January 10, 2015 Epiphany… Community United Church of Christ, Medford, WI
Pastor Mary Jo Laabs
Todays’ Scripture: Isaiah 43:1-7 Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Message: “Called by Name”
Pray with me: Loving God, may the words that we hear and the meditations of all of our hearts
let us recognize that we are called by you, Creator, Redeemer and Comforter, Amen.
It's not a coincidence that we hear the story of the baptism of Jesus today, in this season of Epiphany. The word "Epiphany" means manifestation or revelation and suggests a shining light. The story of the Baptism of Jesus is itself a revelation: imagine the heavens as they open up and the voice of God speaking to Jesus, saying, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." And there is a dove above him…
Martin Luther passionately reminded people: "Remember your baptism!" I dare say that most of us cannot remember our baptism, other than by what we have been told about it: who was present that day, where it may have taken place and who baptized us. When Luther said “Remember your Baptism, he meant something bigger than the historical memory of that day. He wasn't just talking about being dressed up in the family baptismal gown or little white suit. In his catechism, Luther wrote, "A truly Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism
once begun and ever to be continued."
What we need to remember each day when we rise from our beds, is:
who we are, whose we are, and how beloved we are.
Today, in churches and rivers and fountains around the world, people are being baptized.
People are still being washed in the living waters, are still thirsting for God's grace
and a word of forgiveness; still waiting to find their place in the story of salvation.
When Jesus was baptized by John, God speaks: "You are my Child, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." These words echo the words of the prophet Isaiah: "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine…you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you." (43:1b, 4a).
From this, comes the ancient tradition of repeating the name of the one to be baptized.
Johnny's Mother looked out the window and noticed that he was "playing church" with the family cat. He had the cat sitting on a lawn chair and he was preaching to it. She smiled and went about her work.
Awhile later, she heard loud meowing and hissing and ran back to the open window to see that Johnny was apparently baptizing the cat in a tub of water. She yelled out the window, "Johnny, stop that! The cat is afraid of water!"
Johnny looked up at her and said,
"Well, he should have thought about that before he joined my church."
There will be no such surprises for anyone joining our church!
However mysterious and frightful life may seem, however many unknowns there may be,
God is near to us. God's love didn't just start today. God’s love is from of old, and it is focused on each one of us, by name. When Jesus walked out of the river that day and into his public ministry
on this earth, he knew that He was loved. Whether we can remember our baptismal day or not is less important as always keeping in mind that we too are blessed and beloved…and that we have come out of the waters of Baptism with a ministry, too. The sky did not open today…. The voice of God is not physically heard today when babies and young people and adults are baptized.
God will speak to the newly baptized throughout their lifetimes just as God has been and is speaking to us all.
Let’s consider just what it is that happened when we were baptized.
This is it: by the Sacrament of Baptism, by the sign of water and the Holy Spirit, we are called
and are chosen to be members of the church of Jesus Christ. Our parents chose and promised that privilege for us. We chose it for our children and they later come to affirm their faith in Confirmation. Others have chosen to be baptized as young adults or older adults.
By baptism, we are marked with the sign and seal of God's grace and forgiveness, and the Christian faith and life begins. In Baptism, we are not turned into United Church of Christ people, or Catholic, or Lutheran, or Methodist, or Presbyterian, or Baptist. Here, we believe in “one” baptism that receives us into the care of the church of Jesus Christ. The United Church of Christ recognizes the validity of all baptisms, therefore, to join in the membership of our church, there is no need for re-baptism. Our Statement of Faith clearly states it: “We are called into your Church to accept the cost and joy of discipleship, to be your servants in the service of others, to proclaim the gospel to all the world, to resist the powers of evil, to share in Christ’s Baptism and eat at his table…”
The United Church of Christ believes in the priesthood of all believers. Know that although we are each called in different ways, we are all equal. In the Gospel of Mark, chapter 1, John tells Jesus that he was not worthy to baptize him: but, Jesus convinced John that he was. Jesus showed that he was on level ground with John and with all those who had been baptized and with all those would be baptized… until this very moment.
