The story is told about a drunk who stumbled along a baptismal service on Sunday afternoon down by the river. He proceeded to walk down into the water with the people and stood next to the Preacher.
The minister turns and notices the old drunk and says, “Mister, Are you ready to find Jesus?”
The drunk looks back and says, “Yess, Preacher, I sure am.”
The minister then dunks the fellow under the water and pulls him right back up. “Have you found Jesus?” the preacher asked.
“Nooo, I didn’t!” said the drunk.
The preacher then dunks him under for quite a bit longer, brings him up and says, “Now, brother, have you found Jesus?”
“Noooo, I did not Reverrend.”
The preacher in disgust holds the man under for at least 30 seconds this time, brings him out of the water gasping and sputtering and says in a harsh tone, “My Good man, have you found Jesus yet?” The ole drunk wipes his eyes and said to the preacher… “Are you sure this is place where you lost him?”
You know sometimes there are people who get baptized who may not understand exactly what’s going on and even what is supposed to be going on. And if we don’t understand what is supposed to be going on then what is supposed to happen probably won’t happen. So it is important to know what is supposed to happen in baptism because baptism is an important event for a Christian. Were you aware that all four gospels contain the event of the Baptism of the Lord Jesus? When that happens in the Bible, when things are repeated, it means it is an important event and we need to pay attention. All of the accounts of the baptism are more or less the same but each has a slightly different slant. In the account we heard today we see Jesus had been baptized and was praying and then the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descends upon him. The unique thing about Luke’s account is that we see that Jesus was praying at his baptism. Luke links baptism and prayer and the Holy Spirit. Why do you suspect he does this since none of the other gospel writers do? Well, Luke is also the fellow who wrote the Book of Acts and in Acts we see how the Church of Jesus started out and how it spread and grew strong. And guess what, it started and spread and grew strong through baptism, prayer, and the Holy Spirit.
You see those three are linked and when we consider it, it makes perfect sense. In baptism or, if one was baptized as a baby, then in Confirmation, a person is committing himself or herself by faith to following Jesus. In Baptism and Confirmation there is the commitment to believe what Jesus has said and then to obey what he says. It is in baptism that we celebrate the new birth of a person because it is through belief and obedience that one is reborn into a new person, into a child of God. The symbolism of baptism is death; did you know that? We go under the water, like Paul says, we are buried in baptism, we drown and die, so to speak and then we rise into a new life. That is what baptism symbolizes. You may ask, “Why do Episcopalians simply pour water on the head when we baptize?” It is because the amount of water doesn’t matter. We aren’t physically dying. The priest isn’t really trying to kill you. Just like when we say at Holy Communion that we eating the body of the Lord, we do not have one hundred and eighty pounds of bread up here to symbolize the body of Jesus. We get it; it is symbolic and it is the same thing with baptism. Baptism symbolizes, it represents death and new life. We turn from an old way of living and an old way looking at life to a new way. Before baptism we looked at the world as if everything that happens right now is all that matters. Before baptism we look at the world and think that possessions are what really matters; or we might think that what gives me physical pleasures is what really matters; or perhaps whatever makes me feel more superior to others is what really matters. But when we are baptized, we are to change and look at life differently. Now we put Christ wants us to do first, now we look to what others need, and now we learn to love and forgive. That’s what is supposed to happen at baptism. We have adopted or taken on a whole new way of looking at our lives and what is really important in life. Now what our society says is right or wrong is not as important as what God says is right or wrong. We now have a new standard by which we measure our lives. That is why the baptismal font is at the entrance to the church because that is how we become part of the church. This is why baptism is so important.
And then after baptism there is the prayer. And Luke in his gospel shows Jesus praying over and over again, in fact, in Luke’s gospel we see Jesus praying more than all the other gospels put together. And at least one of the points Luke was trying to make is that if Jesus needed to pray a lot guess how much we need to pray? We need to pray even more! Prayer is really important because it is through prayer that we talk to God and develop a relationship with Him. Being able to be in a relationship with God the Father was the whole point of Jesus coming to earth. It was to reconnect us to God the Father, to reconcile us to God the Father as we say in our Communion prayer.
And so what is the purpose is the Holy Spirit in this whole equation? The Holy Spirit is God in our lives. In baptism we commit to believe in and follow Jesus. In baptism we commit to think and see the world from God’s point of view like Jesus taught us. But the fact is that we can want to live for God. We can have all sorts of good intentions to live for God. We can want to love our neighbors like we should. We can want to forgive others who have sinned against us. We can want to have a right perspective on life, but without the Holy Spirit in our lives we will not make it. We desperately need God to help us with these desires and intentions in our lives. Furthermore, there are times in our lives when it is difficult to even muster up good intentions. So in order to live up to what we have committed to in baptism and confirmation we need God’s strength and help. But it is not just about help and strength to live a good life. As St. Augustine once said, “O Lord, our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” We need God’s presence in our lives. We need to feel him with us. That is one of the main reasons we come to church. We want and need to feel God’s presence. And He is here. Sometimes we come and we cannot sense him, but he is here nonetheless. God is spirit and we reach him through our spirits. The Holy Spirit is his gift of himself to us so that we can be with him and he can be with us all the time.
Baptism, prayer, and the Holy Spirit are powerfully linked in our Lord’s baptism and the early church and they need to be linked in our lives as well. Do you know why we keep water in the baptismal font even when we are not having a baptism? It is so that when you and I come through those doors or when we leave, we can put our thumb, or a finger, into the water and then put that water on our foreheads in the sign of the cross to remind us of our baptism, of our baptismal vows. It is to remind us of where we are to be heading. It is to remind us how we are to be trying to live and think. And then we come in to church to be refilled by God’s Spirit and encouraged to pray more and reconnect with God. And as we leave we recommit our hearts and lives to living for our Lord once more. May God help us to link our baptisms and prayer and be filled with His Holy Spirit so that through our lives the Church of Jesus Christ will continue to spread and grow strong here in Spring Hill. Amen