Baptism: A Powerful Fusion
of Water and Spirit

Pastor Jeff Wells

     What a joy and a blessing it is to baptize Annaís on this Sunday when we commemorate the baptism of Jesus. It is a good day to reflect a bit on the power and significance of baptism in the lives of those who are baptized and in our life together in community.

      Baptism is much more than a dedication ceremony and more than any ordinary ritual act. It is a sacrament – a sacred act using words, symbols, and water through which the Spirit of God works to shape both the life of the person being baptized and the community in which baptism is part of our way of being. Although God’s Loving Spirit has been with Annaís since she was born – and would be even if she were not baptized – today, by water and the Spirit, God invited Annaís into a loving, covenant relationship and promised her unconditional love and grace. We could not hear the words, but it is just as if God had said aloud, “This is my daughter whom I dearly love; I find happiness in her.” Annaís is now initiated into membership in the community of Jesus’ followers, striving to embody Christ on earth. She has join us on the exciting and challenging path of growing in faith, understanding, and commitment – growing into the loving, compassionate, forgiving, faithful, and committed person God created her to be.

     The primary document of the United Methodist Church on baptism is called, By Water and the Spirit and it contains a metaphor I love. It says, “Baptism is the doorway to the sanctified life.” Today, God opened that doorway for Annaís. To be sanctified is to be made holy and sanctification is a lifelong process that occurs in the presence of God’s grace, through the inspiration and guidance of the God’s Spirit, and in community with others who are in loving, covenant relationship with God. Therefore, to make baptism effective, we are called to accept God’s gracious offer and follow up baptism with nurture and encouragement to grow in faith and understanding so that one day Annaís will be able to accept that offer for herself. This is not the responsibility of Kim and Viviana alone. Annaís now belongs to the Church of the Village – an expression of the body of Christ. So it is our responsibility as a community to support and nurture Annaís and her parents on this journey together. We don’t take this lightly. Being a follower of Jesus is risky business, but that is what we commit ourselves to strive toward. At the Church of the Village we are part of a movement for love, justice, and courage. Our faith is an expression of our willingness and desire to accept God’s unconditional love and radical forgiveness and, in response, to commit ourselves to growing in love, compassion, justice-seeking, and radical inclusion. We believe the church is more than just another human institution – it is a channel established by God through Jesus to lovingly encourage the best in each of us and to transform the world we live in to conform to the values of God’s beloved community of love. We are messengers and advocates for God’s vision for humanity.

         Baptism is not just an isolated, singular event. When we take it seriously, it is a thread that runs through our entire lives as disciples, ties our whole journey together, and keep us connected to God. It is a covenant relationship on which God never reneges. Of course, all of us are subject to the human inclination to sin. Sin is fundamentally turning away from God by harming ourselves or others. Yet, while we may turn from God, but God never turns away from us, never rejects us, never abandons us. More than that, God continuously seeks to bring us back into the loving relationship with God’s own self for which we were created. When we are even aware of it and sometimes claim we are not interested in it and don’t want it, God’s grace is working in our lives and God’s Spirit is opening us to our need and desire for God’s love. The truth is God pursues us – patiently, but relentlessly. I can attest to that from personal experience. I explicitly rejected God for a long time – more than 20 years. I was a committed atheist and preached that “religion is the opiate of the masses.” I was convinced and tried to convince others that faith and faith communities were useless for creating a more loving, more just world – that, in fact, they worked counter to such a vision. Yet, even when I was an atheist, God’s Spirit worked in my life, placing people in my path and opening me to new ideas and new ways of understanding my human experience. Before I even knew I needed or desired it, God’s grace was helping to reorient me. God loved me and would not let me go.

     Think, for a moment, about the times in your life or in the life of our community when you have especially felt God’s presence or inspiration. Or, perhaps you are thinking of a way in which you anticipate you will need God or our community will need to be acutely aware of God’s presence in the new year. I want to invite few of you to briefly share one thing that has come into your mind.God loves Annaís and will not let her go. God loves you and will never let you go. God love the Church of the Village and will not let us go. God loves us like a Divine Parent and sings to us, “I love you and you are mine.” That is the meaning and the promise of baptism. God’s unconditional love and amazing grace have always been and always will be available to you. Imagine – it is as if God sings her love to us throughout our lives. Each of us will hear God’s song in our own unique way, but it might go something like this: 

I was there to hear your borning cry,
I’ll be there when you are old.
I rejoiced the day you were baptized,
to see your life unfold.

I was there when you were but a child,
with a faith to suit you well;
in a blaze of light you wandered off
to find where demons dwell.

When you heard the wonder of the Word
I was there to cheer you on;
you were raised to praise the living God,
to whom you now belong.

If you find someone to share your time
and you join your hearts as one,
I'll be there to make your verses rhyme
from dusk till rising sun.

In the middle ages of your life,
not too old, no longer young,
I'll be there to guide you through the night,
complete what I’ve begun.

When the evening gently closes in
and you shut your weary eyes,
I'll be there as I have always been
with just one more surprise.

I was there to hear your borning cry,
I'll be there when you are old,
I rejoiced the day you were baptized,
to see your life unfold.