We each are called to stand on a level place with those that are in need, with those that are troubled, with those that need comfort, with those who are searching and lost and separated from us in one way or another. We each are called to stand on a level place with those in high positions and look them in the eye. We each are called to minister to each other…to give service one another...whether rich or poor, whatever nationality or background, sick or healthy, aged or youthful, hungry or well fed, non-believers or church-goers, educated or not...and to extravagantly welcome ALL IN….it is who we are in the United Church of Christ. Our bulletin acknowledges as we print this in the heading: “Ministers: All the People”
It sounds like being “called” to minister to each other is a difficult task, doesn’t it? Let me ask you this: Would Christianity have spread if Paul would have said: I don’t have time to be a Christian.
I am too busy making tents.
If Andrew would have said: I don't think my family or friends would like me to get involved.
And besides, I am too busy fishing.
If Peter would have admitted that: Jesus makes him feel uncomfortable.
Or if Martha would have said: I always have too many things to do around the house
to take on any outside activities.
Or if Matthew would have said: Well, you see, I have an important position as a tax collector which I don't want to jeopardize it.
If John would have said: Religion? For an outdoor man like me?
If Mark would have said: I am too young. I think I should wait until I am older to make such an important decision.
If Thomas would have said: The whole idea of Christianity is preposterous!
Nothing can make me believe it.
Our calling enables each one of us to be ministers.
It is not just some magical privilege experienced by the clergy.
I should have entitled this message…”OO7”…After looking up the word “minister” in Webster’s dictionary…I found the first definition to be: AGENT. I like that! AGENT…Think about what an agent does…even if it be OO7: a person authorized to act on another's behalf. And isn’t that exactly what we, as Christians, are supposed to be doing? Acting on behalf of Jesus Christ…Through baptism we are joined with the universal church… the body of Christ.
Ron Buford, the UCC pastor who originated the United Church of Christ phrases such as, “God is still speaking,” and “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome here,” writes this: “Amid the ascending hopes of people and the descending power of God, we publicly baptize our sons and daughters just as Jesus was baptized—among neighbors and friends, into community. In the presence of God, we claim their lives and reclaim our own for hope, sealed with our unbreakable promise to love them and be loved . . . no matter what. (Ron is a writer, speaker, preacher, and consultant.)
Today, we will repeat the words of promise that were made at the time of our baptisms,
so that they are fresh in our minds this new year. In renewing our baptismal promises,
we are called beyond the old ways of thinking and being the church. We are called beyond
whatever is convenient…the “business as usual,” to a new and different way of life.
I remind you today, that we have been blessed to witness the workings of God’s Spirit in many
and marvelous ways, from the smallest kindnesses to great healings, from reconciliation
and new found faith to visions of new ministry for this church…there is so much to look forward to, in faith. Expect great things. Hope great things.
We keep the baptismal font in front to remind us of this each time we come into this sanctuary.
We, as agents of Jesus Christ; we, the many who have been called to be the church to one another… With our every diversity, make it what it is. It will be friendly, if we are friendly.
These pews will be filled if we help to fill them. The church will do great work, if we are willing
to work. It will make generous gifts to many causes, if we are generous givers. It will be vibrant,
if we put our faith into action. It will bring other people into its worship and fellowship if we invite them. It will be a church of loyalty and love, of fearlessness and faith, a church with noble spirit,
if we who make it what it is, realize that each one of us has been called here.
Whether we can clearly remember the day we walked into the baptismal waters, or had them poured or dipped on our heads, give thanks. Let us speak the promises now that were spoken for us. I believe that we continue to be called in different ways. It might come with a nudge or a shove… it might take our breath away…watch closely for it.
We are called by name this day and every day to live as disciples of Jesus.
Remember that. Thanks be to God!