Sermon for May 19, 2019 -- DEAR ISLA


-a sermon preached by Terry McGinley 5-19-2019 Pardeeville

(Genesis 1:1-5 and Matthew 3:13-17)




Dear Isla,

     It’s a very special day at First Presbyterian Church in Pardeeville.  We have a Gospel group this morning which will make our worship service special.  There has even been banjo music in the church today.  I don’t know if we’ve ever had banjo music in church!  It’s extra special because of you, Isla.  Today is the day that your parents are presenting you for baptism.  I’m writing you this letter because I’m guessing you may not be able to understand most of what I talk about today.  Don’t feel bad.  Lots of people don’t understand what I am talking about!  And no one can blame you because you have the perfect excuse…you’re only four months old!  Someday you are going to learn about the significance of what is about to happen to you.  I know because, in baptism, you’re going to be welcomed into the family of God.  And, as you go through life, there will be many people who will tell you the story of a wonderful God who takes care of us all.

     We read two passages from the Bible this morning.  One was the story of Jesus being baptized in the Jordan River.  A lot of people were coming to a place in the wilderness where a man named John was preaching and baptizing.  John’s message to the people was simple.  “The kingdom of God is at hand!”  John knew that the Messiah, that’s who Jesus is, would be there soon.  John the Baptist was trying to get the people ready for this great event.  John also knew that things would be different when Jesus arrived.  For you too, the kingdom of God is at hand, and you will be different because of it!

     One day, while John was preaching and baptizing, guess what happened?  He looked up and saw Jesus standing in front of him.  Jesus was asking to be baptized.  I think John always knew that this day was going to come, but he never knew how he would react.  John told Jesus that the situation should be reversed; that Jesus should be baptizing John.  John thought he wasn’t worthy.  But Jesus told John the Baptist the same thing he tells all of us today.  Jesus told John, “You are worthy.”  That’s one of God’s messages for you, Isla.  You are worthy!

     So John baptized Jesus right then and there.  This was a long time ago.  Baptism was done a little differently than the ceremony we do in this church.  Back in Jesus’ time, they used a method called immersion to baptize people.  Jesus was completely covered with the water of the Jordan River for a brief time.  When Jesus popped up out of the water, something remarkable happened.  The heavens opened up and the Spirit of God came down in the form of a dove.  Then God spoke from heaven and said, “This is my own dear Son, in whom I am pleased.”  It must have been quite an event.

     Isla, that is just how God feels about you.  God created you.  God has seen what is in store for you for your whole life.  And it will be the distinct pleasure of your parents, your godparents Jessica and Bruce, and every other life that you touch, to watch God’s plan for your life unfold.  And, you know, if everyone in church this morning is very quiet at the moment of your baptism in just a few minutes, they will be able to hear God say, “This is Isla, in whom I am pleased.”  It will be among the greatest moments of your whole life.

     We also read a story from the book of Genesis this morning.  Genesis is a very old book…even older than your parents!  In this book, you can find a description of how the whole world came to be.  Everything was created by God.  That should give you a pretty good idea of how powerful God is.  In that story from Genesis we read that, in the very beginning, there was no form to the world.  That seems funny now but we are talking about a long time ago.  Everything was kind of floating around in darkness.  But, even way back then, there was water.  And the Spirit of God was moving over that water.  So you could say that water has been a part of our lives from the very beginning.  That’s why water is such a powerful symbol for us.

     God uses water a lot in the Bible.  More than just separating water from dry land in the act of creation.  And, as you grow in faith, as your parents and your godparents and others read the Bible to you, you will learn about Noah and the great flood.  There’s a story with some water in it!  You will learn about Moses finding life-giving water in the desert by striking a rock.  By the way, Isla, I’ve tried to get water to come out of a rock.  It’s not easy at all!  You will learn of the time God parted the Red Sea so the Israelite people could walk right through it to safety.  And you will learn about a conversation Jesus had with a woman about life-giving water.

     Even at your very young age, Isla, you have already experienced water.  Water will continue to be an everyday part of your life.  We all use water every day.  We use it to wash our clothes and our dishes and even ourselves.  We drink water.  I hope that, as you get older, you will grow to recognize and appreciate all of the times you experience water in your life.  Times when you have a drink of water, or when you take a bath, or jumping in a puddle, or even getting caught in the rain.  And, each time you feel or see water, I hope you’ll be reminded that you have been baptized and that you belong to the family of God.

     Many of us have seen a baptism take place in a church.  It is a wonderful and life-changing event.  Lots of people, parents especially, are nervous about what’s going to happen.  They wonder when, not if a child is going to cry.  Truth is…it doesn’t matter.  If you feel like crying, Isla, go right ahead.  I should warn you though that  not everyone understands the significance of baptism.  I am reminded of a man who, after having a little too much to drink, found himself stumbling home.  As he wobbled along, he came upon a local church group at the river’s edge, baptizing people.  The pastor asked the man if he had found Jesus.  Still not thinking too clearly, the man said, “No.”  “We can take care of that”, the pastor told him and he led the man down to the river.  He held the man’s head under the water for about two seconds, pulled him back up, then asked the man, “Have you found Jesus?”  The man said, “No.”  Again, the pastor held the man’s head under water, this time for about five seconds.  He asked the man, “Have you found Jesus?”  Again the man said, “No.”  So the pastor dunked him in a third time, for almost ten seconds, then asked the man, “Have you found Jesus?”  And the man came up out of the water, very much out of breath, and replied, “No.  Are you sure this is where he went in?”

     Isla, you don’t know it today, but you are the perfect example of what it means to be a child of God.  You are totally dependant on the love and care of your parents and others.  At this stage of your life, if it is going to happen to you, someone else has to do it.  Isla, you are an excellent receiver.  We could all learn a thing or two from you.  We could learn exactly how we can be children of God too.  How to depend on God for everything.  How to be totally dependent on God.  Let me tell you, the older you get, the harder it is to remember that God always takes care of what we need.  But right now, you are the perfect example of how to know God.  Thank you for that great gift!

     And, Isla, just by being baptized here this morning, you are showing us first-hand what we believe about our theology of baptism.  Theology is a fancy word that means how we come to understand something about God through the sacrament of baptism.  You see, baptism is all about grace.  Just as right now you are unable to do anything to merit inclusion in the community of faith, in the same way, none of us can do anything to deserve God’s grace.  It’s just God’s nature to be generous.  That’s a good thing for us to remember and we can see it very clearly in you, Isla.  Baptism emphasizes the initiative of God.  God loves us and claims us before we can understand the first thing about it and before we are able to respond.  We can see that clearly in you too. 

     The time is very close now.  Soon your parents, your godparents, and a member of the Session will come up to the front.  Oh, you had better come up too, Isla!  Your parents will promise to guide you in faith.  Jessica and Bruce will agree to the special responsibility they have to nurture you.  We’ll even ask the congregation to pray for you.

     Your baptism today is the beginning of your faith journey, Isla.  God is going to place a mark on you today, to show that you belong to God.  From this point on, you will grow in your new life.  You will begin to find out who the people of God are.  You will learn what special talents and abilities you have been given and you will discover ways to share your God-given gifts for the good of others.  Your parents and godparents will help you all along this lifelong journey and I’m sure there will be many others.  I don’t see any reason to wait any longer, Isla, why don’t you bring everyone up and we’ll get started.  Thanks be to God!       



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