Sunday, January 08, 2006

Pastor Strange's Sermon on Baptism

This morning, after hearing Matthew's account of Jesus' baptism by John the Baptist, Pastor Strange preached a wonderful sermon, "Remember Your Baptism," in which he carefully shared what baptism means for us Christians. I especially appreciated the clear and emphatic emphasis on the graceful activity of God within the baptizing community, the baptismal welcome we extend to the newly baptized, and the inclusive manner in which the modes of baptism were explained and visually presented. We were blessed to see the various ways many accepted and publicly affirmed the invitation to remember their baptisms. After the 8:30 hour or worship, our Bible class spent the whole of its time in an extended discussion about what Pastor said. We shared our baptismal experiences and the implications of our baptisms for daily living as Christians. If you had the opportunity to hear the sermon, perhaps you like to share your thoughts about it.


Blogger Jimtom said...

Very much enjoyed Sunday School this morning. It occurred to me later as I reflected on it, that just as John considered himself unworthy to loosen Jesus' sandal latchet, so too, might it be inferred that the baptism by water is inferior to the Baptism by the Holy Ghost and by Fire? And that the Baptism by the Holy Spirit and by Fire is more to be desired? (These may be considered rhetorical questions.)
The problem I come up against is that while it is very easy to receive the baptism by water, and to know assuredly that it has taken place, it seems to be not such an easy thing to receive that Baptism by the Holy Ghost and by Fire, nor to know with complete assurance that it has indeed happened, though I suppose if it is administered, one would doubtless have no doubt of it. Ah, well...

Monday, 09 January, 2006  
Blogger Jimtom said...

 I suppose I am inferring that it seems to me that the mainline traditional denominations
have emphasized the easy Baptism almost to the total exclusion of the (inferred) greater Baptism.
And this is understandable because the water (easy) baptism is tangible, verifiable, provable;
whereas the Fire/Spirit (greater) Baptism, at least since the Pentecost experience of rushing wind,
fiery tongues, and glossolalia, is a much more nebulous event, often arousing suspicion of fakery
or of being merely the product of self-induced religious ecstacy born of a lack of sophistication.
So which would the church choose to emphasize? In one, the guy is wet and dripping; in the
other, we can’t even prove it happened, for crying out loud!
In regard to John’s expectations of Jesus, I quite agree that Jesus was not what John was
looking and hoping for. The same can be said for almost all the Jews of His day, and indeed the
Jews up until this very day. But it is entirely possible to speak prophetically without knowing of
what one is truly speaking. I believe this is what John is actually doing when he is preaching of
the good news. He may of been thinking of a great housecleaning (which in fact is still yet to
come). The real Good News turned out, most unexpectantly, to be Jesus himself, whom Paul
describes in 2 Corinthians 4:4 as “the image of God”. Since, as stated in 1 John 4:16, “God is
Love”, Jesus Messiah, the image of God who is love, is coming to reconcile all who will receive
Him back to Himself; not with fiery retribution and wrothful judgement, but with loving-
kindness, mercy and compassion, with meekness and servitude. Not only was this most
unexpected, but it was truly the real Good News of which John, I think, unbeknownst to himself,
And just as the Spirit Baptism takes precedence over water baptism, so too does Jesus’
surprising, disappointing Good News (as explained by His quoting the prophet Isaiah in His reply
to John) supercede the good news that John hoped/thought he was predicting in the coming of
Of course, this could all be my misinterpretation and unimportant in the final scheme of
things, a picking of nits, as it were (not to mention possibly incoherent). If deemed such, my

Monday, 09 January, 2006  
Blogger Andrew Harnack said...

