What Will We Do With Our Lives?
Sunday, January 13, 2013
In 1987, NBC produced a new show that would air in various forms for the next 14 seasons. The show was entitled Unsolved Mysteries and my hunch is that many of you will not only remember the show but several of you likely also watched it at one time or another. As you may, or may not, remember, Unsolved Mysteries, which was hosted primarily by Robert Stack, focused on real, current unsolved crimes or missing person stories. At the same time, the show also dedicated episodes to alternative theories for what really happened in historical events and also spent time on some of the popular legends of our day. From what to Jimmy Hoffa to is there really a Bigfoot, Unsolved Mysteries covered the gamut in over 700 episodes that were ultimately produced.
The Bible is also not without its mysteries either. You don’t have to be a Christian very long to be aware that there are many aspects of the Biblical story that believers have longed wrestled with in our ongoing attempt to truly understand the stories and the lessons contained within the pages of God’s word. At the top of the list is our passage for today—the story of Jesus’ baptism. Now, don’t get me wrong. The story of Jesus’ baptism is rather straightforward. According to all four gospels, and most clearly detailed in Mark, we are told that Jesus was baptized by his relative John the Baptist in the Jordan River at the very beginning of his public ministry. At the same time, the gospels also inform us that as Jesus came up out of the water, God affirmed him and encouraged him for the journey ahead with the words, “you are my beloved son. With you I am well pleased.”
Again, all of this is very, very clear. But, what has long puzzled believers is the question of how we are to understand this moment from Jesus’ life. What I mean by this is why was Jesus baptized? If he was without sin and if he was already God’s son and had dedicated himself to that work, why did he need to go through with this act? If you read the gospels closely, you find that our question at least to a degree seems to have been John the Baptist’s question as well. For even John appears to have been a little puzzled by Jesus’ request that he baptize him. In fact, John suggests that Jesus should be the one baptizing him instead.
So, what are we do with what we find in these verses? Why was Jesus baptized? For starters, I think we must affirm that Jesus’ baptism was not about the forgiveness of sins. While we as Baptists affirm that our baptism is at least in part an outward symbol of what has taken place in our interior lives with the waters of baptism symbolizing God’s forgiveness and our being made clean, this idea was not at the heart of Jesus’ own baptism. The gospels certainly show Jesus’ affirming this as a meaning of baptism, but, Jesus’ own baptism expanded and extended this idea.
Instead, what Jesus’ baptism seems to have had at its heart was an act that symbolized the beginning of his new life—that is the beginning of his public ministry and the start of his dedicated work for the kingdom of God. In other words, with his baptism, Jesus began a new chapter in his life. His old life as a carpenter’s son was over and his new life focused on calling the world to know God and to accept him as God’s son was underway. Jesus’ baptism, in all four gospels, stands as the beginning act in this new work.
Why do I bring this up? Why is this so important? The reason is that knowing this about Jesus’ baptism should dramatically change how we feel about and understand our own baptisms. Our tendency is to look at baptism as being only about what God is doing for us—that is to say that baptism is about God’s grace, our forgiveness and our new life as a child of God. While that is all true and all very important, this is only one side of the coin of baptism. The other side, and this is what Jesus’ baptism emphasizes, is that this act is also about what we are now called to do for God. Just as was the case with Jesus, our baptism symbolizes the beginning of a new life for each of us now focused on our own role in the work of God’s kingdom. Just as was the case with Jesus, baptism symbolizes the beginning of our own ministry.
The early church understood this well. When candidates exited the waters of baptism, they were given a new set clothes and a new name. Through these acts, and in a profound way, they were being taught that they were no longer the same person they once were, they now belonged to God. They now had a new identity. They now had a new life’s work.
David Brooks, who is a pastor in North Carolina, compares who we are after our baptism to the characters in the classic Toy Story movies made by Disney for children but equally loved by adults. If you remember the three films I am speaking of, you will recall that the central characters are Sherriff Woody and his pal Buzz Lightyear. Woody is a toy cowboy and Buzz is a toy spaceman. In the films, they and their funny collection of friends and fellow toys belong to a boy named Andy. The three films in turn follow the toys and their adventures as Andy grows from being a child into adulthood. One of the interesting things about toys is that several of them have Andy’s name written on them. They belong to him. And, as the three movies progress, what these toys keep coming back to over and over again throughout their adventures is the statement, “we belong to Andy….we are Andy’s toys.”
David Brooks says is that this is the same is true of us. Our baptism is thet moment that God writes his name on each of us. After our baptism, we no longer belong to ourselves, we belong to God. This is the statement we must come back to over and over again in our lives. We are God’s children…our lives now belong to God.
In this month of setting goals for our lives as people of faith, this statement calls us to consider some very, very important questions. What about our lives signifies that we belong to God? Do we live each day and do we involve ourselves in tasks that signify that our lives are no longer our own? What concrete tasks and ministries in the life of our church at this very moment are we involved in that indicate that we realize that as baptized believers we are to be about God’s kingdom work through our lives?
Let me be as practical as I can be for a moment. Am I suggesting that we should give every waking hour of our lives to the work of our church? No, I am not. I am suggesting that we should come to the church every night for a meeting, an activity or a ministry task? No, I am not. What I am suggesting, however, is that we should see everything we do every day as a part of our work in God’s service and as a way that we can expand God’s kingdom—from our jobs, to our leisure activities to our friendships. At the same time, I am also suggesting a natural outgrowth of baptism, for all of us, should be involvement in the ministries of our church for this is the body of believers with through which we have all pledged to not only grow but to also care for one another and for our community.
In other words, as we all set goals for this new year spiritually, a part of that goal setting should certainly include evaluating our commitment to and involvement in the ministries of our church with the goal being for all of us to commit to at least one or two tasks through which we minister to each other and to our community. Be it teaching Sunday School, working with our children, serving as an usher or Deacon, volunteering for our new Backpack ministry or simply letting our staff know that we are willing to help but haven’t yet found our spot, I would challenge all of us to find what it is that God is calling us to do in this year to minister in and through the life of our church.
As you wrestle with this, let me invite you to do something for a moment. Think about one or two people who have been a part of your life that have helped you to become the person that you are today as a believer. Whether it is a Sunday School teacher, someone who worked with your youth group, a person who simply greeted you at the door or spent time with your family during a difficult time – take a moment and allow a name and face to come into your mind. Now that you have that name or face before you, ask yourself a question. What if that person had said “no”? What if that person had said “no” to God’s call to be involved in the work of the local church? Take a moment and realize that they were people just like you are today. They too had a job, children to care for, responsibilities at home and all of the commitments that so easily get in our way today. Yet somehow, they connected being a baptized believer, with having a responsibility to serve and to minister in God’s kingdom. Their commitment led to their making a profound difference in your life. What about you?
When I was in college, my roommate dated and ultimately married a girl from a suburb of Portland, Oregon. Her father was one of the most unique fellas, I have ever encountered. Trained to be a physician, he had never really practiced medicine except for maybe a few years at the most. He had basically spent his life hanging around the house playing the stock markert. Further his lifestyle and several of his habits were some of the last things you would expect a doctor to be about. As I learned about him over the years, I recall saying to my roommate on several occasions, “I thought you said he was a doctor?”
When it comes to our living out our faith through ministering to others through our church, do others quickly see the connection between us and our baptism? Or, are the same questions asked of us, “how did you say he or she uses their time and what did you say they do with their lives? I thought you said they were a baptized believer?” Amen.