Answer This Question: Into What Then Were You Baptized?
Jan 10, 2021
Baptism of Our Lord
Texts: Mark 1:4-11; Acts 19:1-7
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
I had never heard the phrase, "Taking a mulligan" until about 12 years ago when I attempted to learn to play golf – unsuccessfully, by the way. That phrase popped into my mind this week while preparing for my sermon, so I decided to "Google" its origin.
There are, evidently, a number of explanations, but they all include a man whose last name was Mulligan who hit a poor drive off the first tee. This was either because he had endured a bumpy ride to the golf course (this was in the 1920s) or because he showed up late. In either case, he was so rattled that his first hit was terrible. He then immediately re-teed and hit another ball, telling his golf partners when they objected that it was a "correction shot." Such a do-over soon became known as a mulligan.
So … now that I've got you thinking about golf, switching gears may be a bit difficult. To do so, let me note that our 16th-century friend Martin Luther would have called a do-over in life not a mulligan, but Daily Baptism. He wrote, "each day the old person with all sins and evil desires is to be drowned through sorrow for sin and repentance and daily a new person is to come forth and rise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever." (The Small Catechism: What then is the significance of such a baptism with water?) It is the ultimate correction shot.
Today our focus is the Baptism of Our Lord and our baptisms, which offers us a lifetime of do-overs. That alone is reason enough to pause at the beginning of each new year to contemplate baptism and remember our own baptisms. But there is more. Commentator Michael Rogness writes that baptism marks the end of the old life and the beginning of a life lived in God's grace and forgiveness, in the presence of God's Spirit, in union with Jesus, and as a part of the world-wide Christian church. (1) All this happens when we are baptized into Jesus.
In today's readings, three examples of baptism are given. The Baptism into John (the Baptist) is one. John's baptism was of repentance; it was a sign that people had turned away from sin and toward God; they were cleansed and ready to greet the coming Messiah.
Then there is Jesus' own baptism, which was not about repentance but was an inauguration of his earthly ministry. He was identified as God's Son and was endowed with the Spirit to carry out his work on earth.
Finally, there is the baptism of Jesus, which is particularly defined by the Holy Spirit's presence. Of Jesus, John said, "…he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." So it is that to be baptized into Jesus is to receive the gift of the Spirit.
The significance of this is touched on in the reading from Acts 19. Paul encounters a group of Christians (followers of Jesus) who have an inadequate understanding of baptism. The context is this: it is the early days of the Christian faith, several decades after Jesus ascended into heaven, and Paul is on his third missionary journey. He arrives in Ephesus and discovers this group of believers who had never heard of the Holy Spirit; they had been baptized into "John's baptism." Paul explains to them that John's baptism was about repentance in anticipation of the coming of the Messiah; Jesus' baptism brought with it the gift of the Holy Spirit. So it is that when Paul baptizes them and lays hands on them, they receive the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues and prophesy. (Keep in mind that these are two of many gifts of the Spirit; all baptized Christians receive the Spirit and gifts that help them share God's love in Jesus, but not all have these two particular gifts.) As we remember our baptisms today, it's also a good time to contemplate what spiritual gifts you have received and how they may be used to share God's grace in the world.
One of the greatest gifts we all receive, though, is a lifetime of mulligans, of do-overs. I recently read a sermon written by Episcopalian pastor Michael Marsh. He asks the same question that Paul asked that group of Jesus followers in Ephesus: "Into what then were you baptized?" I'd like to paraphrase his statements and add a few of my own. As you reflect on the beginning of another year, consider this:
If you wish for a re-do, if you long to make better choices, if there are things you would do different, then ask yourself this question, "Into what then were you baptized?"
If you are appalled and saddened by the violence that exploded in the U.S. Capital this week, and wonder if it is possible for justice to be done and divisiveness healed, then ask yourself this question, "Into what then were you baptized?"
If you feel paralyzed by fear, feel stuck in depression, are controlled by anxiety, then ask yourself this question, "Into what then were you baptized?"
If you are overwhelmed by how to transform the racism, the trauma, the abuse that hurts humanity, creating hunger, homelessness, violence, then ask yourself this question, "Into what then were you baptized?"
If you are constantly striving to prove yourself, to gain acceptance and love, then ask yourself this question, "Into what then were you baptized?"
If you feel isolated and lonely, then ask yourself this question, "Into what then were you baptized?"
If joy is absent and celebration lost, if the future seems too difficult to face, then ask yourself this question, "Into what then were you baptized?"
If, despite confession made and absolution given, the burden of guilt remains, then ask yourself this question, "Into what then were you baptized?"
If the unpredictability of life is daunting, and unanswered questions prevail, then ask yourself this question, "Into what then were you baptized?"
Our list of "ifs" could go on and on; pause for a moment and formulate one that is true for you. if I have not already named it and then answer THE question, "Into what then was I baptized?"
The response is simple. I was baptized into Jesus. Obviously, that does not fix our dilemmas or solve the world's problems. Instead, to quote Pastor Marsh, "It reveals life to be holy, sacred and worth the effort. The baptism of Jesus declares that the circumstances of our lives are held in front of God's life, love and presence." (2)
Or, to put it another way. To be baptized into Jesus is to be declared God's beloved and forgiven child. It is to be filled with the Holy Spirit, given the gift of faith, and empowered to live out that faith. It is to be a part of God's family now and in eternity.
To be baptized into Jesus is to be able to take a mulligan in the game of life day in and day out. AMEN
(1) "Baptism of Our Lord: Commentary on Mark 1:4-11" by Michael Rogness, www.workingpreacher.org
(2) "Into What Then Were You Baptized – a Sermon on Mark 4:1-11" by Michael Marsh, January 16, 2015, www.interruptingthesilence.com