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About nine years ago, we were in the midst of one of those bitterly cold Januarys… not unlike the one we have experienced here!
The snow was falling and the temperature was below zero, but I bundled up that afternoon and went to the local nursing home where I held a monthly worship service.
I really enjoyed this time of worship there. While I rotated with other community pastors for this afternoon time of singing and preaching, I was one of the only pastors who also celebrated communion with these folks. Other denominations were more exclusive about who is welcome at the table. So it was always a joy to walk around the room and share the bread of life and cup of salvation with those dear folk.
On this particular cold day, we shared the same text that we are focusing on this morning. As we heard about how Jesus entered those waters of the Jordan, we remembered our own baptisms.
I carried around the circle a basin of water and invited each one to dip their fingers in and remember that God has loved them and called them each by name.
As I came to one woman, she had fallen asleep, as often happens with that group, and she was gently nudged awake by her neighbor.
Hopefully, you won’t have to nudge your neighbor awake this morning!
I kept working my way around the room and came to another woman who proclaimed with joy, “I was baptized in the Iowa River!”

There was another woman whose name was Grace and all throughout the service, she would interrupt to ask who was going to take her home.
At the end of worship, I had the chance to sit with her and chat and with the bitter cold outside, she kept asking who was going to come and get her and take her home.
She openly began to weep because she had been forgotten and no one was coming to take her home.
I reminded her gently that this was her home now…
this was where she belonged…
But more importantly… I reminded her that she was not alone.
In fact, she was loved.
She was a child of God, blessed by the Lord, and touching those waters a voice from heaven was pouring out upon her, reminding her that she was beloved.

As I listened to Grace’s insistence that she go home, I knew that dementia was speaking loud and clear… but there was something of all of us in her words, too.
Don’t we all want to go home?
Don’t we all want to experience the kind of belonging where we are called beloved?

I said earlier that I really enjoyed worshipping there at Rose Haven in Marengo… but there is another part of me that found those times and moments extraordinarily sad.
Some of the residents were vibrant and full of life, but others were barely functional in mind, body or spirit.
Many had been forgotten by their families.
This was not the highest quality facility in the county… and there were many things that made me pause when I thought about the care that I would desire for my own loved ones.

In that moment of worship, I had a chance to name each and every single one of those residents as beloved…
but I also found wondering how my own community of faith was living out our baptisms…
How did the call of God that poured out in our baptisms invite us to be present in the lives of these people in a different way?

You see, on the one hand, our baptism is an echo of the one Jesus experienced… so we proclaim that each and every single one of us is also called beloved by our God.
You are beloved.
You are beloved.
You are beloved.

But so often, we hear those words falling upon our own heads in our baptism and then we stop listening.
I am a beloved child of God, we hear in our hearts. Period. End of story.

But that is not how Mark tells this story.
No, his version of this tale is urgent and messy.
He starts with John the Baptist at the Jordan River, inviting people to come and be baptized as a sign that they were changing their lives.
Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell reminds us that, “the Jordan river was where people went to wash their dishes and their laundry. It’s where they went to bathe. In other words, the river flowed with [the] filth and muck of human life… this wasn’t water that washed clean, but rather water that acknowledges the muckiness of our communal lives.”
John knew that his baptisms were not the end of the story, but that someone was coming to baptize with the Holy Spirit.
And then Jesus shows up.
This guy from the dump of a town, Nazareth…
A nobody from nowhere…
And yet, the very presence of God in the world.
And as God-with-us, Immanuel, Jesus Christ, waded into those filthy waters of the Jordan River, the very heavens split open.
And in that moment, the ministry of Jesus begins.
The Spirit flows upon him like a dove, names him beloved, and then forces him into the wilderness.

