01/11/15 Sermon (January 11, 2015)

posted Jun 24, 2015, 11:15 AM by David Hawkins

“Baptism as the Starting Place”

Scripture Reading: Acts 19:1-7

1While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples.

2He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?”

They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

3Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?”

They answered, “Into John’s baptism.”

4Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

6When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied — 7altogether there were about twelve of them.

Sermon: "Baptism as the Starting Place"             Rev. David Hawkins

I think I’ve mentioned before in a sermon how when I first went to seminary, I was a little bit anxious about how my understanding of baptism would fit into a reformed, Presbyterian theology. I was afraid that I would be told that my thoughts were wrong and heretical and that I would have to repent and toe the line if I wanted to be a pastor in a PC(USA) church.

I can’t tell you how relieved I was by the the way my teachers at seminary handled my anxiety. Rather than tell me that my way of thinking was wrong, they affirmed it, they blessed it, they agreed with it -- but then they also invited me to expand my thinking just a little bit.

And I am so grateful for their gentleness. By blessing the way I thought about baptism, and then offering a broader picture of it, they gave me a gift that I am still in the process of appreciating.

We see a little bit of that persuasive gentleness in our scripture today.

First, a little backstory: This person Apollos that is mentioned early on is a very well known (in that place and time) traveling evangelist. He has been going around Ephesus and Corinth and other parts in Asia Minor telling people about Jesus, and baptising them. Paul compares himself negatively to Apollos, saying that he is nothing like the kind of orator that Apollos is. You can tell that Paul admires him for his skill, and maybe even envies him a little bit for his successes.

Of course, that admiration doesn’t stop Paul from critiquing his theology. In fact, in just a few verses before our scripture today, we read about a time when Paul sent some of his friends, Priscilla and Aquila to talk to Apollos to help him open up his theology a little bit, to expand his own ways of thinking about Baptism.

It’s important to remember that Apollos believes in Jesus Christ, and is a great evangelist. He’s not accused of any kind of heresy, and Paul does not condemn him or his teaching. But, Paul sees that his understanding of baptism is incomplete. For Apollos, baptism is all about sin, and repentance, and forgiveness. That’s what John the baptist taught, and so that’s what Apollos teaches, even after being encouraged by Pauls’ fellow apostles to broaden his perspective.

Our scripture today finds us with Paul, following after Apollos, talking to some of the people that Apollos had converted to Christianity. He asks them about their baptism, and realizes that Apollos is still teaching a partial understanding of what Baptism means.

And so Paul is in the position of doing a little bit of theological house-cleaning behind Apollos. And what’s interesting, is, he doesn’t seem to be angry about it. He’s not mad at Apollos, or these new Christians. He doesn’t say that John’s understanding of Baptism is wrong. He simply asks some questions. And in the asking, these new Christians realize that they are missing part of the bigger picture.

These newly baptized disciples realize that their own understanding of baptism doesn’t leave much room for the movement of God’s Spirit in their own lives. In fact, they hadn’t even heard of such a thing as the Holy Spirit. For them, their baptism was all about their own confession, their own repentance, and their own forgiveness. Baptism was the goal, the end point, the completion of of their faith.

But Paul’s questions helped them realize that baptism was about more than just what they were doing. It was also about what God was doing. Paul affirmed their faith, but he challenged them to think of their faith as a gift of the Holy Spirit, rather than being something that they themselves had caused to happen.

And by asking these questions, Paul helped them see that Baptism is not the goal, not an end in itself, but rather is the beginning of their ministry to the world.

Today is the day the church sets aside to remember Christ’s Baptism, and to remember that we are also baptised. And baptism is a big deal. Baptism is about repentance certainly, and forgiveness, of course, but it is about more than that. It’s also about recognizing that our repentance is itself a gift from God. Baptism signifies the end of sin’s effect on us, but it also signifies the Spirit’s call to discipleship. Baptism is about being drenched as an outward expression of our faith, but it is also the inward baptism of an invisible, unwarranted, unearned, and wholly unexpected grace.

None of can possibly understand all there is to understand about Baptism. We are forever limited on this side of the veil to only seeing part of what being claimed by God means for us.

But Paul would encourage us to remember that in our baptisms, we are given everything we need to our lives in ways that are worthy of the Gospel of Christ. Baptism is not just the death of sin  -- it is the beginning of life itself.

To the Lord who speaks to us,

and strengthens us,

and blesses us with peace,

be all glory and honor forever. Amen.