When everyone was being baptized, Jesus also was baptized. While he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit came down on him in bodily form like a dove. And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”
About 18 months ago I felt like I was in a rut in my ministry. We had just completed a capital campaign, we were in the midst of a building project, and oh yeah and there was a global pandemic going on. I felt like I had been running full time without much of a break for two or three years. I had been in ministry for more than two decades and had never taken any extended time off other than three Sundays in a row and that was 15 years previously! Just at the right moment two things happened: a colleague mentioned that they had taken leave and it had saved their ministry, and I heard about a 5 day online workshop offered through Brite Divinity School at TCU called Flourishing in Ministry. It was designed for mid career clergy to kind of reconnect with their story and with their purpose. We journaled, had deep discussions, we had free time (naps are a means of grace) and at the end of the five week 5 days I came to understand that what I was struggling with was burnout and that I needed to take leave in order to go forward in ministry.
I was very clear with the congregation that my goal was not to take a sabbatical- I know that a lot of people use those terms interchangeably, but for me a sabbatical implies producing some kind of content. I didn't want to do that; I just wanted a break and so I was very intentional to call it a renewal leave- I would do things that I love to do that would reconnect me with God. I've always been a huge baseball person and so I decided to use part of my leave to go on a month long baseball tour of Major League ballparks and do almost all of it on trains. I'm so grateful to Christy and the boys and the congregation for allowing me to do that. Upon returning home I had three weeks to prepare for the move to Richardson, and when we moved here June 1 I still had a month to settle into our new house and community and get ready to start here at Spring Valley. When the leave came about I didn't know that I was going to be moving toward the end of it but it ended up just kind of aligning very well together so that I could start here in Dallas with a renewed sense of commitment and purpose reconnecting with God with my calling and my vocation in the church.
Sometimes that need for reconnection is real for all of us. We might feel distant from God, distant from our brothers and sisters in Christ, distant from our spiritual gifts and out of connection with the needs of the community. We might feel like we're just kind of going through the spiritual motions: showing up on Sunday morning hoping that the service doesn't run too long or that everything works properly, overly focused on the music or the choir or the pastor or whatever else. Sometimes we get frustrated because things are going on with ourselves that are kind of out of our control. We don't know what to do our health, our work, our kids. A couple of colleagues shared this meme on Facebook the other day:
And the bigger brokenness of the world around us impacts our spiritual life: the constant threat of violence, racial injustice, economic inequality… all these things can build up overtime and we find ourselves disconnected from a faith that once was life giving to us. We need to reconnect.
We've probably all had the same experience of frustration with our electronics. Our phones get stuck, our computers freeze when we're trying to write, and oftentimes we're told the first thing we need to do when this kind of lockup happens is to hit the reset button, restart the computer- sometimes just turning things off for a moment and then turning them back on again gives the solution that we're looking for. How does that apply to Christian life? We can't just turn off our faith, we can't just unplug ourselves from our spiritual lives. Our religious life is part of our DNA- it's part of who we are, but sometimes we need to go back to that source and reconnect with our identity in Christ. We have so many competing identities out there: professionally, at home, our hobbies, where we went to school… all these things compete for our attention and our identity but as followers of Christ our identity is in Christ and that begins with our baptism.
In the United Methodist Church we have two sacraments: Holy Communion and Baptism. The Lord’s Supper is a perpetual remembrance of Christ- the bread and the juice symbolize Christ’s real presence with us when we receive them in worship, we have fellowship with the Lord and our brothers and sisters and siblings around us at the table. Communion is a means of grace; it is encouraged that we take it as often as possible; in fact the Wesley brothers John and Charles took communion throughout the week almost as like we would take supplements to keep connected to Christ. Baptism is different, in than that it is a once in a lifetime event that may happen when we're children, or youth, even as adults. It's a moment when we become aware of God's grace that's already been at work in our and we respond- we make a commitment or sometimes our parents make commitments on our behalf and we later claim them for ourselves. At baptism we are brought into the universal church, we affirm that we belong to Christ, we belong to God within the congregation. Baptism is always a communal experience: the community reaffirms its commitment to Christ, vows to support the new person in Christ going forward in their spiritual life.
Jesus himself was baptized; now why would he do that? Luke tells us that Jesus was baptized along with many others who were being ministered to by John the Baptist out in the wilderness. Jesus wants to be part of our lives, to share in community; again baptism is a communal event. Jesus wants to share in a ritual that helps us to deeply connect with God and with our own spiritual purpose. Following the baptism Luke tells us that Jesus is praying- what is the simplest, most accessible spiritual practice can we always do anywhere, whether a clergy is present or not? Prayer. Prayer brings us close to the heart of God. Jesus is praying, sharing with God, when the heavens are opened and the Holy Spirit alights upon Jesus in the form of a dove. God speaks and says, “You are my son the Beloved. In you I find happiness.” In Matthews account of Jesus’ baptism, the voice from the heaven says, “This is my Son…”, a way of proclaiming Jesus' identity to everybody else who's gathered. When the time comes for to baptize an infant here at Spring Valley I will take that child and I will walk all around the sanctuary and show the kid off: “This is _____.” “This is _____.” “This is _____.”
In Luke’s version of the story the focus is different- it's not an announcement to the people, it's a direct message to Jesus: “You are my son. You are Beloved. In you I find happiness.” You can imagine the impact this message has for Christ. Before his ministry begins, before his temptation, before he calls the first disciple, before he heals anyone or teaches anything, he hears this good news: he is loved. God finds joy in Jesus. This is the voice is spoken to us by the Holy Spirit at our baptism. The Spirit alights upon us at the baptismal font, or river, or swimming pool (yes, I have done it more than once!). The Holy Spirit speaks to us, “You are a child of God. You are beloved. God finds happiness in you.” Can you see how that would be good news to us when we need a soul reset?
When the world around us is gone crazy or when we've suffered burnout or we've feel disconnected to Christ we can always come back to that word: “You are my daughter. You are my son. You are my child. In you I find happiness.” No one can take your belovedness from you. Throughout this series we're going to reset ourselves so that we can be sent into the world joyful, hopeful, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Today God resets our souls by reaffirming the baptismal covenant. Next Sunday we'll reset purpose. As we engage in the liturgy, and as I walk through the space and kind of flick water at everybody,may you know you’re a beloved child of God. May you know that you bring happiness to God, and may your soul be reset by this gift of water. I read yesterday that in in communion human hands take that grain, human hands take those grapes, and they work it to where bread and juice are produced. But only divine hands can produce water. Water reconnects with the one who calls us beloved.
There's one more facet of baptism that I want to emphasize: we are baptized for a purpose. It is the baptized Christian who takes on the responsibility to bring about God's will of justice, mercy and peace for all the world. It is the baptized Christian’s responsibility to provide food for those who are hungry, clothing for those who are naked, shelter for those who are unsheltered, hope for those who have no hope. It is the baptized Christian’s responsibility to bring peace where there is violence, justice where there is oppression, voice where there is no voice, compassion where there is hatred, and healing where there is suffering. The baptized Christian is meant to meet the needs of the world and bring about God's justice. You'll see in this liturgy a challenge to live out your baptismal covenant in ways that make a positive impact on the world for the sake of Christ and for the sake of those also made in the image of God. Baptism is communal, and as such it reminds us that every single person is a beloved child of God, regardless of where they come from, the language they speak, the people they love, how they worship- if they worship- in God's eyes we are all children we're all beloved we're all part of the human family.
Let's join together now in the reaffirmation of the baptismal covenant