Follow Me: Biblical Practices for Faithful Living
“Baptism: Dying and Rising”
January 23, 2022
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin.
But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
We have a niece who was baptized in the Orthodox Church. Being in seminary at the time of her baptism, I was fascinated by the similarities and differences to our own tradition.
In the Orthodox Church, the baptism is often not held with the entire congregation present, but with only members of the family, so there were probably only a dozen or so of us present at Farah’s baptism.
The Orthodox priest was wearing elaborate, highly decorated vestments. He stood at a large brass baptismal font, at least three feet across and several feet deep. Much of the liturgy was familiar, similar to our own, but the use of the water was quite different.
As you aware, we mostly “sprinkle” in the Presbyterian tradition. Sprinkling with water those being baptized, whether infants or adults, recalls “the washing away of sin” and “the sealing of God’s covenant with us through the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Most often, we sprinkle three times, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as we dampen a child’s or adult’s head with water.
But in the Orthodox tradition, they do not sprinkle an infant child, but immerse them in the font. When the priest in his ornamental robes immersed our niece into the font, he did so quite dramatically.
He fully submersed the child into that large brass baptismal font and, to be honest, he held her under the water a bit too long! I can remember leaning forward and sitting on the edge of my pew. I felt like he was going to drown the poor child!
But, eventually, right at the point where several of us were about to jump up, he brought her little naked body back up out of the water and said something like: “Having died to sin, live to Christ Jesus!”
Then the sputtering child was quickly wrapped in a warm towel and soon back in her baptismal gown.
That prolonged time under the water was quite effective, extremely effective, along with the baptismal liturgy, in memorializing the image of baptism as dying to sin and being made alive to Jesus Christ.
Many of you who have been immersed in the Baptist or Pentecostal tradition understand that sentiment. The practice of baptism is, in some ways, incredibly simple: new members of the Church, wherever they may be, are washed with water in the name of the triune God.
A few words and a bit of water are the only essential ingredients of the sacrament…
At the same time, baptism represents a great event with profound significance.
As our Follow Me curriculum states: “Baptism plunges us into a pool of meaning and mystery deep enough to swim around in forever, with implications that ripple out into every aspect of our lives.”
(Follow Me Foundational Essay: Baptism, PCUSA)
“Baptism is the gateway to a lifelong journey of growth in faith and discipleship. In this sense, baptism is something we practice each day.
”Biblical imagery about baptism shifts back-and-forth between the literal and the metaphorical. Scripture speaks often about death and dying, about crucifixion and resurrection, both in the literal and metaphorical sense. Just as the words “dying and rising” are used to talk about the literal death of Jesus on the cross and his resurrection, these words are also used to talk about Christian baptism, about our metaphorical dying to sin and rising to new life in Jesus Christ.
Part of what it means to die to self each new day is to die to selfish concerns, die to self-centeredness. Part of what it means to rise to new life in Jesus Christ is to be alive to guidance by the Holy Spirit, to have the eyes and heart and mind of Jesus, to become available to needs of those around us, especially the poor, the suffering, the downhearted.
This past weekend, we marked the significance of the life and ministry of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Throughout last weekend and into Monday, I watched documentaries and listened to the radio in order to hear a number of quotes from sermons and speeches of Dr. King.
I was struck, once again, by the personal challenges that plagued Dr. King in the 1960’s. When he experienced personal violence against his body, when his home, where his wife and children lived, was attacked, when he spent time in jail, over and over again, the question keep coming:
What was he do each new day? How was he to go forward? Could he turn away from this calling? Could he find a way to retreat into a life of study and writing? Could he go back to pastoring a congregation instead of leading a nation and its citizens down a difficult path, a path which the majority of them did not want to go down?
Over the course of these extremely stressful years, Dr. King kept struggled with the daily challenge of dying to self and being made alive to Jesus Christ. He struggled with the challenges of marital fidelity.
