BAPTIZED, BY HIM
A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley
Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11
I watched a video last night. Just a short video, a very cute, short video. It had two very real characters, neither one of them acting. A teenage girl, and a horse. What could be more natural than that?
The girl was riding her horse, and they came to a stream. Not a little ripple, but a wide, shallow stream.
The girl wanted to ride the horse across the stream, but the horse was not having any of that.
The horse balked. It put its feet in the ground. When the girl goaded the horse with her feet, the horse turned left and right but would not go forward.
Finally the girl got off the horse, walked forward, and put her own feet into the water.
See, she said, it’s just water. It’s not very deep. It won’t hurt you.
The horse snorted a bit, it sniffed a bit, and then watched as the girl put her foot into the water and splashed a little, tiny bit.
That’s interesting, thought the horse, and the horse walked into the water.
The horse splashed the water. The splash was fun.
The horse splashed more and more and more.
Water flew everywhere. The girl cowered beneath the splash.
The horse kept splashing, having the time of her life.
But I don’t want to talk about the splashing in the video.
And I only want to talk a little bit about the water.
I do want to talk about the girl and the horse. They were going somewhere together.
Let me say that again.
They were going somewhere.
And they were together.
Now notice- the girl could have waded across that stream all by herself.
But the girl and the horse were together.
And the girl had no desire to go forward by herself.
So she led the horse to water, and then she stepped in first.
I’ve known a few girls and their horses, so I know a little something: When a girl wants to take her horse somewhere, it’s not because she’s too lazy to walk. It’s because she loves her horse. The two of them are a team, and what they offer each other magnifies the journey into something more than a trip. It’s a mission, and it enriches each of them, and joy and love abound.
THAT’S what baptism is about.
So let’s talk a little tiny bit about the baptism of John.
At least some of the Jews of his time- maybe even a significant number of them- were fascinated with baptism. For them- and for John- Baptism was symbolic of turning their life around- of leaving an old, bad-habit-filled way of life and making a new start of things.
There’s nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all.
In fact, I recommend it- because I am reminded: Three years ago today I was one month into a new, healthy way of life. Even more than that, each change I made reminded me of how much more there was that COULD be done to my life, if I wanted to leave some old, life-diminishing and death-bringing things behind.
But here’s what I know: It does little good to put something BEHIND you, if there’s nothing in FRONT of you that will lift you up, draw you forward, and change your trip into a mission.
So the baptism of John- it was a good start, but it wasn’t enough.
What was needed was the Holy Spirit- a rider for the horse. A rider who LOVED the horse, who had a direction and purpose to GUIDE the horse there, and who had the compassion, courage and wisdom to TEACH the horse how to get there. But more than that, who had- and who HAS- the greatness of heart to make us more than we were before.
More than we were before- nothing less
Than children of God.
It sounds good, right?
I mean, you give up some bad things, you get a friend, and life gets better. What could be wrong with that?
Nothing, if that were all it were. But it’s not that easy.
Let me show you, with a real-life, history making example.
A young man was born into a happy home. His father was a doctor, his brothers and sisters were fun-loving, they had neighbors to play with, and grandparents that loved him.
He was baptized and grew up in the church but from an early age he believed that Christianity wasn’t merely something a person believed- it was responsible obedience to what Jesus was leading you to DO and BE, and at the age of 16 he knew he wanted to be a pastor.
So that’s who he became, but from an early point in his career- even in his studies- people noticed him. His thoughts and word and insights gained their attention, and he had opportunity to travel around the world to leading institutions of learning. From Germany he went to Barcelona, and London, and New York, and in New York he was influenced by the Negro spirituals.
Then he went back home to Germany. But in Germany, things were changing. A man named Adolf Hitler took control of the government there, and then his government began to squeeze the church. So the young man left and went to London to teach. Along the way he went to India, and studied with a lawyer there named Ghandi.
But two years later he received an invitation: come back to Germany, and start a special, secret school for persons who want to be pastors of churches that do not belong to Hitler.
So he went. He worked in secret. It was not easy. It was terrifying, and even so the choices were not always easy. They were startling and disconcerting and could not always be made with certainty. So he had to learn to live by the grace of God, and not be any human wisdom.
It meant he had to be willing to go where God was leading him, and it mean that sometimes he would have to be willing to go where he THOUGHT God was leading him.
We see the stream, but we don’t always see how deep it is, or what’s lying on the bottom.
In the year 1939 he was, very briefly, in America again. He had friends there, and they urged him to stay. They knew how dangerous the Christian life he was living really was.
But he was the man who had already written in a letter, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
So he went back, on the last ship that sailed from America to Nazi Germany. Shortly thereafter, war broke out in Europe.
For six years Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught in secret, but in 1943 he was arrested. Yet even in prison, he as not alone. He had the Holy Spirit, and he had a mission. The prison guards gave him secret passage from cell to cell so he could speak with and pray for despairing prisoners. It was those same guards, obeying courageously their own baptisms, who saved his letters and sermons and manuscripts.
In 1944 he was removed from the ordinary prison and taken to a series of Gestapo prisons. None of his friends knew for sure where he was, but God knew. He was on the other side of the stream- the stream that he had so clearly seen was the one that Jesus was leading him across.
In those prisons he preached regularly to prisoners from Russia, England, France, Italy and Germany. On the day after Easter, 1945, just shortly after praying with his cellmates, Dietrich was led to his death by hanging. He may have suffered a horrible death- the only witnesses were all engaged in his execution- but one of them said this ”I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”
He was 39 years old, but this much he knew: his death was not the ultimate will of God, but merely a stream that stood in the way between where he was, and where Jesus was leading him.
And since Jesus loved him, and since he trusted Jesus, he went.
I pray that Jesus will not lead me to that particular stream anytime soon. But every day, Jesus leads me to little streams that I’d rather not cross, and asks me to trust in him and die to myself. Every day, Jesus leads each and every one of you to the same sorts of water.
So I want us to think about that horse and the girl who loved her.
Was the girl lazy? No.
The girl loved the horse, and went before the horse into the water
And we are loved by God,
And Jesus goes before us-
Into the waters of death
And the waters of denial
Every single day.
And we might wonder,
Because really- we’re not so special
That Jesus would live in us.
Because my office may be a mess
But my heart is even worse.
But the Spirit comes anyway,
And takes hold
And like that horse, splashing in the stream,
We lift our voice in shouts of praise
Shouting that which is too wonderful
Too wondrously wonderful
For us to fully understand.
Maybe one day we will-
But that day, my friends,
Is on the other side of the stream.
Ina land that’s filled with love
And overwhelmed by glory.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.