A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley
34Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ — he is Lord of all. 37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Let me tell you about Bill.
It’s been 20 years since I last saw Bill- I’m not even sure if he is still alive.
But Bill was a source of great joy for the congregation that sent me away to seminary.
Bill was mentally challenged. He often misunderstood the context of things we would say, and his responses were so out of place that we laughed.
That might have been rude, except that we loved Bill, we embraced Bill, and Bill loved our love.
In our presbytery, there is a small congregation at the town of Quilcene, in Washington. They are small enough that they can’t do many things that larger congregations do, and they were sent reeling two years ago when their pastor resigned because of an affair, but they have bounced back, and they worship devoutly and joyfully. And Quilcene has a worshiper who is somewhat, well, different.
He interrupts worship. He dialogues with the preacher during the sermon. And he often gets up and leaves during the sermon because he has other projects.
But that congregation loves him and embraces him, and they are home to him. He does the best he can, and so does the congregation: They love him.
There is another church that has been home to a man who struggled with his gender. Everywhere else in his town, he is scorned and ridiculed. But not there. There, he is loved. There, he is close to God.
There, he is judged by Jesus, not by everyone else.
At that same congregation recently, there was a baptism. Several baptisms, actually.
A whole family was baptized. They were refugees, from Iraq. But now they are church members, and on the day of their baptism there was much laughter, many smiles, and great excitement.
Friends, we are witnesses.
Say that with me: WE ARE WITNESSES.
We are witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
We are witnesses to what Jesus has done in our lives.
We are witnesses to what Jesus is doing in the world.
And when we WITNESS- when we see, and when we respond, it’s a sign: as surely as that dove descending from heaven, it’s a sign that God has chosen us- no matter who we are, no matter how insignificant we are, God has chosen us to testify that Jesus is in charge.
So why do we do this thing called BAPTISM?
I had yearned to ask my mother the sorry of my baptism, but she died before I would ask- and my father’s memory was notoriously poor.
But I have a picture, taken in the spring after I was born. My parents were dressed in their Sunday clothes, and we were at my grandparent’s house. It was the day I was baptized.
So I imagine that Jim has a picture like that. Or a story like that.
Jim is a medical doctor, retired from practice but still very much a doctor. And Jim is a Presbyterian elder.
Jim got married.
Jim finished medical school.
Jim served for 40 years- FORTY YEARS- in the navy reserves, as a medic.
But THEN, he got called up during the first Iraq war, and was sent to serve as a medic with the 3/5 battalion of the United States Marines- the Darkhorse battalion.
And then he came back home, and eh and his wife served their church and their presbytery. Jim doctors at rodeos in Central Washington, and he goes on Medical missions.
Last fall he went to Nigeria, and caught a cold. Shortly thereafter he flew home, and then he flew to Boston, and between all that travel and not treating his cold, he got pneumonia.
He was in intensive care for a week, and in various hospitals for 22 days, and he was heavily sedated. One night he said to his wife, “I think you should just let me die.”
But his wife said, “No.”
She said No because they were in it together, as children of God, and SHE was the one, right then and there, who knew that God had something else in mind.
Now, let me tell you about Dennis.
Dennis is retired, though he has worked nearly as hard after his retirement as he did before.
Dennis is a pastor- he served churches in Vermont and Colorado and then he went to graduate school and got a PhD.
Then he worked in the national offices of the Presbyterian church, but that was, well, boring.
So he accepted a call to serve a church in Seattle.
And THEN he retired, except he joined our presbytery and served as an interim pastor, and then he went to Quilcene- yes, that Quilcene, and has been there for more than a year.
But for the last two months Dennis has not been feeling well, and on Tuesday he learned why: He has cancer of the pancreas.
I know a little about that, because I have two friends who died from that particular sort of cancer. It is perhaps the very toughest to beat. It is not a gentle way to die.
And Dennis knows that. So this is what he said: he is going to fight it, but not tooth-and-nail.
He will not have radiation. If there is something else, something that will not crush the quality of his life, he will do that.
But in all things, he will rest in the hands of God. Because he is baptized.
He is loved by God, and he will cherish that knowledge that as long as he lives.
So what happens when we are baptized?
We are claimed. God says, “You are mine!”
And once claimed, we live in God’s hands-
We walk in God’s shadow-
And we live in an ethos that is guided and ruled by Jesus-
The same Jesus who died on a cross,
The same Jesus who rose from the dead,
The same Jesus that we eat with at communion,
He same Jesus who forgives our every sin-
NOT because our sin is meaningless,
But because HE has taken it on
And HE has given us a fresh start, a new beginning,
And because HE has given us an end to our story
It means we are in his hands, and no other.
In the name of the Father, son and Holy Ghost. Amen.