Jan 17th | The Reverend Kevin Scott Fleming | Mark 1:4-11
Click HERE to view and download the worship bulletin.
The Reverend Dr. Wil Willimon tells a story about receiving a telephone call from an angry father while he was serving as Dean of the chapel at Duke University. His secretary buzzed him and said that there was a man calling who was terribly upset. Willimon said, “I figured as much.” He asked if it were one of his many thought-provoking sermons that upset the man, perhaps the one where he “compared Shirley MacLaine to the Witch of Endor?” “No,” his secretary said, “we haven’t had any response to your sermons. . . . This man is mad over something you have done to his daughter.” Willimon was puzzled and told his secretary to put him through.
The father began by saying, “I hold you personally responsible.” “For what?” Willimon asked. The father replied, “My daughter. We sent her to Duke to get a good education. She is supposed to go to medical school and become a third generation [doctor]. Now she’s got some fool idea in her head about Haiti, and I hold you responsible.” Turns out, his daughter was involved in the chapel, various campus causes, and was one of the organizers of a spring Mission trip to Haiti.
The father said, “She has good grades and a chance to go to medical school...now this.”
“Now what?” Willimon said.
The father shouted into the phone, “Don’t act so dumb. Even if you are a preacher, you know very well what. Now she has some fool idea about going to Haiti for three years teaching kids there. None of this would have happened if it hadn’t been for you. She likes your sermons and you’ve taken advantage of her at an impressionable age. Now she’s got this fool idea about going to Haiti!”
At this point, Willimon says he was getting a bit energized himself. So he responded, “Now just a minute. Didn’t you have her baptized?”
The father replied, “Well, yes, but...”
“- And,” Willimon continued, “didn’t you take her to Sunday School?”
The father stammered in reply, “Well, uh, sure we did. But we never intended for it to do any damage.”
“Well, there you have it,” Willimon said. “She was messed up before she came to us. Baptized, Sundayschooled, called. Don’t blame this on me. You’re the one who started it. You should have thought about what you were doing when you had her baptized.”
“But,” the father pleaded, “We’re only Presbyterians. We just wanted her to be a good person. We never wanted anything like this.”
“Sorry,” Willimon said, “You’re talking to the wrong person. If you want to complain, take it to her third grade Sunday School teacher or your church leader. Take it up with your wife. You’re the ones who got her into this when you had her baptized. Thanks. Have a nice day.”
It’s hard for us to think that way when we ourselves come to, or when we bring a child to the font for baptism, that we are putting our feet, or their feet, on a path that the world will not always understand. We are committing ourselves, or our children, to a different pattern of life than that which the world around us pursues. Baptism is the beginning of a journey through life that is unpredictable and, sometimes, quite confusing. And it does not end until, as the funeral liturgy reminds us,our “baptism is complete in death.”
We get so wrapped up in the details of baptism that we fail to see the revolutionary act we are taking. We co-ordinate family calendars, get the proper clothing for the candidate, schedule the brunch, and make all the other arrangements to ensure an enjoyable and memorable occasion.
But do we really think about what we are doing for the long-haul? Baptism is not an empty ritual, or something we do to please someone, or serves as the reason for a party. Baptism is the beginning of a life of ministry and service to God and neighbor and should never be taken lightly.
John had been baptizing in the wilderness around the Jordan for some time and this act of baptism challenged both the imperial and religious powers of the day. People came into the wilderness for John’s baptism, because they were looking for something more - something meaningful - for purpose, justice, and peace.
Jesus comes to John - perhaps to identify himself with John - perhaps because he, too, was looking for something more. Jesus submits to baptism as a setting apart - a mystical connection to God and those who he was called to serve. Jesus’ baptism, presumably, had little to do with the eradication of sin. It was a setting apart of a human life from a common to a holy purpose.
And our baptism reflects that same setting apart. The baptized are not called to live life with a focus on themselves. The baptized are called to live a life focused on serving others. The baptized are not called to amass fortunes for themselves but are called to share their resources freely and generously with those who struggle to survive. The baptized are called to feel frustration and indignation when they see people in need of food, water, shelter, compassion, and care and the baptized are called to meet those needs and more, including changing the systems that keep some experiencing less while other experience excess. The baptized are called to share light and love in a world that is all too often dark and cruel.
Some who are baptized are called to live out their baptism as deacons, elders, and ministers of the word and sacrament. Ordination is a call to a particular role as care-givers and leaders in local congregations and church jurisdictions. Ordination is not being set apart to celebrate having power and authority. Ordination is all about a life of service to God and others. It is to find yourself on your knees, washing feet, instead of being served by others.
Deacons offer the care and compassion of the congregation to its members and beyond. As our Book of Order states:
The ministry of deacon as set forth in Scripture is one of compassion, witness, and service, sharing in the redeeming love of Jesus Christ for the poor, the hungry, the sick, the lost, the friendless, the oppressed, those burdened by unjust policies or structures, or anyone in distress. (G-2.0201.)
Elders are elected by the congregation to live out their baptism as leaders in the local congregation.
As there were in Old Testament times elders for the government of the people, so the New Testament church provided persons with particular gifts to share in discernment of God’s Spirit and governance of God’s people. Ruling elders, together with ministers of the Word and Sacrament, exercise leadership, government, spiritual discernment, and discipline, and have responsibilities for the life of a congregation as well as the whole church, including ecumenical relationships. (G-2.0301)
The ordination and installation of our sisters and brothers this morning, did not begin this morning. It began on the day they were baptized. They are answering a new and deeper calling from God to be servant leaders of their servant Lord.
But, make no mistake: we are all called to live our baptism in ministry and service. We are all called to find the Spirit of God empowering us to be agents of mercy and compassion in a world of pain and suffering. We are all called to embrace a life of service, eschewing the privileged position we may think we deserve, and offering ourselves as ambassadors of the Reign of God, where all people are honored and beloved as created in the image of God.
Submitting to our baptism and living our baptism brings the reality of discipleship to life in the eyes of our sisters and brothers in baptism and in the eyes of the world for whom baptism is alien. Living our baptism will change us even as we change the world around us, until our baptism “is complete in death.”
So, dear ones, live your baptism! Now, this day, and forevermore. Amen.