Galatians 5:1, 13-15 and John 8:31-32
First Sunday After The Epiphany, Baptism of Our Lord, January 8, 2023
First in a Pastoral Series on Practicing Baptist Principles Dennis W. Foust, PhD, Senior Minister
Beloved, one reason you are here today is to help Build a Better World.
You want to make a difference in the lives of other people. This is your conscious choice.
Therefore, you are investing yourselves in God’s mission of love revealed in Jesus Christ.
This is why, looking at today’s world, it is fair to ask the question,
‘What difference does baptism make in the life of the twenty-first century Church?’
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, as Calvinistic fundamentalists took control of almost every Baptist agency and institution. Local churches like St. John’s were instrumental in protecting Baptist principles and practices. During those years, it was my privilege to help begin new movements among free and faithful Baptists. In recent months, I have been reviewing my notes of meetings in which I participated to make decisions and initiate new approaches and resources among Baptists. Thus far, I have found notes from more than a thousand meetings that were seeds for today’s fruits among free and faithful progressive Baptists. It was a blessing to see how God connected my conscience with others
One of the older Baptist leaders I met was Dr. Sam Proctor, Baptist pastor, former president of North Carolina A & T, the first director of Peace Corps in Nigeria, and Administrator of the Office of Economic Opportunity to promote economic justice and racial integration. One of my roles in Baptist life, during those years, was that of a writer and editor for Smyth & Helwys Publishers. One of the books we published was entitled, Proclaiming the Baptist Vision: The Priesthood of All Believers. It included a chapter written by Dr. Proctor. He told a story of meeting with a group of young people who were guided by external motivations: popular culture, musical lyrics, peer pressure, etc. He talked to them about being motivated by God’s view of them. He told them about how God valued them and explained how they could be guided by God in their conscience and their vision for a better world. In a conversation, as he talked about this story, he said, “My baptism reminds me that I am being transformed from within.” This is because his baptism was not for self-indulgence. His conscience was guided by his relationship with God in The Way of Jesus.
As we begin the season of Epiphany, we remember the Baptism of Jesus Christ. Jesus was baptized because he chose to make a conscious commitment to God’s love. Today, we baptize these teenagers because they have committed their lives to follow The Way of Jesus. They are learners of Jesus’ teachings beginning to allow the Spirit of The Living God to direct their steps. They are learning about God’s redemptive grace, forgiveness, and spiritual nurture. We pray for each of them as they begin this journey of discipleship. Therefore, on this day, it is fair to ask the question,
‘What difference does their baptism make in the life of the twenty-first century Church?’
Baptism was not merely a ritual for Jesus. Baptism was significant for him.
Jesus was baptized because he had already committed himself to the bear the light of God’s love in the world. Jesus freely committed himself to God. Just like each of you, Jesus exercised his freedom of conscience. This is what he described as he taught the people in John’s Gospel story: He told them, “…if you continue in my teachings, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the Truth about God’s love, and this Truth will make you free.” The people had been following a religion of ritual. They had been going through the motions of institutionalized faith. But they did not yet understand the freedom that results from a spiritual relationship with The Living God of love who guides your conscience.
This is what is described in Galatians 5. “For spiritual freedom, Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery…only do not use your freedom for self-indulgence…through love, become servants of one another…love your neighbor as yourself…do not bite and devour one another…or you will consume one another.”
Your baptism sets you free to experience, express, and explore God’s love.
Baptism is a symbol of your commitment to relate with God by following Jesus.
Your baptism does not make you a Baptist. Nor does it make you a Christian.
Your baptism reminds you that God’s love claims you, changes you and commissions you.
Your baptism reminds you that you are united with Christ and you are united in Christ.
Your baptism is like an invisible full body watermark that covers your entire life.
In our Baptist tradition, you are immersed so this water mark reminds you that your commitment to God is a conscious decision to follow Jesus in every aspect of your life.
For centuries, baptism was not much more than a church ritual. Its meaning was deemphasized.
The meaning of believer’s baptism was rekindled by people who were labeled Baptists.
The idea of SOUL FREEDOM – freedom of conscience – was a core idea for John Smyth and Thomas Helwys of England, in 1609. They left the Church of England to proclaim that religious faith cannot be inherited at birth. Each person has a conscience and is free, responsible and accountable for their own
experience of God. Smyth and Helwys and other Baptists of the early 1600s taught this idea.: ‘You can leave to your children your horse, your house and your faith. Yet, it is up to your children whether they will ride the horse, live in the house, or experience God for themselves.’ This idea of ‘a believer’s church,’ and the symbolic experience of ‘believer’s baptism,’ rests upon the idea that a spiritual experience of the Living God cannot be compulsory or mandated or gifted by one generation to another. If a spouse or a child is forced to love, this is not love. Love is a commitment that is a free and voluntary act. Love, by its very nature, cannot be coerced or demanded; love is offered as a gift and received as a gift by free choice of conscience. This freedom of conscience is not to be used for self-indulgence. This is why St. John’s BAPTIST Church practices BELIEVER’S BAPTISM for servant faith.
Every aspect of your life is included in your commitment to be shaped by God’s love.
Your baptism is a reminder that God’s love –
covers your head, thus your mind – what you allow yourself to think as you’re thinking;
covers your eyes – what you choose to see while you are looking;
covers your ears – what you allow yourself to hear as you are listening;
covers your mouth – what you allow yourself to say while you’re speaking;
covers your hands – what you choose to touch, hold, grasp, value and surrender;
covers your feet – where you choose to go on your journey;
covers your desires, actions, goals, and your stewardship of time, treasure and talent; and covers your motivations, work, relationships, and every other dimension of your life.
AND YOUR BAPTISM REMINDS YOU THAT GOD’S LOVE COVERS YOUR SINS, FAULTS, WEAKNESSES, FAILURES, GUILT, AND SHAME.
On this first Sunday of Epiphany, open your life anew to the light of God’s love. Renew your conscious commitment to God’s salvation as you follow The Way of Jesus. As a new year begins, let us confess our sins and retouch the waters of our baptism. Beloved, our world has too many people who pursue self-indulgence. Our world needs people of conscience commitment to The Living God of love. Your baptism matters!
Amen and AMEN! May it be so!