Follow Me: Biblical Practices for Faithful Living
SERMON “Remember Your Baptism”
Rev. Tully Fletcher
January 2, 2022
Prayer for Illumination
Prepare us, holy God, to hear Your Word through the Scriptures of this day. Confront us with Your claims on our lives. Clarify the choices we must make if our lives are to have meaning and purpose. Help us to respond to the One who came as the bread of life so we may know life at its fullest and best.
1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'”
4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Sermon: “Remember Your Baptism”
We have a new theme for a new year. This January we will be looking at Baptism. Our first scripture in the series was of course Jesus’ own Baptism by John in the river Jordan.
Now I have taken seminary classes on Baptism, sections of our theology class were on Baptism, I’ve studied it at Con. Edu. Events, but it was my Youth Pastor, Paul Ransford, who taught me the most important thing I ever learned about Baptism. The idea that the whole church is responsible when a young person is Baptized.
Theology of Baptism (& Paul)
This happened after a mission trip we had taken to Mexico. Around this time, I was new to the youth group, and I was still very much trying to fit in with the other teens. I didn’t feel like I belonged…
I was an awkward teenager, we were all awkward, clumsy, and completely lacking self confidence…
But, Paul didn’t see that. Paul only saw the beautifully created children of God we could be. Paul put too much trust in us teens.
I remember very clearly the youth Sunday, After my first Mexico Mission trip.
We had led the whole service, and I think Paul just got to do the benediction…
He reminded the congregation of their Baptismal vows to each of the youth who led worship that morning. Vows similar to ones in your bulletin…
And he thanked them for filling out those promises by sending us to Montreat, and summer camp. And of course on the Mexico mission trip.
Yes, Jesus Christ is my personal savior, but I’m not in this alone. I belong to a community of faith, and when you Baptize, you welcome someone into that community. They Belong!
Today’s theme specifically is, “remember your Baptism.”
The short version of my story is that my father was Baptists, and my Mother was Methodist, and that they compromised on being Presbyterian. My sister and I were baptized as young children the same day my parents joined the church.
But the full story is so much more. It’s a story about my first and last day as a church member, it’s a story of how I became Presbyterian in the Back room of a Baptist Church.
In order to tell you about my Baptism, I have to tell you about my parents, and in order to do that, I have to tell you about my name.
My full name is Tully Mack Fletcher IV, yes that’s right somebody was crazy enough to give their child the name Tully Mack Fletcher, and then that kid grew up and inflicted his own son with that name, not once more, but 3 more times.
How Parents met
My father, Tully 3, grew up near the Virginia coast. After graduating College, he worked for the college campus ministry organization inter‑varsity, A.K.A. IV. He was leading a ministry group at Old Dominion College in the winter of 1968.
There was a young woman there, named donna pool. Donna apparently had a big time crush on my dad. She wanted to go hear him speak, but she didn’t want to go alone. So, she invited one of her friends, Barbara Benson to come with her. They both went and had a great time.
But poor Donna, things didn’t work out so well for her, she probably shouldn’t have invited Barbara to go with her… Because it was Barbara that my dad fell in love with.
That was the Winter of 1968, and 6 and half months later, on September 14th, my parents were saying their marriage vows.
My parents were married for 11 years before they had children.
For nearly a decade Tully 3 travelled all over the country speaking and teaching on college campuses about Jesus Christ. IV was their church. But campus ministry is a young man’s game, and fundraising one’s own salary was too stressful. So, my parents founded their own business selling antiques, furniture, and other items.
My sister came first, while my Parents still lived in the bustling downtown area of Durham, NC. After a move to the suburbs, and a couple of years, I, Tully 4, was born.
Managing their own business through two economic recessions and the ’79 energy crisis, along with two kids in diapers at the same time was no easy task. All of that to say, it is no surprise that as I turned two, my parents hadn’t found a church home yet.
So they set out looking… Finding a church
Finding a new church was a challenge for them.
One church they tried and liked, was good, but it was also the local church that all the college students attended, and going there was hard for my dad, because it was just like going to work.
Another church they tried, a Baptists church I think, my dad was teaching Sunday School, but someone in the class didn’t like what my dad was teaching, and in a not so subtle way, he was asked to stop.
Another church they tried, was good for them, but I didn’t like it.
They would drop me off at little kids Sunday school, and I would cry and cry and cry. I would cry so much that the nursery workers couldn’t take it any more, and they have to get my mom out of her own Sunday School class. My mom would be so embarrassed…
Somewhere in there I started Preschool…
…the search continued… they’d try a new church and I’d cry and cry…
My mom would get embarrassed, and they’d leave and never go back.
Eventually they had the idea of just sending me to the same nursery class 6 days a week, instead of just Monday to Friday. So they started going to worship at WPC Durham.
I like to think that at the age of 3, before I can even remember, I helped them pick the Presbyterian Denomination.
After a year or so of attending Pastor Haywood made a home visit… This back when pastor’s could just show up unannounced without prior warning, and people would be happy to welcome them to their living room. Pastor Todd I’m sure always calls or texts before he comes over. If he tried to show up at your house today, unannounced, I’m sure there are some you that would hide behind the curtains and pretend like you weren’t home…
After Haywood’s visit, my parents decided to join the church, and have us kids Baptized…
To baptize or not
The decision to get baptized was not so easy… My Dad was Baptists, and he was not so sure about the theology of infant baptism…
He wanted to wait… but my mom being Methodists, she was familiar with infant Baptism, she wanted not to wait.
