Immersed in God’s Goodness

On January 14, 2019, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Immersed in God’s Goodness Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Let us dwell together in peace; and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression. And now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. Today we hear about John’s baptism with water and Jesus’ baptism by fire. We also […]

Immersed in God’s Goodness
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

Let us dwell together in peace; and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression. And now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen.

Today we hear about John’s baptism with water and Jesus’ baptism by fire. We also see the baptism of the spirit.
The three aren’t that different really, and one can lead to the next.

Jesus, who was inspired and perhaps mentored by John, submits to John’s water ritual signifying the ability to turn around, or “repent.”

Repentance isn’t shame or regret or begging for pardon…Repentance is a change of attitude or a change of direction.

The greek word for repentance literally means to have a change of mind, but John’s rhetoric of comparing people to lifeless rocks and of saying that trees are meant to bear fruit shows that in John’s mind, a truly changed mind leads to changes in how we engage the world. As Dr. Peale often said, when we change our thinking we change our world.

You know what a fundamentalist is, right? It’s someone who is desperately afraid that somebody somewhere is having a good time. I try hard to justify their fears.

John had a term for zealots, the self righteous, the fundamentalists of his day: brood of vipers.
We don’t honor by being prudish or priggish.
Religiosity used as a weapon to control, shame, or hurt others is not godly. The repentance some people need is to change from being hatefully religious to being lovingly spiritual.

Most religious traditions encourage change, but the difference comes in what they say ought to be changed.
Some traditions say: don’t drink, don’t dance, don’t gamble, don’t kiss on the first date, don’t even think about divorce, don’t tell the truth about being gay, don’t read certain kinds of books, don’t listen to secular music, don’t don’t don’t…

And, if drinking gets you in trouble or if gambling means you can’t pay your rent, then cut it out (and if you can’t then get some help), but that’s not a god thing, that’s a you thing. That’s a common sense thing. That’s a don’t shoot yourself in the foot thing.

No, what we want is a change in attitude that results in changed lives that will bring about a changed world. We want change that results in peace, love, hope, and joy.

If your god hates gay people, you are probably just worshiping your own homophobia. That could benefit from some repentance.

If you tend to think of people from certain regions or nations or races or religions as being innately threatening…that’s not love and that could use some repentance, a serious change in attitude.

If you can’t see the divine spark in your transgender siblings, you have an ideal repentance opportunity.

If you don’t care about hurting children, hungry people, the sick not being able to get the medicines that could save their lives…please, repent. Change your attitude.

If you think violence is strong and compassion is weak…
If you’ve reduced faith to afterlife fire insurance…
If you can only feel good about yourself by thinking badly of others…
If you look in the mirror and can only see failure or flaws…
Then you are prime candidate for repentance.

Dance or don’t dance, eat meat or don’t, swear up a blue streak or use only polite and proper language…that’s a matter of taste and preference. But for God’s sake give up the hate.

So, water baptism symbolized a change. It was therapeutic, healing, an immersion into a new attitude.
It was an affirmation that the past was past and the future had infinite possibilities.

Also, notice there is no formula given in John’s baptism. We don’t know what words he pronounced during the baptism, if any at all. Today people may argue about how much water baptism takes and what special words must be said, but such concerns are noticeably absent from the story of Jesus’ baptism.

John’s baptism ritual was a call to repentance, but the repentance, the attitude change, is the important part. Not the ritual. John’s ritual was creative and embodied, and not uncommon. Water rituals were plenteous in antiquity. But the change of heart, the change of attitude was the point, and that can happen with or without the water. And the change was to benefit this life, not a future one. Remember, Jesus was baptized, the rebel on the cross next to him wasn’t…but according to Jesus, they both were on the way to Paradise that day.

If John was known for his baptism ritual, he tells us that Jesus will baptize a different way. And, we don’t see Jesus conducting water baptisms. His is a baptism by fire, John tells us.

John was an apocalyptic preacher. The Realm of God was on its way and soon, he insisted. And Jesus certainly picked up on John’s theme of God’s Realm breaking through and upending the unjust systems of this world. So, it isn’t surprising that John would use a fiery image to describe Jesus’ ministry.

Jesus’ fire isn’t a threat. The fire attributed to Jesus is a campfire that gives light and warmth, it’s a hearth fire that invites connection and conversation, it’s a sterilizing fire that kills dis-ease, it’s the passionate flame of a loving heart. The holy fire burns the chaff but leaves the wheat. The good is separated from the useless; the good is kept safe while the useless is transformed.

Jesus’ baptism isn’t ritualistic like John’s. His baptism is an immersion in mission, a call to action.
Jesus’ baptism tells us to feed the sheep, to care for the widows and orphans, to welcome the refugee, to see the sacred value of the Samaritan, to heal the Canaanite’s daughter, to touch the untouchable and love the unloved.
Jesus’ baptism shakes things up and following Jesus can generate some heat, and it will shed light on injustice and cruelty and avarice.
Jesus’ baptism of light will overcome the shadows of despair.

It’s not about water or formulas or doctrine or dogma or prejudices or fear…
Jesus’ baptism fires us up and puts us to work.

John says, “I wash you in the river, but someone’s coming who’s going to light a fire under you so that you can change the world.”

When children anywhere are not safe…we need to get fired up.
When we value profits over people and privilege over peace,
When we forget that in the Realm of God no one is forgotten or left out or abandoned…then it is clear, we need to get fired up.

It was the fiery thorn bush that called Moses to action against the Egyptian empire.
It was fire by night that led the wanderers as they fled persecution.
It was the flaming furnace that revealed three young men to be indomitable.
It was the flames of Pentecost that resurrected the church that had been crushed by Rome’s might.

In the face of oppression, it is the fire of resistance that it is needed and that’s the baptism that Jesus modeled.
Lord Jesus, give us today a baptism of fire!

We see the baptism of repentance, an attitude adjustment.
We the baptism of fire, an enthusiasm to help heal a hurting world.
Also in the story, there is the baptism of spirit…an awareness of God’s omnipresence, the all-inclusive, unconditional love of God that will never and can never let us go, the awareness that we are all God’s children, forever.

Which baptism do you need today?
Do you need a change of attitude?
Do you need to get fired up?
Do you need to remember that there’s not a spot where God is not, and that you are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.

Water, fire, spirit…
Change of attitude, getting fired up for mission, or communing with the omnipresent Love that God is.

It all amounts to being immersed in God’s goodness, which we always are. And this is the good news. Amen.

Dear God,
Please wash away my fears, regrets, prejudice, and pain.
And please help me get fired up with hope, peace, goodwill, and joy.
And let me know today…
that I am your beloved child with whom you are pleased.
Alleluia!

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