Baptism: God’s Gift - Acts 8:26-40
Water…is a truly precious gift from God…a gift we sometimes take for granted…many of us using it without thinking…at other times not realizing how important it is until there is none to be had.
Water…the waters of baptism…another gift that we so often take for granted…often not realizing its significance. Beginning today, and for the next four weeks, we will be examining this precious gift from God…the gift brought to us in the waters of baptism. We will consider how it brings the gift of family, the gift of God’s forgiveness, the gift of a new life, and the gift of a new kind of living. Today, though, we will consider simply the fact that it is a gift.
In the video clip it was noted that all water that we have on earth has been here since the moment of creation. It ties into that scientific understanding that matter is neither created nor destroyed…once God has spoken matter into existence, it is there. It may change states, but it continues to exist. Consider the significance of that for a moment…in the great majesty of God’s creation, the water that we used this morning to place upon Anderson’s head was in existence when the Spirit of God swept over the waters of creation.
There is something even greater than matter, even greater than water, that is neither created or destroyed…a gift greater than could be imagined…a gift signified by baptism…it is the gift which makes all the other gifts possible. It is the gift of God’s amazing, indescribable, incomparable, overwhelming grace.
It is the water of baptism that marks the reality of God’s grace in our lives. Baptism is the outward and visible sign that we participate in that gives witness to the reality of how God is already at work on each one of us. John Wesley called this notion of God’s grace working on us before we are even aware of it, prevenient grace. Like the waters of our baptism that preexisted us, so too has God’s grace preexisted us, and even our awareness of it.
We see this so clearly in today’s Scripture reading—the working and moving of God’s grace before those involved know what is happening.
As our reading began this morning, we find Philip is resting, possibly tired from all the witnessing that he had been doing in Samaria, including introducing the reality of God’s presence in life of Simon the magician. As Philip is resting an angel appears before Philip and sends him toward Gaza along a wilderness road. Philip’s ministry to Simon had been God’s way of preparing him for what would happen next—though Philip was unaware God was doing anything. God’s gift of prevenient grace at work.
On this road, Philip encounters a eunuch from Ethiopia. This Eunuch was on his way back home and was a servant of the queen of Ethiopia. Little does this man know that God is preparing him ahead of time for Philip’s arrival, but he sits in chariot reading from the prophet Isaiah…he doesn’t understand completely what he is reading, but he was reading of the prophet’s words describing the one who would be slaughtered like an innocent lamb. We know the whole story, so we know that this reading is simply preparing the eunuch for someone to witness to him. We know this is God’s prevenient grace at work because we know what is coming.
Philip arrives, the eunuch and Philip enter into conversation, and Philip begins witnessing to the eunuch as they travel in the chariot. Then the next act of God’s prevenient grace is revealed for us to see. As they are traveling, they happen upon some water, opening the door for Philip to baptize the eunuch. A third act of God’s grace at work before anyone in the story was even aware of it.
How many of you have ever attended a child’s birthday party? If so, you have witnessed a great illustration of what God’s prevenient grace looks like. At most of these parties, you watch a child sit as they prepare to open an abundance of gifts that have been brought. The child did not do anything to earn those gifts, they were given to him simply due to that fact that it was his birthday party…he didn’t even have anything to do with his being born establishing his birthday. More so, before the child is even aware of the presents he is getting ready to open, others were preparing for the birthday party, purchasing and wrapping the gifts and bringing them to the party.
As they open the gifts, another parallel takes place. Just as the little child does nothing to earn those birthday presents, there is nothing that we can do to earn God’s grace. Absolutely nothing! There is nothing that we can do to make God love us anymore than He already does, and there is nothing that we con do to make God love us less! God has loved us so much that He came to us as His precious Son and offered His own life for ours…what greater love could there ever be and having given His life for ours, what would ever make Him stop loving us? God freely bestows his grace upon us…it is a gift that He offers, simply because we were born.
Just like a child opening all of those presents, we open up that gift at our baptism. Here is where some of us may want to draw a difference…that a child knows what he is doing opening the presents but in our baptism today Anderson was not completely aware of what was happening with him. Some would use this to argue for not baptizing until a person is aware of the significance and choose it for themselves. However, because of our understanding of how God’s grace works, in the United Methodist Church we baptize all ages, regales of whether or not the person understands. It is much like when Anderson celebrated his first birthday. At one year old, he probably did not understand what was going what is going on, but that did not prevent anyone from bringing him presents. Jake and Liz had to help him open some of those presents, but that did not keep him from being given presents.
Today Jake and Liz opened this present up for Anderson, they have acknowledged the gift of God’s grace at work in his life…and like they have helped him use any birthday presents he opened on his birthday, they have taken upon themselves vows before God and this congregation that they will commit their lives to making sure that Anderson makes use of this gift of God’s grace.
We, though, have to understand that that same gift has been given to each of us. If we already understand it, we have to realize that we still have the choice. God has given us this gift of his grace, and just like the child after opening presents at a party will get to choose whether he will use those gifts, whether he will play with those toys, whether he will shop with those gift cards, we are presented with the choice of what we are going to do with the gift of God’s grace that He has placed before us and in the next several weeks, we will examine how those gifts can be used.
If we are realizing today that we have taken this gift of God’s grace for granted, my friends there is hope. Even more so than water, God’s grace can neither be created or destroyed…just as we cannot do anything to earn God’s grace, there is nothing we can do to make God love us more…and just as there is nothing we can do to make God love us less, nothing we can do to destroy God’s grace…it is never too late to use this gift that we have opened. Even more so, if we have left the gift of God’s prevenient grace sitting on the table, if God has presented it to us and we have never opened it through the waters of baptism, it is never too late to open it. God leaves it on the table, wrapped with the red ribbon of his son’s blood, waiting for us to open it.
All of this is God’s gift, freely given, waiting for each of us…are we ready to say, like the Ethiopian eunuch, “Look, here is water, what is to prevent me from being baptized?” And having received those waters, are we ready to open up this amazing gift?In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit! Amen!