Keawala’i Congregational Church
United Church of Christ (USA)
“Doing the work”
I was baptized over forty years ago at the Honaunau Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Kona on the island of Hawaiʻi. Two missionaries of the church knocked on my door one day while I was living on the outskirts of Kainaliu town up mauka on the slopes of Hualalai. I had dropped out of college and was working in a local fast food restaurant.
My decision to be baptized became a source of considerable distress for my mother who was a member of the Pentecostal Church. I did not understand the reasons for her objection and she did not understand the reasons for my decision. I must admit that at the time I wasn’t quite sure why I decided to be baptized.
I made the decision after six visits with the missionaries. It seemed the sensible thing to do and as a consequence, I became active member of the church and within a couple of years I decided I would return to college.
I moved to Honolulu in 1970 to attend school and while there became disillusioned with the church’s teaching that did not allow Blacks to become a part of the priesthood. Most of you may know that since that time, the “policy” has been changed.
In any case, I left the church and in the summer of that year began attending an evangelical church in Kaimuki, much to my mother’s relief. I became active in that church and when they learned I had been baptized as a Mormon, they promptly informed me that I would need to be baptized again. I must say that I must have been an impressionable young man because I decided I would go through the baptism again.
The one consolation was that the indoor baptismal pool at the church in Kaimuki was heated. The outdoor baptismal pool in Honaunau was not.
It seems like such a “manini thing” or a miniscule thing to be concerned about the temperature of the water but on both occasions, I thought I knew what I was getting myself into – aside from hot or cold water – that is. I thought I understood what baptism meant.
After completing my undergraduate work I moved to Hawai’i island to attend what is now the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. I joined another church and thankfully this time I was not compelled to be baptized a third time.
Over the years I have had conversations with others who have been baptized numerous times. Whenever I ask why that is, the response seems to suggest the church’s themselves see baptism as a way of adding others to its membership. On occasion I have been asked by some if they needed to be baptized again to become a member of this church. My answer is if you have already been baptized, there is no need to be baptized again.
For some having water sprinkled on their head or poured across their forehead is not adequate. The baptism must be by full immersion and full immersion only; otherwise it doesn’t count. For others if one is baptized as an infant, that also doesn’t count.
So the debate that began two thousand years ago continues in our day and time. For me baptism is not about how we are baptized or even when, but about coming to an understanding about why we are baptized.
In this season of Epiphany the story of the baptism of Jesus provides us with a key to an understanding beyond the familiar lessons we have learned growing up in the church. The words of John the Baptist are familiar, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 3:2)
Those who responded to John were baptized by him in the river Jordon, confessing their sins.” (Matthew 3:6) So we learn that we must repent or return to God’s ways and confess our sins in order to be baptized.
John is quick to say that he baptizes with water for repentance but God in Jesus Christ will baptize each person with the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 3: 11) This is all good and well but the significance of Jesus’ own baptism gets lost in the proclamation made by John.
Jesus comes to John to be baptized in order to “fulfill all righteousness.” (Matthew 3:15) Righteousness in this context means “doing the work that God has given us to do.” John’s work is to announce the presence of the Messiah and the coming reign of God and by baptizing Jesus, John completes his mission.
In our reading from The Gospel According to Matthew God’s voice from heaven and the Holy Spirit reveal Jesus’ identity as the beloved child or son. “A voice from heaven” describes Jesus as the one with whom God is well pleased. (Matthew 3:17)
But the statement that is made does far more. The statement identifies Jesus not only as God’s beloved son but God’s faithful servant. (Isaiah 42)
We know that it was immediately after his baptism that Jesus was led up by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. While there he was tempted in many ways but did not succumb and in time he returned to begin his ministry of bringing good news to the poor, release to the captives, recover of sight to the blind, freedom to those oppressed. (Luke 4:18) When he entered the synagogue that day to read from the book of the prophet Isaiah, he began by saying. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” (Op. cit.)
I have come to believe about our own baptism is that we too are beloved
sons and daughters of God and that we are also to be God’s faithful servants. Our
life of faith did not end at our baptism.
Baptism is the beginning of our own ministry as servants of God. That is what makes “Hepedoma” or our “Week of Prayer” so important in the life of not only our church but the churches from which many of you have come.
This is the season of Epiphany when we celebrate how God chose to be made known to us in the birth of the Christ Child. As we enter this “Week of Prayer” we are invited to pray about the ways God is seeking to be made manifest in each of us.
What is it that God wants you to be and to do as a part of the ministry of this church or the churches from which you have come. Each day, let us find a moment or moments to be silent, to be still and to ask what God is calling each of us to do and to listen carefully.
“What is my ministry?” “What is your ministry?” You will have an opportunity next Sunday to respond and to make your own commitment. We will be providing you with a response form.
Our baptism is not an end but a beginning. Our baptism is not about being served but about serving.
In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, we are made aware that it will be through our life of service that we will “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:16)
It will be through our life of service that we will be doing the work that God has given each one of us to do. Our life as God’s children and faithful servants will be empowered, strengthened and sustained by the Spirit. We respond to God’s call to a life of service trusting in the Spirit’s presence in our lives and in our world.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
pu‘uhonua, this sanctuary beside the sea. It is here that our spirits will find peace on the evening tide.
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