Baptized By Fire
The Rev. Jon Roberts
St. Pauls Episcopal Church
1 As the people were in expectation, and all men questioned in their hearts concerning John, whether perhaps he were the Christ, John answered them all, “I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into his granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
So, with many other exhortations, he preached good news to the people. But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Hero′di-as, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, added this to them all, that he shut up John in prison.
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.”
The Baptism of Christ by Andrea Verrocchio & Leonardo da Vinci, 1470-1475
As God was walking through the wood,
He thought of me and you.
As God created earth, wind and sky,
His love grew and grew.
Come one, come all into my heart
Is His eternal desire.
He called so many and yet just one,
To baptize with water;
To baptize with fire.
God sent His son, Jesus, to save sinners. That’s the message; pure and simple. Observe, He did not send Jesus to baptize us with nativity gifts. He would not rain down on us gold (riches), frankincense or myrrh. There was no promise of wealth and personal health. He came with his desire to save us. Apparently, something more than water would be required. John the Baptist preached the message of repentance using water. Jesus preached the message of salvation using fire. A great number of people left the city to hear John preach on the Jordan and watch countless folk openly repent of their wrong doings and be dunked in those waters. Their hearts and minds were wild and restless. They needed answers. They needed the truth. Who would be bold enough to cry out in the wilderness?
A Priest, a Pentecostal preacher, and a Rabbi, all served as hospital and college chaplains. They would get together each week for coffee and talk shop. One day, someone made the comment that preaching to people isn’t really all that hard. A real challenge would be to preach to a bear. One thing led to another, and they decided to do an experiment. They would all go out into the woods, find a bear, preach to it, and attempt to convert it. Seven days later, they met at the local hospital to report.
Father Flannery, who has his arm in a sling, is on crutches, and has various bandages, goes first. “Well,” he says, “I went into the woods to find me a bear. And when I found him, I began to read to him from the Catechism. Well, that bear wanted nothing to do with me and began to slap me around. So, I quickly grabbed my holy water, sprinkled him and, Holy Mary Mother of God, he became as gentle as a lamb. The bishop is coming out next week to give him first communion and confirmation.”
Reverend Billy Bob spoke next. He was in a wheelchair, with an arm and both legs in casts, and an IV drip. In his best fire and brimstone oratory he claimed, “WELL brothers, you KNOW that we don’t sprinkle! I went out and I FOUND me a bear. And then I began to read to my bear from God’s HOLY WORD! But that bear wanted nothing to do with me. So, I took HOLD of him, and we began to wrestle. We wrestled down one hill, UP another and DOWN another until we came to a creek. So, I quick DUNKED him and BAPTIZED his hairy soul. And just like you said, he became as gentle as a lamb. We spent the rest of the day praising Jesus.”
They both looked down at the rabbi, who was lying in a bed. He was in a body cast, and traction, with IV’s and monitors running in and out of him. He was in bad shape. The rabbi looks up and says, “Looking back on it, Circumcision may not have been the best way to start.”
The reality is, there are more people cut off today from the lifesaving, life-giving benefits of being in a relationship with God. There are so many who are wandering around in the woods, in the wild, chasing after primitive understandings. They squander away the opportunities God gives them by following the moon, the stars and the waters, failing to see that He has made them all. We live in a world that is quite cut off by their own design. The best way to help people realize God, is to tell them about Jesus Christ. It is to have the courage to go into the place in which they live. Go there with a desire to create something good, knowing full well the person may become defensive. They may lunge after you. They may slap you around with their words. Coming to know Christ, is to relate your own life to the messages of repentance and Salvation. No one is perfect and neither are you, and no one can earn being saved. But recognizing your failings, asking for forgiveness, is the process, the first steps to creating something new, and something good.
God knew what you and I were in for before he made us. His desire was for us to turn to Him for help when we cried out. This was all he ever wanted. He wanted for you to make your own decisions; to grow up; to be baptized in the coolness of the womb, where all life begins; to be born into the Church as a believer. From that point on, there would be many times when heat would be applied; so hot it nearly burns you up. Sin results and we fight not to become evil ourselves. This is where God’s Holy Spirit is sent with an olive branch into your soul offering you a safe ground in which to be rescued. You will never be able to help another through the fire, unless you go through it yourself, depending on God’s help. Knowing what Jesus was sent to do, makes our lives not seem so hard after all.
The Cross withstood the greatest fire, as it was used to reach out and connect all of us who have been cut off by our sins. Many of us have been beaten up. God’s love is unfailing. He came to clean us with water; to harvest us with a winnowing fork; to purify us with heat. Looking back, we can see His plan.
As God strolled through the wood,
Thinking of something to do,
He began to think of me and you.
With water and wind and lots of desire,
He knew he had to send his Son
To baptize by fire.