Imagine celebrating your birthday one time in the course of your entire lifetime. Or observing your anniversary or Christmas once and being done with it. Or how about the Lord’s Supper: would it suffice to partake once of the bread and cup?
In the United Church of Christ, we believe baptism is meant to happen only once.
But we also believe that baptism is central to our identity and worth celebrating more than once in our lifetimes. That’s what worship this Sunday is all about. The Gospel text for the first Sunday after Epiphany is always the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. This year as we focus on Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River, we will also remember our own. Of course, most of us cannot recall our baptism, having been christened in infancy. Others of us were baptized later in life and do recall it. But the claim of baptism is so complete, encompassing, and deeply formative on our souls and spirits that it is worth lifting up, honoring, appreciating.
For a simple and seminal message is at the core of baptism. This message bears repeating even though baptism only happens once. We all need to hear that we are beloved daughters and sons of the God who made us and who redeems us. The words that God spoke over Jesus at his baptism are true over our lives also.
For we live in a world that oft diminishes us or rejects us outright. And rejection, even in small doses, is always painful. When we can hear and experience within our hearts that we are God’s beloved, that we’re adequate creatures before our Maker; and when we can remain steadfast in this true and deep identity, we can stand strong in any circumstance, come what may, whether supported or rejected.
Rather than resolutions for the New Year, discarded weeks later, Gary and I offer a deep blessing to carry with you, to strengthen you always. For example, when my girls were adolescents and felt worthless because of corrosive peer pressure, I’d take their hands, look into their eyes and remind them, “You’re God’s beloved. Finally, it is the only thing that matters. No one can ever take it away from you. And if God is for you, what does it matter if they are against you. Cleave to this.” Similarly, I want to equip you to face down the world’s many takes on your worth.
At both services on Sunday we will share the Reaffirmation of Baptism, a service from the UCC Book of Worship. After the sermon, we’ll affirm the UCC Statement of Faith. We’ll sing a tender hymn with echoes of baptism and confirmation. Then the liturgy takes us into readings, prayers, and the renewal of baptismal vows. At your discretion, you will be invited to come forward to one of two stations. A Deacon will hold the basin of baptismal water, and Gary or I will sprinkle you with a blessing, “Remember your baptism and be grateful.” The point is to appreciate God’s firm, gracious claim on our lives and what is at stake in baptism. God is for us. God believes in our gifts. He never makes any junk in making a human being.
I have shared this service with previous congregations. It is different, yes, but also the perfect way to set our gaze in the best possible direction for a New Year.Celeb