“What are our baptisms for?” Ted Smith asks in his lectionary reflection (Feasting on the Word).
Baptism is not simply something that makes us feel warm and fuzzy inside.
It is also the reminder that God’s power, God’s spirit, God’s life has poured out upon us… the very heavens were torn open and now YOU are sent out, like Jesus, into the wilderness of this life.
Because not only are you beloved… but so is every other child of creation.
No matter where they have come from or what their life has been, they, too, are beloved by God.
Whether they are from a place that is beloved or a place that has been condemned by others, they, too, are beloved by God.
Whether they are surrounded by love or whether they are forgotten and alone, they, too, are beloved by God.
And in our baptisms, the power of heaven itself pours out on us and calls us into the world to act on the behalf of our brothers and sisters.
To create opportunities.
To open doors.
To work for justice.
To call one another to reconciliation and repentance.
To make God’s love real in this world through our worship, through our work, through our play.
It is the call that drove Martin Luther King, Jr. to proclaim the dream that one day the children of slaves and slave holders would be able to sit down and share a meal together.
The dream that children would not be judged by color of their skin or where they were born, but by the content of their character.
That little children of different races and abilities and backgrounds would be able to join hands with one another.
That we can work together, pray together, struggle together, stand up for freedom together.

Our baptism is the foundation of every single thing we do as a church. Because this is not my place of ministry, but ours.
You are a beloved child of God.
The heavens were tore open as you were baptized and the Holy Spirit sends you out into the world to share the life you have found here with others.
On this day, let us shout with joy for the presence of God is in this place, leading us, calling us, shoving us out into world and reminding us with gentle words that every person we meet is a beloved child of God.

Take Me Home.

Today was bitterly cold outside. So cold in fact that they cancelled school. And I cancelled church activities. You just didn’t want to go outside unless you had to. I’m not being a wuss – I’m talking record setting all time lows here – you would get frostbite in 7 minutes in this weather.

I have never been in weather that was quite this cold before. And I didn’t really feel all that prepared for it. At least not footware wise.

The one trip I did make out of doors was to the nursing home for my monthly worship service there. And of course, I wore my cute little ankle boots with the pointed toe and heel…. but with fuzzy warm hot pink socks on underneath. I need a pair of uggs, or at least really warm boots, or something.

I really enjoy worshipping at the nursing home. I almost always share communion with them, and found that I am the only one who brings communion to their community worship. The Catholics have a separate mass, and the other denominations are more exclusive about who is welcome at the table. So, it is a joy to be able to walk around the room and share the bread of heave and the cup of salvation with these dear old folk.

Today, however, I largely used the service from the previous Sunday in church, and so we remembered our baptisms. I had a basin of water and invited them to dip their fingers in and remember that God loves them and has called them each by name. As I came to one woman, she said with joy, “I was baptized in the Iowa River!” Of course, there was the other woman who had fallen asleep and was gently nudged by her neighbor when I showed up with the bowl, but that is pretty typical with this group.

This congregation is largely women – in fact, I think there was only one man in worship today. His name is Bill and he is a beloved old member of my congregation. He was a farmer and milked cows by hand for 60+ years, which has caused his fingers to literally freeze up all curled together from the arthritis. I think about my dad and what he will be like at the age of 97 if he lives that long, and I see much the same type of body. A hard worker whose body has long ago worn out.

There was one woman in particular that I sat with after worship today. Her name is grace and all throughout the service, she asked who was going to take her home. At the end I had a chance to chat and she really wanted to know why she had gone outside in this weather and who was going to come and get her and take her home. I told her gently that this is her home now, this is where she belongs and there are wonderful people who are here to take care of her.

Partly it was her dementia, but partly, don’t we all want someone to take us home? To take us back to that place of comfort and rest and belonging that we know so dear? And aren’t there all of those songs that tell us we are just waiting to be rescued and taken to our eternal home?

We sing a lot of those songs in worship at the nursing home. “I’ll Fly Away.” “In the Garden.” And I think what is hard for even us to understand is that THIS is our home. This is where we are meant to be right now. And we too, have to get used to this place, to find our place here, and figure out how we can be at home among one another.