First Sermon Preached at Orange Congregational Church, Orange, CT
Not long ago I had the baptisms of two tiny cousins lined up. They were infants around 13 or 14 months old as I recall. One of the infants lived with her family in town and her cousin’s family was from Massachusetts. Neither family, to my knowledge was passionate churchgoers, if you know what I mean. But rather than turn them away I decided to plant some seeds and opted to baptize them.
So we got to the time in the service for the baptism and I called the families up to the front. The deacon was with me and I began. The mothers were bouncing the girls and everyone, dressed to the nines, looked very sweet. Successfully the girls were baptized, we walked through the congregation for introductions and then convened back on the dais.
Then it began. I started the final prayers and the congregation began snickering. I looked up and the cousins, being held side by side, began to play with one another. It was cute, but distracting. They were trying to hug and kiss one another practically falling out of their mother’s arms.
Then the unthinkable. (Or maybe not) One of them took her little fist and bonked the other in the face. The assaulted had one of those delayed cry reactions that only infants can do and of course the congregation was now in an uproar! Immediately I ended and said ‘go in peace’ of course which I had my doubts.
And so began their baptized life. These girls now have their lifetime to make good to one another. It has once been said “Baptism is a once in a lifetime event, but it takes a lifetime to complete”. That’s because once baptized we are called to a different life, a life transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit to envision a creative path that always lies wide open before us if we only open our eyes to see.
John the Baptist knew all to well of the call upon his life and the power of baptism. As soon as he became an adult he put on those itchy-scratchy camel hair clothes, packed up some yummy locusts and sweet honey and took to the wilderness. His out of the box life-style began, his life of preaching and teaching, his life of baptizing folks, and his special calling to pave the way for his cousin Jesus.
Hear now our scripture from the Gospel of Luke, the third chapter.
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his work.
Up until now Jesus had been living his life in the region of the peaceful Galilee and he comes to the Jordan River to be baptized by his cousin John. John had been sojourning in the wilderness of Judea just about where the Jordan empties into the Dead Sea.
John baptized many people that day and after he baptized Jesus the heavens broke open. The Spirit of God, sort of like a dove, alighted on him. And a voice from heaven reassured Jesus, ‘you are my son, you are marked by my love, I am delighted in you.’
With this, Jesus begins his ministry and a short lifetime following the precepts of God. With the words of the prophet Isaiah in his heart and mind Jesus begins a life of servant hood, gratitude, and prayer to God. God’s grace and Jesus’ mission was conferred on him that day in the fresh waters of the Jordan River.
Baptism called him and set him apart to be about the work of God, which ultimately is the work of change and transformation. Jesus never points to himself, he always points to God as the source for all of his living. And once aligned with the powerful and almighty you can never fail.
Today begins our baptized life together as congregation and interim pastor. I will walk with you these next couple of years or however long it takes and help you to be the best that you can possibly be, to peer into what the future might hold, and to unearth the ways in which you want to change and grow. I am here to follow in Rev. King’s good and large footsteps, to expand and build upon the ministries that were begun under his watch and to enable you to create and enact a vision of hope for Orange Congregational that your next settled pastor will yearn to be a part of.
But we are not there yet, we are just beginning.
Transition can be sad, scary, disconcerting, tenuous or maybe even a bit tumultuous. Do not be anxious and do not worry. With God’s guidance we will walk together remembering the past, negotiating the present, and embracing a great future. We are in for the time of our lives with hard work and lots of humor to offset it. That’s the way God intends us to be indeed that’s the way God wants us to live fully.
This interim time is one of the most exhilarating, affirming and exciting times in the life of this congregation. Because you are not bound by ‘should’s’ but surrounded by ‘what if’s’. It may not be easy, never is. We might, like those infants, bonk heads and hearts as we walk through this discovery process and sacred journey together. But it is essential work and ministry that we will perform during this time and with Christ leading us we can do great and wonderful ministry together. It is a part of bringing our Baptismal promises to bear at this time and in this place.
You are a strong church, a good church, I have that from the best authority! Yet you can be even stronger if you allow the Spirit of our creating God fill your hearts and minds from this day on.
The seeds of a Christian life are sown at our baptism. It is up to us to nurture them and grow them into a full life together.
Let us love God together. Let us create a powerhouse of ministry that Jesus Christ would be proud of. Let us breathe in the power of the Holy Spirit so that our lungs are filled to the capacity with love, hope, and transformation.