Baptism of Our Lord, 1/9/05, Year A

Beginning Again, Again and Again…
Matthew 3: 13-17

  dear Christian lady put in her will the unusual request that she wanted to be buried with a fork in her hand. When word got around, as words always seem to do, one of her friends was appointed to go ask her why. She said, “At many of our church fellowship dinners someone would announce, “Keep your fork in your hand, there's something better coming!” I just want to be ready for the better.”

Most of us would agree that in our lives we have gone through many thresholds when we have had to “Begin Again.” If we truly believe in heaven, then we can even look upon it as a kind of final beginning again; or just maybe there will be opportunities for new beginnings even in the afterlife too.

Even young children face change. Moving can be traumatic. We moved when I was in the fourth grade and I must have become a class cutup as a way of hiding my anxiety about being the new preacher's kid. I was even expelled from Vacation Bible School for acting out. My mother encouraged them to take me back; “He's the one who needs it the most,” she pleaded. My twenty-five year old volunteer teacher, who had spent his vacation teaching kids, welcomed me back with open arms. He befriended me and that made all the difference. I sat and listened, but most of all felt the warmth of grace. Years later I went back to preach in that church and had the opportunity to thank my teacher for helping me through that difficult beginning again.

Haven't we all needed to begin again, often? Is this not a part of everyone's story?

Just two weeks into a New Year today's text deals with an important New Beginning in Jesus' life at his Baptism. For Him this was a major transition from the quiet life of a small town carpenter to a public ministry that would lead to His Cross. His human nature must have felt something of the same emotions that we feel when we face a major new beginning. Indeed, much as the Holy Spirit had reinforced us during life changes, Jesus' was given assurance that he was making the correct decision by the affirmation of the Holy Spirit coming to him in the form of a dove; and his Heavenly Father's voice affirming that, “ This is my Son , the Beloved , with whom I am well pleased .” (v. 17)

I have never heard the audible voice of God, but I have always felt the “still small voice” of the Spirit leading through many new beginnings, opportunities, at the major stages in my life: Ten years of higher education, our marriage, two baby daughters and several moves to new pastoral appointments. In fact, most of us could agree that a major part of our daily devotionals and ongoing prayer life has consisted in seeking God's guidance and help in meeting life's challenges. I feel that I appropriately entitled this sermon: “Beginning Again, Again and Again…” Our challenge is to respond to every day's new challenge with all of our personal ability; but primarily, with the Spirit's Power. We are comforted by today's story from Jesus' baptism because we can feel ourselves being in something of the same scary situation. The Son of God willingly shared in our human predicaments as a way of identifying with us, and as a means of encouraging us in times of fear, transition and new beginnings.

The saddest state of life is to meander around in a comfortable mediocrity without direction or purpose. Yet, many folks have few hopes and dreams. This is the dead end plight of what most folks think retirement should be. Many retirees are given a gold plated watch and have no idea what to do next. Human beings need more of a challenge in every phase of life, including retirement from vocations. Many young retirees in our church are having the time of their life doing things that they did not have time for when they were locked into a day job. Retirement is a new beginning that can be the best phase of life: If it is made to be so.

I admire Jimmy Carter for not simply retiring to his family farm in Plains and just fishing everyday in his little pond. He has done some fishing, as well as pursuing his hobby of making furniture; but, the world has come to love him as the most energetic and favorite ex-President. He has given new life to the “Habitat for Humanity” program as a hammer in hand volunteer. “The Carter Center ” has become a player in the process of guiding emerging democracies into their new liberty. And he has given regular lectures at Emory University .

Bishop Arthur J. Moore penned these immortal words in his autobiography just prior to his death: “God has always been faithful to set before me ever receding horizons.” That's it, there is always more! Bishop Moore was best friends with Pierce Harris at Atlanta First Methodist and Pierce invited Bishop Moore to preach his last sermon as an active bishop from his historic pulpit. Bishop Moore said that he had to retire, but he was not through serving God. As it turned out, retirement freed him up to travel even more all around the world and his influence grew larger. This was his new beginning.

Some folks have lived under the false assumption that all we Christians need is one New Begging, or New Birth. Hopefully, most of us can point back to a time when we made a first commitment to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; but we can also attest to the many subsequent spiritual crescendos along the way of living. Every day, it sometimes seems, is an opportunity for a new beginning, of new ideas learned from new friends or new books. Many of you have shared with me a mutual life of reading. My Marilyn typically has a good book going that she can't put down. Learning new things is one of the most blessed gifts of God. The disciple of Jesus who reads can't help but leap high with new ideas often. I believe that continuing education is a chief means of our receiving a constant flow of God's Grace. Of course, along with Bible study, Sunday School, worship, small group meetings and other things.

There is always something better coming our way as we walk with God. Each stage in life is a “Beginning Again.” Let's keep our forks close at hand!

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor
Baptism of Our Lord, 1/9/05, Year A