January 9, 2011
Matthew 3: 13 – 17
The Passion of Baptism
Passion ….how do you define this word in your world? When we hear the word “passion” I am going to guess that it is related to life experiences which create a deep, gut level response on you r part. One’s passion can be seen in our physical and spiritual lives. We all know of people, perhaps even ourselves with a passion for certain activities: service to the church, volunteer work of certain types, social justice issues to name just a few. To be passionate about something creates a devotion to that “thing” which takes up a lot of our time, talents and treasures. Can you name your own passions? Can you identify the passions of others? How do you and they act out their passionate feelings on a given issue? Can you think of someone who perhaps has lost their “passion”?
Passions….our own and others are very difficult things to manage. Passions can make us nervous; they challenge us too boldly; cause us to fidget in our comfortable worlds. We as humans tend to want to “keep things quiet”. Life is more comfortable and easier in a passionless void. Today we greet a time of Passion with John the Baptist. The passion of John, the one called out of the wilderness to herald the coming of the Messiah, the savior of humankind is what we are faced with in Holy Scripture this morning. Today John the Baptist’s words are crying out not just to get our attention but to call us back to who it is we really are in our Baptism. Jesus choose this passionate man named John to be the one to bring the Incarnate God to his first miracle- being humbled and washed by the Master of crying out. Jesus realized and required a righteous cleansing….and so do we.
John the Baptist offers us today a baptismal sermon which is anything but calm and quiet. It is a passionate call to the people of God. The world in which we live is anything but tame and calm by its nature. We as the Baptized of God are called to bring Christ’s message of hope that we carry in our baptismal experience. We live in a hostile, passionate world in which we like John and others before us cry out our baptismal calling to a world gone deaf. We as a church have a low consciousness of what Baptism is as a means of cleansing, a means of belonging, a means of grace. Dr. Stephen J. Wellum offers this thought:
As heirs of the Reformation, evangelicals of various traditions have viewed baptism as vitally important for the life, health, and practice of the church. ……….. evangelicals for the most part have viewed baptism as extremely significant—indeed, a beautiful, visible declaration of the Gospel, bound up with the mission of the church. The reason for this attitude is quite simple, yet one that must not be overlooked or ignored: baptism is one of the two ordinances or sacraments that the Lord of the church has instituted and ordained for the life and health of the church, until the end of the age; and as such, it is to be practiced in our day in obedience to the Lord.*
Today we remember our God’s passion for us in the water and the Word immersed in the love of the Holy Spirit guiding us into and out of the waters of redemption. Baptism is a beautiful outward portrayal of the Gospel itself. We neglect it to our peril. We remember it to ground ourselves in the reality of a grace filled God. May we live it as a people filled with passion to bring that message of God’s saving grace to the world in Christ’s name and to his glory.
*Dr. Stephen J. Wellum (B.A., Roberts Wesleyan College; M.Div., Ph.D., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is assistant professor of theology at Northwest Baptist Theological College and the Associated Theological Schools of Trinity Western University, Langley, B.C. Before teaching, he was a pastor in South Dakota.