Summary: When we can’t remember who we are, our baptism connects us to Jesus and each other, gives us our identity, and gives us a vision of eternity in difficult times.
When Memory Fails
Reverend Anne Benefield
Geneva Presbyterian Church, January 11, 1009
Introduction: The baptism of Jesus is a text read and proclaimed every year. The account from Mark is simple and powerful.
John the Baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as He was coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we thank You that through Christ, You have connected us all to Your family and claimed us as Your children. We thank You that our identity is not dependent on our talents and achievements, but is based on being Your beloved children. We thank You that in our baptisms You give us a new vision of life eternal. We open our hearts to Your abiding love.
Baptism has undergone some pretty big changes in Georgia due to the multi-year drought, although I am happy to report that they got a nice amount of rain on Monday and Tuesday this past week. With things being so dry in Georgia, the Baptists are starting to baptize by sprinkling, the Methodists are using wet-wipes, the Presbyterians are giving out rain checks, and the Episcopalians, Catholics and Lutherans are praying for wine to turn back into water.
On a more serious note, this sermon is about two things: memories and baptism. Since I’ve told you a story about baptism, memory deserves equal time. An older couple was having dinner together at one of their homes. After the meal, the women went into the kitchen and the men moved to the living room. One man said, “Last night we went out to a new restaurant, and it was really great. I would recommend it very highly.”
The other man said, “What’s the name of the restaurant?”
The first man knit his brow in obvious concentration, and finally said, “Ahhh, what is the name of that red flower you give to someone you love?”
His friend replied, “A carnation?”
“No, no. The other one.”
“Nahhh, you know the one that is red and has thorns.”
“Do you mean a rose?”
“Yes, yes, that’s it. Thank you!”
Then he turned toward the kitchen and yelled, “Rose, what’s the name of that restaurant we went to last night?”
The term “senior moment” has become so popular in explaining our memory lapses that my 13-year-old son, Johnny, said he was having a senior moment the other day when I asked him what homework he had.
Back to the topic of memory and baptism. Today we remember the baptism of Jesus. What meaning do we attached to Jesus’ baptism?
Meaning shapes memory. We remember things in our lives based on the meaning we attach to them. For example, a bride says that her wedding day was the happiest day of her life. In fact, it was incredibly stressful, but the meaning of marriage turns it into a happy memory.
A man says that the birth of his first child was a joy. Truth is, it was absolutely misery to watch his wife suffer through labor, but the meaning of childbirth makes the memory a positive one.
A teenager says that her rejection by a boyfriend was the most crushing blow of her life. In fact, she felt a bit relieved and bounced back quickly, but the meaning of romance makes the breakup a very painful memory.
An adult convert to Christianity says that his baptism was wonderful. The reality is that it was wet, cold, and uncomfortable, but the meaning of the sacrament makes it deeply moving to him.
Meaning shapes memory. The meaning we attach to Jesus’ baptism makes our own baptisms important. In baptism three things happen: First, we are connected to the body of Christ, the flesh and blood physical presence of Jesus in the world today. Second, in baptism we are identified as God’s children. We are blessed and beloved by God. Third, in baptism we gain perspective, we get a long view of what’s important.