Jimtom, it was good to see you yesterday. Great haircut! Although I find your comments about John's saying that Jesus will "baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire interesting," I don't quite get what you see inferred. Let me explain why. Luke's story begins with the pre-natal, birth, and circumcision stories of John and Jesus (Chapters 1-2); just before Chapter 3 Luke tells us about the twelve-year-old boy Jesus in the temple learning about what goes on in his "Father's house." Then Chapter 3 begins a whole new section of Luke's orderly account, about which he's done considerable research (1.1-4). Eighteen or so years have elapsed, and in Chapter 3 we get a view of Jesus entering his public ministry. John appears as a desert ascetic, a hard-nosed Iasiah-like preacher telling people to change their lives; they're to produce "fruit in keeping with repentence." Some people--including a few IRS agents and some miliary types--want to know specifics. John suggests they share their shirts, pants, and cheese sandwiches with hungry raggety people, charge reasonable rates for services rendered, and quit intimidating poor folks with thuggery. After this he starts talkng about his cousin Jesus, saying, "He's more powerful that I am, so powerful that I not up to polishing his shoes!" And when he comes, he'll "baptize (immerse) you with the Holy Spirit and with fire!" In fact, he'll sift out and get rid of the bad stuff and people and throw all the no-good stuff and people into the fire! In short, John says, "If you think I'm radical, just you wait until the Next One comes along!

In the next verse, Luke says that John "proclaimed this good news to the people with many other exhortations too." What does the "good news" mean here? It means that Jesus will clean house! Jesus is going to get rid of the bad guys so that the neighborhoods, the cities, and the country will no longer be run by a bunch of thugs, extortionists, and para-military types. That is the "good news"! It's no wonder that in the next verse we find that Herod the Tetrarch throws John into political prison! People in power don't like such Johns, especially when they say another more powerful leader will be coming!

Luke next tells us that Jesus himself is baptized, and we don't hear again about crazy-for-justice John until Chapter 7 when John, having real doubts about Jesus, sends some disciples to Jesus to get clarification. Apparently Jesus isn't acting like the anti-establishment Fire-brand he's supposed to. John is experiencing a real sense of disappointment with Jesus. Note what happens: Jesus--after acknowledging John's great worth and ministry!--sends a message back to John in which he describes the really Good News: the blind are seeing, the lame are bounding around, people with skin-sores are healed, deaf people hear, the dead are alive, and good news is being preached to the poor." Apparently Jesus is revising John's hard-nosed understanding of the what the Messiah is about. Yes, he is coming with the Holy Spirit and fire, but His fire is the fire of compassion, a mission of healing, and a call for everyone to live in Kingdom ethics that are even more radical than anything John imagined. In other words, Jesus is expanding expectations as to what the good news looks like, smells like, lives like.

Well, Jimtom, that's something as to how I see what's going on in Chapter 3. In short, John is right: Jesus will immerse us with Holy Breath/Spirit and fire, but the fire will, as John later finds out, be more than condemnation and judgment; it will be the fire that culminates in Pentecost, the fire of the full Gospel and a Kingdom ethics that is radically counter-cultural, more so than John ever imagined.

Jimtom, June and I will be gone from Bible class for nearly a month. Please ask everyone to pray for our safe return. Thanks!

Monday, 09 January, 2006  
Blogger Mason Smith said...

Greetings all:

I enjoyed Jimtom's comment which I think ties in nicely with our discussion in Bible Class on Sunday. The reason that some people request a second or third baptism is exactly their expectation of a "baptism by the Holy Ghost and by Fire." They want a major experience. They expect the earth to move, as in: Ka-boom! Yer holy, buddy!

I was baptized as an infant, and of course I cannot remember the experience at all. So I must confess that I've also thought about asking to be rebaptized so that I'd remember the sacrament.

I'd never expect a literal baptism by fire, of course, but I would expect to feel the Holy Ghost moving in my life at least for those few moments during the service.

I think that same wish is felt by many Christians.

I've never followed up on a second baptism, however, because of the very reasons we discussed in Bible Class: the first baptism accomplished its mission. I was raised in a Christian home and then when I reached an appropriate age I went on to join the community of Christ on my own. The promises made at my baptism all those years ago were all kept.

But still I understand the desire for a second baptism.

By the way, I also liked Andy's comment about the real meaning of the fire of baptism. I'd neve thought of it in that way before. I'll need to consider these matters further.

Monday, 09 January, 2006  

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