The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire



Sermon - January 7, 2018
Scripture Reading:
Mark 1:4-11  
Sermon Title: ďBaptism of JesusĒ

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     As a minister there are two things that I can do, which are in some ways restricted to ministers. Those are Communion and Baptism.  With these two sacraments, the only two we celebrate in our church, communion is probably easier.  If you go back in history, churches have a great history of dividing.  We are very good at defining our differences and going with the group we agree with.  So the great riff, splitting the church into the Western and the Eastern churches, all those councils, then not just Luther, but many of the Protestant reformers.  Split, split and split more.  And in many of these splits, the church seeks to exclude those who do not believe the same things that they do.  In the split that we are probably most familiar with, the split between Protestants and Roman Catholics, communion was pretty easy to settle.  In the view of the Roman Catholic church, we have it wrong.  They are fine with us eating our bread and drinking our juice, but their communion is the only real communion in their eyes.  So if you are Catholic, you can take their communion, if you are not, you may not partake in their communion.
     But Baptism is harder.  Early in our church, like the first followers of Jesus, baptism was done to anyone who wanted to be a Christian.  Jesus clearly says to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  And we do that.  When someone wants to become a member of our church, if they have not been baptized, we will encourage that as a sign that they are now part of our fellowship and the fellowship of all Christians.  We baptize infants to welcome them into this Christian Fellowship. But John the Baptist, in our scripture, was baptizing for the forgiveness of sin.  So some believe that baptism takes away original sin from that person.  This meant that we wanted people baptized early, within days of someoneís birth.

     As the church grew and spread, they realized that there were times when a church leader could not perform a baptism, but it was so important that someone had to do it.  So the Roman Catholic Church decided that there was an order, priests, then deacons, then Roman Catholic church members, then anyone else.  So, if you had a sick baby you wanted baptized, emergency situation, the Jewish doctor or Jewish nurse can baptize, as long as they dunk or splash or pour 3 times, and say Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Baby is baptized, and all is good. 

     As I was researching baptism for todayís sermon I learned that the Catholic Church does accept protestant Baptism, as long as we use Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and dunk, splash or pour 3 times.   So if you decided at some point you wanted to join the Catholic Church, you could show them your baptism certificate, and they would probably accept that.  But if you are a church that Baptizes in the name of the Creator, Redeemer and Spirit, or something else non-gender specific, they will re-Baptize you.  They donít call it re-Baptizing, because you can only be Baptized once.  If they feel that your baptism was not done properly, they will baptize you.  If, by chance, God did accept your first baptism as legitimate, then the second time does nothing, just kind of a re-assurance that you really are baptized in a way that is accepted by God.  I have not done a lot of Baptisms here, but you may have noticed that I do use Father, Son and Holy Ghost, just to make sure that itís legitimate should that person go to another church someday.

     Now in the Catholic Church, if you are baptized and have gone through their proper education, and do your confession, you can take communion and participate in the other sacraments they recognize.  Baptism is the gateway sacrament. 

     This is the point where I most disagree with the Catholic Church.  Donít hear me as disagreeing with a lot of stuff, I really like the current Pope, and agree with a lot of what they have to say. We have much more in common than we have differences, but there is an emphasis that I donít agree with.  They want to make sure that it is all correct.  They will rebaptize someone if they suspect the wrong words may have been used.  They will not allow someone to take communion unless certain boxes are checked. 

     My emphasis is the other way.  When Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were ripped open by God.  The gospel writer didnít say pulled back, or use something soft and gentle - God ripped open the heavens to let us know that this is Jesus, Godís son.  God, in my view, wants to be in relationship with us.  God would not have ripped open heaven unless God wanted to be with us.  Do I believe we are called to baptize? Yes.  Do I believe that it is a requirement to go to heaven when we die?  No.  Do I believe that God welcomes all into the fellowship, baptized or not? I do.  I donít see God with a score card, Oh, this person was not baptized using the same words that I gave to Jesus to use, therefore it is not legitimate.  He was not splashed 3 times, only twice, or maybe 4.  I believe that God accepts all of those, no matter what words were used or not used, if only a few drops of water are used, or the person is immersed into the sea, and even if they are not baptized.  God wants to be in relationship with anyone who wants to be in relationship with God. 

     And that belief continues into communion for me.  This is Godís table, not mine, not yours.  God speaks to each of us, inviting us to participate in this fellowship of Godís people.  God ripped open the heavens to be in relationship with us. I donít see that God not allowing anyone to participate in this sacrament.  At Godís table, I believe all are welcome. 

     While some want to make sure everything is perfect, even to the point of re-baptizing in case it was done incorrectly in the past, I believe that I am the exact opposite.  I believe we are called to welcome everyone into this fellowship, with no requirements for being part of this fellowship of Christians, except for a desire to follow Christ and be in relationship with God. 

     Often, as a minister, I am called upon to baptize people I donít know, and who I will never see again.  For many it is still one of the many things that must be done when you have a baby, get the baby added to your insurance, get them a social security number, get them to the pediatrician for their well-baby check-ups, and get them baptized.   In talking with the mother, or ideally the couple, I explain that baptism will not make this baby any better, it will not save them from going to hell, but it is welcoming them into the community of Christians, and as parents they are pledging to try to bring up this child in the Christian Faith, teaching them about God.  And we as a church pledge to support this family in their faith journey.  And I admit that I am discouraged sometimes.  Parents tell me how much they want to bring the child to church, how excited they are to be able to have this church community support them, and then they are gone. 

     I get less discouraged today.  The fact is that while those parents are busy, I have hope that they are teaching their children about God.  Maybe praying with them before they go to bed.  But also, I hope they know that our doors are open.  Their names may not be in our membership directory, but those who had their child baptized, or who were baptized here, know that there is a community here that will support them.  Our doors are open, any Sunday they can drop in, join us for worship and fellowship, meet new people, maybe reconnect with old friends.  And it is not just here in Marlborough. Almost every town has a Christian Church.  We all worship in slightly different ways, we love to argue over our differences, but we are all trying to follow Christ.  So, they were not just baptized into the Marlborough church, they were baptized into the Christian Church, and hopefully will be welcomed in any church they go to. 

     For those who were not baptized as infants, it is never too late.  Jesus was baptized, and that baptism allowed God to claim Jesus as Godís own son.  And some would claim that the same happens at baptism, but I believe that God has already claimed us as Godís own, baptized or not.  This happened to Jesus when he was in his late 20ís, probably.  Most of Jesusí first followers were baptized when they decided to follow Jesus.  Infant baptism was a much later practice.  Both are fine in my view.

     I want to leave you with something to think about this week and that is your own baptism.  Maybe you remember it, maybe you donít.  Maybe you are baptized, maybe you were not.   But I ask you to take some time this week and ask what it means to you.  I wish I had all the answers, but I donít.  And if you are willing I would love to hear some of your stories.  What does it mean for you, who you were, who you are and who you will become?