Sylvania United Church of Christ
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The sermon for week January 11, 2015

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The Idea of Baptism

Mark 1:4-11
Watch "What do you do with an Idea?" by Kobi Yamada read here.

I have three words for us today to get at the idea of Baptism: I. We. They. Say them with me: I, We, They.

The I is you. It's me. It's the individual self. You are sitting in the pew being you. But all of us I's make up the We here. We are the Church at Sylvania. The church isn't these walls, it's all of us I's, it is the We that we are. We are the church and we have a character like any other I.

But the church doesn't exist just for itself, it seeks to serve the They. They who are hurting, they who are wounded, they who seek to know themselves and belong to a community.

So the idea of the baptism goes like this: I am baptized into the We. The We seeks to serve the They. Doing this is the Good News that will bend the world toward blessing.

But this is abstract theology. Let me make it very real. This summer, there's was a trend of people dumping ice cold buckets of water on their heads. Here's my video (Show Video)

I see the We that I belong to pour water on their head. I pour the bucket and challenge the We that I'm in to raise money and awareness for the THEY suffering from ALS. This is baptism! We are connected by water. It is the I, We, They.

When Christ was baptized, we see the same pattern. He must of had his I right, because Jesus felt the need to go out to the Jordan and pay his cousin John a visit. He felt the need to repent and turn around. He was baptized by John into the WE of community who are trying to turn their lives around. This group had an organizing principle which they all believed in and were connected by. This connection caused Jesus to head to the desert. He saw a vision from God and was sent into the desert.

When he came back from this I work, he went and collected the WE of the disciples and then THEY went to spread the good news. “Go and make disciples baptizing them in the name of the Father, son and Holy Spirit.” We are to be connected by water. Baptism is the symbol and ritual of the I's committing to the WE to serve the THEY. It is the sign and symbol of God's love for us along with the communion table.

Our unifying idea is the idea Jesus gave to us: love your neighbor as yourself. You have to love yourself before you love your neighbor. Without the I work, you can cause great harm as you're unaware of the harm your causing your neighbor. This past summer, I said some hard words to a member here at church and did some harm. I wasn't doing my self-reflection and I had to repent and try again. This has caused a wonderful thing to happen: we're self aware I's working toward WE.

WE are neighbors. See what the I work can do? It makes the WE almost effortless. And knowing the WE, we can go to the THEY and serve the THEY won't feel like we're out to get them, take their money, tell them how to live. Instead, they will feel love. They won't feel any hidden agenda only genuine love. And here's the thing, the They will want to join the We. This process gets us to THE ALL. Loving God with your heart, mind and strength, what Jesus said is the greatest commandment. The I, We, and They are part of the ALL and when we're doing this work, the ALL becomes crystal clear to us.

I am in love with the idea of baptism. I'm in love with doing self-awareness work, of loving my neighbor and myself, and serving the world and in doing some glimpsing the living God.

Yet we're not always happy with the water that we're born into. I was born into the water of Dennison, Ohio. It was a train-town exactly 100 miles from Cleveland, Columbus, and Pittsburgh. This mattered when we had steam trains that needed water every 100 miles or so. But when the steam trains went, so did the town and all I knew growing up was decline. I knew depressed and insular people who were worried about there survival. There was no sense of community because we were too worried about the survival of I. I hated Dennison.

Yet in 1989, a grant was given to rebuild our historic depot and have a train museum built. This museum was to highlight the Salvation Army Canteen of World War II. Because of it's location, Dennison had up to 20 troop transport trains stopping in town every day. Now the people of Dennison had their basic needs met thanks to the railroad, so they had down the I work. They were a train-town with their own sense of WE, so they had the we work done. And this gave them the knowledge of the THEY: the troops who came through. So women would make sandwiches, give fruit and vegetables from their victory gardens, milk from their dairy, they would sacrifice their rations to give the troops a home cooked meal.

One solider wrote: “I was feeling just about as blue as a boy can be, all of a sudden the trained pulled into the town of Dennison, Ohio, of which I never heard but which I will never forget now. The food warmed by body, and the thoughtfulness warmed my heart. I got back on the train an entirely different person.”

I read that when I was in the Dennison Depot Museum over the holidays. I read that and I wept. I, We, They. And then that process started for me. I am from Dennison. I am her son. This is my heritage and I shall listen to it. Because of this heritage of service I have been sent to serve and here I am in Sylvania trying to do that. This is the idea of baptism. I, We, They. This idea of baptism, this I/We/They concept I am now seeing everywhere. I see it everywhere.

I feel like there's something happening. There's something I'm feeling here that I haven't felt in 4 years. There's an energy building and I feel like God's lips are parting to speak and when we hear the word, we will be sent and this place... this community... you who make up this faith community and family... will bless the world. And we start by doing the I work. So come out to a 9:20 or a small group. Give me a call and we'll have coffee and we'll talk about you.

This is how you will remember your baptism. This idea can change the world. It has changed mine.

Now the children and I will give you a tangible reminder of your baptism. Every “Baptism of Christ Sunday” growing up in my little catholic church in Dennison, the priest would sprinkle us with water. This time, I'm going to ask the kids to help us remember our baptism. They will take the water and come to you and mark you with water on your forehead or hands. So please take off your glasses, hide your cell phone, but don't hide yourself. Remember your baptism. Stay in the process of I, We, They. We will all get wet. Feel the water on your skin. Be like a child again.

Check out the Dennison Depot's website.

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