He wrestled with all the powers that be in choosing non-violence. He chose to continue to speak up and speak out, to risk his own life for the sake of all of us. The following quote is often attributed to Dr. King:
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
While the exact quote is nowhere to be found in King’s speeches or writings, it does seem to be a paraphrase of a more complex thought he uttered during a sermon in Selma, Alabama, on 8 March 1965, the day after “Bloody Sunday,” on which civil rights protesters were attacked and beaten by police on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.”
What follows is the more extended quote:
“Deep down in our non-violent creed is the conviction there are some things so dear, some things so precious, some things so eternally true, that they’re worth dying for. And if a man happens to be 36 years old, as I happen to be, some great truth stands before the door of his life — some great opportunity to stand up for that which is right. A man might be afraid his home will get bombed, or he’s afraid that he will lose his job, or he’s afraid that he will get shot, or beat down by state troopers, and he may go on and live until he’s 80. He’s just as dead at 36 as he would be at 80. The cessation of breathing in his life is merely the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit. He died … A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice.
A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true. So we’re going to stand up amid horses. We’re going to stand up right here in Alabama, amid the billy-clubs. We’re going to stand up right here in Alabama amid police dogs, if they have them.
We’re going to stand up amid tear gas! We’re going to stand up amid anything they can muster up, letting the world know that we are determined to be free!”
Dr. King, in the face of great personal danger fear, held fast to his theological conviction that he must continue to “turn the other cheek” in the face of violence. He died to his manly desire to strike back with violence. He died to that strong temptation to protect himself from harm.
He died to any desire he may have had to take his family and run in the other direction, because he knew that: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Many of you are aware that our session has committed to live and act and worship as a Matthew 25 congregation, a congregation seeking to become actively engaged in: building congregational vitality, eradicating systemic poverty, and dismantling structural racism.
As our denominational resources suggest, how might we find ways to “fearlessly apply our faith to advocate and break down the systems, practices, and thinking that underlie discrimination, bias, prejudice and oppression of people of color.”
What is one thing, one thing, that you and I might do during the month of February to take one small bite out of that huge elephant called structural racism. When we all begin to chip away, to take out one bite, of that elephant in the room, that elephant called “structural racism”, then, eventually, eventually, further dismantling of structural racism will begin to occur.
Some of you have seen the new movie “Don’t Look Up”. The movie is a timely and poignant narrative of a distracted citizenry, who seem to care more about the recent breakup of two social media stars than they do the meteor that is hurtling toward the earth with certain destruction in its path. The powers are more interested in creating divisions to solidify their power and make more money than in addressing a common death threat to all the people. The very existence of humanity is at stake in the movie, but the people refuse to listen to the scientists. They refuse to listen to one another. They refuse to work together. They encourage their followers to turn against the others and above all, not look up, lest the verifiable truth of the meteor that is coming their way would finally shock them into the desire to work together.
The movie is a stark reminder that all have fallen short of the glory of God,that no one is righteous; no, not even one. And sometimes those who present themselves as the most righteous are those who end up being the most self-serving.
A pastor friend shared a mantra that they often pray on the way to a hospital bedside or on the way to the home of grieving family. This pastor would pray: Less of me and more of you, O God. Less of me and more of you. This is an appropriate prayer for anyone to pray, in almost any circumstance.
When headed off to school for the day, whether you’re a teacher or a student: less of me, more of you.
When sitting down to talk through a difficult subject with a family member: less of me, more of you.
When working on a creative project and needing some divine inspiration: less of me, more of you.
When facing a medical treatment or about to enter the surgical ward: less of me, more of you.
Seeking more of the spirit of Jesus, seeking daily what would Jesus do or say in this situation, helps remind us all that sin is always getting in the way. Praying “less of me and more of you” enables us to die to sin and become alive to Christ.
As today’s Scripture from Romans claims:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death… so (that) we too might walk in newness of life…
The death Christ died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Less of me; more of you, O God. Less of me, more of you.
Friends, remember your baptism and keep it holy.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
January 23, 2022