John: Baptizing with the Holy Spirit

John: Baptizing With the Holy Spirit
A Message on John 1:29-34
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
July 12, 2020
By Doug Wintermute

John 1:29-34 (NRSV)

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

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I want to start off today by telling you a story of a young boy who attended church in a denomination that practiced full immersion baptism. (Some people call it “dunking.”) He had been to church several times and had seen people baptized, and he was really impressed by it.

So one day he decided that he would play preacher and baptize the family cat. He got a washtub and put some water in it with a water hose, then hunted down the cat. He picked up the cat and brought it to the tub of water, said what he could remember of what the preacher said, and then tried to dunk the cat.

Well as you might expect the cat was having none of it. It fought him, scratching and biting him before running away only partially wet. Undaunted, the young boy once again catches the cat and tries again. Same result: the cat scratches and bites, gets out of his grip, and runs away.

The boy thinks the third time might be the charm so he once again catches the cat, carries it to the tub or water, and tries again. No luck. The cat, who is catching on by now, goes full on fight mode against the boy, and escapes yet once again barely wet.

The boy, exasperated and covered in bites and scratches, yells after the cat, “Fine, then! Just go on and be a Methodist!”

Today we will be continuing our sermon series on the Gospel of John by looking at the topic of baptism. And we are doing that today because, as you have already seen, today is confirmation day, a day when young men and women who have completed the 12 week confirmation classes make a decision to follow Jesus Christ as his savior and be baptized or, if they were baptized as children, affirm their faith.

Now here’s something that I find interesting: the Gospel of John doesn’t specifically talk about Jesus’ baptism. Nope. The closest we get is what we read today. The three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke talk about Jesus coming to John and being baptized in the Jordan River, but in John’s gospel all we get is John the Baptist talking about Jesus.

Now that doesn’t mean that the author of John (who was not John the Baptist, remember) didn’t believe Jesus was baptized. No. What we have is kind of John the Baptist’s commentary on what happened. For example, while he doesn’t talk about the act of baptising Jesus he does talk about personally witnessing the Holy Spirit coming down from heaven like a dove and resting on Jesus, confirming for him that Jesus is the Son of God.

In the synoptic gospels, which do give specifics about Jesus’ baptism, we find some differences. There is a voice from heaven which says, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” In Mark and Luke, the voice addresses Jesus himself, but in Matthew the voice is witnessed by those present at the baptism of Jesus.

When we talk about baptism the thing that usually comes to mind first is water. Jesus was baptized in the Jordan river which, of course, has water. That’s why we baptise with water. But there is something else as well. We also baptize with the Holy Spirit.

If you noticed when I baptized the confirmands that after I either placed them under the water or poured it over their head, I placed my hand on their head and said these words: “the Holy Spirit work within you, that having been born through water and the Spirit, you may live as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. Amen.”

In doing this I invoke the Holy Spirit on them. They are baptized by water and the Spirit.

That’s what we do as United Methodist. We baptize with water and the Holy Spirit.

There is a booklet published by the United Methodist Church titled, By Water and the Spirit. This book does a great job in describing the United Methodist views on baptism, including why we baptize infants, why we have three modes of applying the water (sprinkling, pouring, and immersion) and, of course, why we baptize in both water and Spirit.

Here’s how that publication puts it: “Through the work of the Holy Spirit — the continuing presence of Christ on earth — the Church is instituted to be the community of the new covenant. Within this community, baptism is by water and the Spirit (John 3:5, Acts 2:38).

“In God’s work of salvation, the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection is inseparably linked with the gift of the Holy Spirit given on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Likewise, participation in Christ’s death and resurrection is inseparably linked with receiving the Spirit (Romans 6:1-11, 8:9-14).”

At the beginning of the baptismal liturgy, which we read this morning, we find these words that express what we as United Methodists believe about baptism:

“Brothers and sisters in Christ:
Through the Sacrament of Baptism
we are initiated into Christ’s holy Church.
We are incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation
and given new birth through water and the Spirit.
All this is God’s gift, offered to us without price.”

These young women and men have boldly made the decision to follow Jesus Christ. They understand what it means to be a Christian, what it means to be United Methodist, and what is expected of them as members. As we were discussing supporting the church with prayer, presence, gifts, service, and witness, they were excited to find out that as members they are eligible to serve on church committees! I think that is so awesome!

An important part of the baptismal service is that not only do those being baptized profess their faith, but the congregation renews the membership vows they took when they were baptized. In effect we who have been previously baptized are reminded of the covenant we made when we were baptized and pledge once again that we will uphold those vows.

This past week at the confirmation retreat we talked about how in the United Methodist Church we have two sacraments. A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace. United Methodists observe two sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

We consider these sacraments because they are acts that Jesus not only performed, but charged his disciples–and us–to observe as well.

So my challenge to you this week, a week in which we celebrate the baptisms and the confirming of faith of these young people, is to remember your baptismal covenant and renew your vow to live a life like Jesus Christ.

Jesus, God’s only son, came to earth and lived among us as a human. He performed miracles and taught us how to live as his followers and promised us the power of the Holy Spirit. Let us live into our faith in bold ways, even in the midst of a pandemic.

And if you ever want to baptize a cat, I suggest you reconsider.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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