A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Upcoming Sunday Scripture Commentary - January 11

January 11 Sermon - "Let There Be Light!"

Genesis 1:1-5

It's important to note that the creation story was probably written during the time of the Babylonian Exile when God's people were forced to leave their homes and live in a foreign land. The Temple had been destroyed and it appeared that God has forsaken them. The Temple was a symbol of God's presence and without the physical Temple, all was lost

With this historical context for the writing of this creation story, the writer is providing a reassuring word that God has not forgotten them. God continues to create and provide light where there is darkness. The people who were living in exile definitely felt like they were living in darkness during this time!

The writer of the creation story is borrowing from the Babylonian creation story account which was told much earlier than this one. The Genesis creation story serves as a polemic against the Babylonian captors. It is a way to say, "Our God is the true God, not your false gods!"

Light is a prominent theme in the creation story. In what ways has God provided you with light during a dark time in your life?

Mark 1:4-11

Today is Baptism of the Lord Sunday when we celebrate when Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan by John the Baptist. Yes, just a few weeks ago, we were celebrating Jesus' birth and now he is already a young adult just beginning his public ministry!

This story teaches us that God is present with us in a particular way through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. The church believes that Holy Baptism is one of the "means of Grace" in which God becomes known to us in a special way.

Baptism has traditionally been associated with 1) initiation into the life of the church 2) the forgiveness of sins 3) new birth 4) the presence of the Holy Spirit.  All four of these dimensions are at work in baptism.

The question often arises as to who can be baptized. The answer in the United Methodist tradition is anyone who professes faith in Christ or is at an age before accountability who has a parent or guardian who has professed faith in Christ and who is willing to make the commitment to raise that child in the Christian faith.

Infant baptism raises the question about individual accountability. Some people are against infant baptism because they believe the person should be of a certain age to "understand" the meaning of baptism. While we believe that one should grow in an understanding of the Christian faith and the meaning of baptism, we also believe that God's grace precedes our acceptance of it. We call this God's prevenient grace which is the grace which is present in our lives before our awareness of it. When we become aware of it, we are called to respond to it and affirm it. This is where personal accountability comes into the picture.

So, this is why we offer baptism renewals rather than re-baptisms. We do not re-baptize since God has already made a promise and will keep it. Instead, we renew our baptismal vows and rededicate our lives in following him.  The analogy I like to give is when a married couple wants to reaffirm their marriage vows. They don't go to the court house to get a new wedding license. Instead, they have a special reaffirmation of wedding vows ceremony.

This analogy isn't perfect but it makes the point that the focus should be on the renewal rather than the re-baptism. We will be reaffirming our baptisms this Sunday during worship. What a powerful moment when someone says to us, "Remember your baptism and be thankful." We are reminded that God has been faithful and that God's grace has been present in our lives from the very beginning. Our task is to respond in faithfulness to God's grace in our lives made possible through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

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