I remember to this day, it is one of my earliest memories, my dad sitting me and my sister down and asking us if we had accepted Jesus into our hearts. I think we talked for a while about what that meant, my memory is that we talked for a long time, like an hour or so… but I was 4 at the time.
My sister beamed with pride when she answered “yes” she had.
I was still confused… I’d seen pictures of Jesus riding a donkey, and I knew he was a grown up, so how was a man going to live in my heart…
he must be very tiny to fit…
But I reluctantly responded yes, not because I believed in Christ, but because I wanted to make my dad happy.
On September 14th, My parent’s anniversary, we were baptized.
At this point in the story we have top introduce so new character, the Ketch Family. Jim & Susan, they had two daughters, both of which were in my youth group when I was a teenager. Susan Ketch was my preschool teacher
Jim Ketch was an elder in the church, he was the one who vouched for me and my family, asking the questions… Specifically he asked the congregational question:
Leader: Do you, the members of the church of Jesus Christ, promise to guide and nurture Tully & Jennifer, by word and deed, with love and prayer, encouraging them to know and follow Christ and to be faithful members of his church?
People: We do.
I was 4 years old, my sister was 6.
You might think that the story of my baptism ends there, you know the day I was baptized, but oh no the story continues.
Fast forward from age 4, to 4th grade.
By this point we were still members at the Presbyterian church, but we were also going to a private Christian school, a Baptist Christian school.
My older sister had gotten really involved in the school, and as a zealous middle schooler she was very concerned for my soul and because of the bad theology our school was feeding us she was convinced that I was going to hell.
A sentiment shared by a lot of older sisters toward their younger brothers I’m sure. So she invites me to a revival at the church connected with our school. Near the end of the revival they did an alter call…
Find myself in a room filled with a bunch of other young people, and there I was face to face with this sketchy man with an ugly mustache, and he is asking me this question, like are you ready to accept Jesus into your heart…?
And I’m totally creeped out by this guy and really just want out of this room. I see all these people around me deep in prayer and conversation, young kid holding hands with adults, many of them sobbing. And I did not want to hold hands with mustache man.
That’s when I remembered my baptism, I had already accepted Jesus in my heart, I didn’t need to do it again. I told him that I was already baptized, which really confused, and he didn’t really know what to say or do next so he extended his hands and said would you like to pray.
Now I’m sure he had good intentions, but I was not having it, I said no thank you and got up, and walked out. I found my dad waiting in the parking lot listening to Billy Joel.
So I got in and we rocked out and waited for my sister to finish accepting Jesus into her heart for 4th time. See 4yr old Tully had already accepted Jesus into this heart, without really understanding what that meant, and 4th grade Tully was willing to let Jesus keep living there rent free. One baptism is enough. And I didn’t need mustache to teach me God’s grace.
I still didn’t fully understand what it means to accept Jesus into your heart, that would come through confirmation, taught by my youth Pastor Paul Ransford, and growing up, but even though I didn’t understand it, I knew it was true.
So It was in that back room at the Baptist church that I truly became Presbyterian.
1st Mission Trip
You might think that would the end of my baptism story, but remember in the Presbyterian church we don’t just baptized individuals, we baptized people INTO a community of faith.
My story continues with 11th grade Tully
So there we are in the summer of 1999, and I’m about to go on my first international mission trip to Mexico. I’ve been on 2 dozen mission trips to Mexico but this was my first.
My mom is dropping me off at the airport, for my first international mission trip… And you want to know who else is on that trip?
Susan Ketch, my preschool teacher, along with her two daughters.
ABC devotional story
Story of her ABC devotion when I did no devotion she covered for me. She fulfilled her baptismal vows by chaperoning me on that trip, by showing me grace when I neglected to do the work, she nurtured my faith by showing me Love. And even when I got Montezuma’s revenge, and got sick all over the place, Susan Ketch, God bless her was still cleaning up after my sick 14 years after being my preschool teacher.
There is one more addendum to my Baptism story. Fast forward 10 years after that mission trip, 2009, back at WPC, my service of ordination… Ord questions I had to answer the 9 questions each Elder, Deacon, Pastor answers when they get ordained, including my favorite question,
Will you pray for and seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love?
In an ordination service, the congregation also has to answer a question.
They were eager to answer those questions being so proud of me for becoming a pastor. Low and behold do you know who it was that stood on the lectern and asked the congregation?
Do we, the members of the church, accept [name] as our (associate) pastor, chosen by God through the voice of this congregation to guide us in the way of Jesus Christ?
It was Jim Ketch. The same elder who vouched for at my Baptism, the same elder who had asked that congregation some 20+ years earlier,
In that moment I became a member of the Presbytery, and the baptism vows of the congregation were fulfilled.
I want to rewind to my youth experience. Paul Ransford was the most important person in my life outside of my immediate family. He was the father figure I needed when my dad died…
He was the friend I needed when I was discerning my call to ministry…
Paul Died 2 weeks ago, his memorial service is actually this afternoon at my home church in Durham.
I add this part of the story, because at his death, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Paul was welcome into the kingdom of heaven, in that moment, Paul’s own Baptism is finally complete.
….in life and in death, nothing can separate us from the love of God.
We all have a winding story, that twists and turns, and no matter where you are on that journey whether you were baptized as an infant, a child, an adult, or not yet baptized, this church is for you.
This is where YOU belong
Rev. Tully Fletcher
Decatur Presbyterian Church
Jan 2, 2022