Worship and Music Conference preacher focuses on water, fire and Holy Spirit baptism
by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — Preaching on John the Baptist, whose ministry centered on preparing people for one more powerful than he and who would baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit, the Rev. CeCe Armstrong began her sermon on Luke 3:15-17, 21-22, with these words: “You belong to God.”
During Monday’s worship at the Presbyterian Association of Musicians Worship and Music Conference, Armstrong, associate pastor at St. James Presbyterian Church in Charleston, South Carolina, said those hearing from John wondered if he might be the Messiah.
For Armstrong, this is a clue that we should listen to John, who was plainly telling his hearers that while he baptized with water for the forgiveness of sins, the one coming would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.
“He was in their face telling them they must have a change in their hearts,” Armstrong said. “That they must have new life.”
When Jesus came to the Jordan and asked John to baptize him, he was identifying with people in his and their baptism. After coming out of the waters of baptism and hearing the voice of heaven, “You are the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased,” Jesus began his ministry work “of bringing new life to you and me,” Armstrong said.
According to Armstrong, once we’re baptized, we become accountable for the life we live.
“Do you remember your baptism?” she asked those gathered for worship in Anderson Auditorium on the grounds of Montreat Conference Center.
Armstrong heard someone say, “They hit me with water, but I don’t know what happened.”
So, she spoke about child and infant baptism, how parents and the adults present are making a commitment for the child, “to know that God loves you and has a purpose for your life.”
“Each believer has an opportunity to develop a personal relationship with God through Christ,” she said.
For Armstrong, baptism is one of those sacraments of life when a personal encounter with God is shared publicly, when God declares you belong to God.
Once that happens, she said, each of us can set the world on fire.
“But God doesn’t mean for us to be spiritual lone rangers,” she said. “One piece of paper on fire will burn out.”
Armstrong challenged those present to bury their old stuff, to live into new life in the same old body and to be accountable to the whole body of Christ by allowing God to awaken them to understand and give them the desire to live well.
“Once you hear God say, ‘you are mine,’” Armstrong said, “pick up your new life in Christ, do what is right and spread the good news of Jesus Christ.”
‘The call of Jesus is not to power, but to vulnerability’
Aymer focused on verses 1-4, where Jesus tells his disciples who came asking, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” that they would never enter unless they became like children.
She said the story is strategically placed after the transfiguration of Jesus — where three of the disciples were present — and the road to the cross and crucifixion.
“The disciples wanted to claim superiority,” Aymer said, “but Jesus turns the world upside down.”
According to Aymer, Matthew’s gospel, written 10-20 years after Jesus’ death, was intended mainly for Jewish refugees who had come to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. They were vulnerable and under tremendous pressure to be like the society around them.
Like Matthew’s community, the children in the first century of the Christian era were also incredibly vulnerable. Only one in two children survived to their fifth birthday, Aymer noted. And for whatever reason, if the father decided not to raise the child, that child would be forced into slave labor at the age of five.
So now, what does it mean to “do church in this passage,” Aymer asked.
The conversation in the room centered on welcoming the most vulnerable, listening to the most vulnerable and becoming like the most vulnerable.
“We are all the vulnerable,” she said. “Become like this child, and Jesus will welcome each of us vulnerable. Like the disciples, we all try to claim our own power. But the call of Jesus is not to power, but to vulnerability.”
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Categories: Faith & Worship
Tags: baptism, matthew 18, Montreat Conference Center, presbyterian association of musicians, rev. cece armstrong, rev. dr. margaret aymer, st. james presbyterian church, worship and music conference
Ministries: Worship, Theology and Worship, Theology, Formation & Evangelism