed the DPW crew
working at the corner of Main and Nichols
as I drove by them on my way home.
Until I turned on the kitchen faucet
to fill my coffee carafe.
And nothing came out.
My first reaction was surprise,
because when I turn on a faucet
I have come to expect water to come out,
Surprise was quickly followed by irritation
at this unexpected inconvenience to my daily routine.
Then I remembered that DPW crew
and realized it must have been
a water main they were working on.
Knowing why there was no water coming out of my faucet
brought some assurance that the problem was only temporary.
Sooner or later, the issue would get resolved.
All I had to do was wait.
But, somewhere between my impatience
with not having fresh clean water on demand,
and the annoyance of knowing that
even when the water was flowing again,
it would be who-knows-how-long
before it looked clean enough to drink,
that I was struck by the irony of what was happening.
In the middle of my preparing to raise awareness about
people who have to walk long distances
to get water to drink –
water that is just as likely to make them sick
as it is to keep them alive –
here I was – impatient over a temporary interruption
in the luxury of clean water delivered to my kitchen sink.
Let me put it this way.
If you went to a dictionary and looked up
the definition of FIRST WORLD PROBLEM,
it would pretty much describe this situation.
Water is something that unites all human beings
of all races and nationalities.
The fact that our bodies are about 60% water
and we can’t live very long without it,
is something we all have in common.
Yet, water also divides people.
It divides those who have easy access
to safe, clean water,
from those who don’t.
And when you put oceans of water between
one of those populations and the other,
it’s easy for those who have,
to forget about those who have not.
But water can also bring people together.
Especially the water of baptism.
The New Testament actually speaks
of two forms of baptism.
The first baptism mentioned in the Gospels
is the baptism performed by John the Baptist.
His baptism was a baptism of repentance
for the forgiveness of sins.
And, John didn’t mince words when it came
to pointing out to people their sins,
Or that they needed to repent and be forgiven.
He warned the crowds of people
who came to hear him preach
that if they did not amend their ways
there literally would be hell to pay.
At the same time, John was clear about
the baptism he offered not being the ultimate solution
to the problem of human sinfulness.
That it was actually only a forerunner
to something much better
that was still to come.
“I baptize you with water for repentance,” he told them,
“but one who is more powerful than I is coming.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Then one day a man stepped into the river
and stood there before John waiting to be baptized.
John didn’t preach to this man
about his need to repent
or tell him what changes he had to make
to live a life that was pleasing to God,
the way he had told so many others
who had come before.
This time, it was John who felt compelled to make
a humble confession of his own unworthiness.
He confessed that he was unworthy
even to stoop down
and untie the thongs of the sandals
on the feet of this man from Galilee.
The One whose arrival he had been preparing people for,
had come at last.
Despite John’s hesitation,
Jesus insisted on being baptized by him.
And as Jesus rose up out of the Jordan’s waters,
Mark described it as if the heavens opened above him
and the Holy Spirit descended like a dove upon him.
A voice spoke from heaven, saying,
“You are my Son, the Beloved,
with you I am well pleased.”
And in that instant, something shifted for all eternity.
There in the flowing waters of the River Jordan,
Jesus committed himself to the path that would
eventually lead him to a cross.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus was baptized?
I mean, if John was baptizing people because
they needed to be forgiven of their sinful pasts
and needed to commit themselves
to a more righteous future –
what in the world did that have to do with Jesus?
Of what did Jesus, who never sinned,
need to be forgiven?
What could Jesus, who always placed
his Father’s will above his own,
ever have done that demanded repentance?
Jesus didn’t NEED to be baptized
because – with regards to John’s message –
he was NOT LIKE the rest of us.
But he CHOSE to be baptized
to demonstrate his solidarity with all of us.
When he was baptized, Jesus was not just immersed
in the water of the Jordan by John.
He was immersing himself in the experience of being human.
He set aside all the privileges and advantages of divinity
to join us in a shared humanity.
