January 14, 2024 Reflection and Worship Link

Picture of Rev. Carla Wilks

Rev. Carla Wilks

Associate Minister

BAPTISM OF JESUS

“Making Pickles”

Scripture Reading: Mark 1:4-11

 

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I remember when I was a child, my mom would make dill pickles in the summer, and it was a big process – first there was the meticulous washing of the cucumbers.  The cucumbers were then given a little chill time in an ice bath, a refreshing pause before the real adventure began.  The kitchen table was covered in jars, brine bubbling on the stove and the tantalizing aroma of dill filling the air.  The cucumbers got put into the jars, with dill and garlic, then the brine got poured into the jars, and they were processed in the big canning pot. I was eager to witness the entire process, hoping to sneak a taste when it was all done, but alas I was met with disappointment – there was no taste testing allowed.  We couldn’t even crack open a jar for at least 6 weeks!  The cucumbers needed time to be immersed in the brine for a while and take on the flavour of the vinegar and dill. 

You might be wondering – has Carla lost her mind? What do pickles have to do with baptism?  Why would she entitle her sermon Making Pickles?  Is that a typo? 

Let’s talk about baptism a little, and then it will become clear. 

In Greek there are two concepts related to baptism.  One is to wash or dip for cleansing, which is the term used when John was baptising people. 

In the words of John the Baptist, we hear the cry to Repent and Be Baptized. The people come to him “confessing their sins” (verse 5). We see a crowd responding to a concrete action that then allows them to be washed in baptismal waters.

But then it is Jesus’ turn and the Holy Spirit gets involved and plays a central role.  This second concept related to baptism is about immersion.  The way Jesus is baptized is different, John pre warns us.  The Greek phrase used here is eis autom when Jesus is to be baptised. In other words, the Holy Spirit has come into him. It is not just about washing, it is about immersion.  He is infused with the Spirit from God. A new reality has come into the world, transforming all things.

It is the Spirit rather than the washing that affects the transformation of the baptized. The Spirit creates a profound change in us because, at least in most Christian traditions, we receive faith that does not require anything from us.  It doesn’t require repentance, as John asked for.  We baptize infants who have no words of repentance.

Now if we only focus on John’s baptism, we might miss the profound transformation brought about by the Holy Spirit.  It is not about earning God’s love through repentance, it is about being immersed in God’s gracious welcome and “transformed” by the Holy Spirit. We can be caught up in our participation in the work of the Church, failing to acknowledge the mystery itself, thinking that we have to earn God’s love.  We may forget that this mystery, is the reason we come together to care about the world. The work we do may seem to be the goal rather than the life that grows out from gratitude.

We tend to combine the two meanings of baptism.  We often speak of baptism as a “means of grace,” that is, one of the ways that God’s grace comes to us. Physically it’s only a small splash of water, but it marks the beginning of a whole new life — of forgiveness, of the presence of God’s Spirit, and our immersion into the community of faith here in this place, and also part of the world-wide Christian church!

Baptism incorporates us into community.  When we make pickles, we wash cucumbers at the very beginning and then we immerse them in vinegar and leave them there until they are infused with the flavours, creating pickles.  It is only in the immersion into the brine, that the cucumbers transform into pickles. 

Baptism is not just the cleansing properties of the water, leading us to new life, it also means to be immersed in the community until our outlook is influenced by the flavour of the community.  Baptism is about a covenant relationship in which we are immersed Sunday after Sunday in the community of Christ, into something greater than ourselves, immersed in God’s love, where we grow in grace as we advance both in years and in faith.  In this progressive faith journey, the light comes on and we begin to understand the world differently.  Through the gentle encouragement of loving hands, we are filled with the Holy Spirit and experience new birth.

This continual immersion is a transformative journey, where our outlook is influenced by the rich and vibrant flavours of our faith community. In this process, we are surrounded and upheld by the loving hands of other members of our community who gently encourage us along the way.

As we progress in our faith journey, the light of understanding begins to dawn upon us. Through the gentle guidance of the Holy Spirit and the support of other fellow travelers, we experience new birth – a spiritual rebirth that enables us to see the world through the lens of Christ’s love. Paul helped people discover God’s Spirit, showing the impact of community on individual faith journeys.

Consider Jesus’ own baptism, it was an act of immersion into the covenant community, a commitment to flavour the community with the essence of divine love. Jesus, in his baptism, exemplified the transformative power of community and the responsibility we carry as members of the body of Christ.

So, let us reflect on our own baptism and our role in this covenant community. Baptism is not a one time thing.  It is a covenant relationship that we live out every day.  We live it out when we encounter challenges. The transformation that we experience by being immersed in God’s love helps us to remember our worth and to remember that we are beloved. We live out our baptism in the way that we contribute our gifts and skills to our community.

How are we flavouring our church community? What can we contribute to enhance the richness of our collective faith experience?

Much like the cucumbers take on the flavour of the brine when we make pickles, we are changed by this immersion in Christ-like community, – to continue the metaphor, we become pickles for Christ – by the transformation that we experience when we encounter unconditional love.  We are changed when we are supported by community through difficult times, through loss and challenges. We are changed when maybe for the first time, we hear words of welcome to the wholeness of who we are, within the walls of a church.  We are changed when we receive a prayer shawl, an act of love and care.  We are changed when we experience community in the circle of the Pilgrims’ path group or when volunteering in the Thrift Shop. We are changed when we hear words of hope or peace on Sunday morning in the midst of our despair.  We are changed when we find companionship and friendship when we are feeling lonely.

And then in response we ponder the ways in which we too can be infused with the light of Christ during our immersion in community, and in turn, carry that light beyond the walls of our church to enlighten the world.

May our baptism be a continual source of inspiration, guiding us to immerse ourselves fully in the community of Christ, and may we, as individuals and as a church, radiate the flavours of grace, love, and light to a world in need.

On this Sunday when we hear about Jesus’ baptism and remember our own, we are invited to reaffirm our baptismal faith – recommit ourselves to being participants in the creation of this community. We remember the ways that we have been washed and experienced new birth here,the ways that we have taken on aspects of this community and also the ways that we ourselves have contributed to the flavour of the community.  So if you would like to join, you can stand, or you can remain seated and respond to the following questions that are asked at the time of baptism.  Then we will sprinkle water into the congregation at the end.

Do you believe in God, who has created and is creating,
Who is made known to us in Jesus Christ,
and who works in us and others by the Spirit? 

I do.

 

Commitment to Seek Justice

Will you seek to resist oppression and harmful behaviour, and to live in love and justice?

I will.

 

Commitment to Follow the Way of Jesus

Will you follow the way of Jesus in your public and private life?

I will.

 

Commitment to the Mission and Ministry of the Church

Will you join with your brothers and sisters in this congregation
to celebrate God’s presence, to live with respect in creation and to love and serve others?

I will.

 

Let us continue to support each other, walk with each other and grow with each other.

With God’s help, we will live out our baptism as a loving community of Christ:

Nurturing one another in faith,

Upholding one another in prayer,

Encouraging one another in God’s work.

Benediction: As we go from this place, we remember our baptism.  We remember the ways that we have been immersed in this community, the way that we have added flavour to the community, and we go with the power of God’s love, the comfort of the Holy Spirit and with Christ as our guide as we radiate the flavours of grace, love, and light to a world in need.