People today who devote themselves to be missionaries –
like the missionaries of Water for Good –
follow the example Jesus gave when he was baptized.
They don’t have to,
but they willingly do exchange
what we think of as a “normal” life,
to immerse themselves in the world
of the people they serve in Christ’s name.
I was first introduced to Water for Good last Summer
at Soulfest in Laconia, New Hampshire.
Soulfest is four days of open air, outdoor concerts
that is held annually at Mount Gunstock.
except with Christian music instead of Acid Rock,
and getting high on the Spirit instead of LSD.
One morning, Water for Good offered an opportunity
for people to get just a little feel
for what many Central Africans have to go through
just to have daily water.
It was called a Walk for Water.
People were given an empty five gallon can
that they carried to a stream about a mile away.
When you got to the stream,
you filled your water can
and carried it back to the starting point.
It was a good way to experience the reality of
what many Africans have to go through
to have the water they need to live.
After we finished the walk, Sue and I hung around
getting to know some of the Water for Good staff
and learning more about their ministry.
One of the things that impressed me
was that they are not just builders of wells
in the villages where water is needed.
They are keepers of the wells they build.
When something breaks down they do the repairs needed
to ensure that the gift of water continues to flow,
and people don’t have to return to walking long distances
to fetch unsanitary water.
Baptism is a little like digging a well.
It’s a once in a lifetime event that makes the water of Eternal Life
something readily accessible to us.
We are made a part of this village we call Church
where the Water of the Spirit is freely shared.
We don’t have to spend our time searching for it.
We don’t have to settle for toxic substitutes
for the life God gives.
It flows freely in us and among us.
But baptism should also be like keeping the well.
About caring for the well, maintaining the pump
and making repairs when needed,
to keep the water flowing.
If baptism is treated as something
that is considered complete
as soon as the cover is replaced on the baptismal font,
then the Water of the Spirit is likely to dry up
and the baptized person’s life will go on,
as if nothing really happened.
How conscious are you of the meaning of your baptism?
Not just as an event or a rite of passage.
But as a reality that defines who you are – God’s Beloved.
A reality that shapes and influences the direction of your life.
For many of us, baptism may have become
more of a memory of a past event
than a present experience in our day to day living.
John’s baptism was a baptism of water only,
that marked a personal decision
to make a new start with one’s life.
It’s an action that we must take for ourselves.
No one can do it for us.
But it’s only a prelude to something more important.
When people are baptized in the name of Jesus
it is a sign of their entry into a relationship with God
and with each other through the transformation
that God brings about in them
because they are not able to do it for themselves.
This is what baptism, not only of water,
but of water and the Spirit,
Where the Spirit flows through our lives
the difference is obvious.
In the passage we read today from Acts,
the apostle Paul encounters some disciples in the city of Ephesus.
Paul asks them if they received the Holy Spirit
when they were baptized.
Which is an odd question to ask someone that you’ve just met.
Unless there was something about them
that made Paul doubt that the Holy Spirit
was an active influence in their lives.
As it turns out, Paul’s intuition was right on.
Not only had they not received the Spirit,
they seem pretty clueless about who the Holy Spirit is.
After Paul baptizes them in the name of Jesus,
there is a visible transformation about them.
They do things they never did before.
Our baptism signifies a difference
in our relationship with God.
But it also signifies a change
in our relationship with one another.
Because to be baptized in the name of Jesus
is to embrace not only a new relationship
with the God who created us,
but also to enter a new kinship
with all whom God has created.
It is to hear God’s voice naming us
as God’s beloved sons and daughters,
and it is to recognize that through Jesus,
others are our beloved sisters and brothers.
One sign of the Spirit active in the lives of baptized believers
is an awareness of the belovedness of others.
Another sign is a concern for the needs of others
that moves us to respond,
even when there are oceans between us and them.
Because the water of baptism that unites us,
is more powerful than any water that divides us.