Advent 2C December 5, 2021, St. John, New Orleans, LA
I was 12 years old and was tall for my age.
I also grew up in the country and my grandparents were farmers.
Therefore, my parents thought it would be a good idea if I signed up to detassel corn in July and early August.
It would be good money,
and it would only tie up four to six weeks of my summer vacation at the most.
It might also be as little as three to four weeks.
Either way they thought it would be a valuable experience for me and expose me to the concept of honest work for an honest $3.75 an hour.
I thought it would be pretty great too, especially at that rate of pay.
What awaited me, however, was a baptism by fire; a series of experiences and challenges I wasn't prepared for.
First of all, the buses left for the fields at 5:00 AM,
before sunrise, so that we could get started in the relative cool of the day at dawn.
The goal was to be out of the fields by 2:00 PM
so as to avoid overtime pay,
as well as triple digit heat indexes.
So, the early mornings were a real killer for a 12 year old.
Secondly, I had never been around people who cursed and swore and smoked a lot.
And anytime you get a bunch of high school and college kids together
away from parents and teachers and other supervisors with authority,
it seemed as though there was a competition to see who was the crudest and the rudest.
It was quite intimidating for me, even though I was as tall and big as most of them.
Thirdly, I was totally unprepared for the thorough soaking I would get
walking through the dew-Laden cornfields
as well as walking through flooded corn rows
and under center pivot irrigation systems.
To put it plainly, there was a reason the pay was 2 1/2 times the minimum wage:
it was nasty work that no one wanted to do
unless they were rewarded handsomely.
I'm fairly sure I sulked when my dad picked me up at the end of that first day.
And I maybe even cried a little after about 1/2 hour on the job.
I was not prepared for what I had gotten myself into.
But I did go back the next day and the next until the season was over.
But it truly was a baptism by fire.
While, perhaps, none of you can relate to my specific experience as a farm laborer, I'll bet you have had a time or two when you were overwhelmed by your situation.
Do you remember that first driving test you took; And failed?
Or how about the first day on a new job at which everything seemed to go wrong.
Did you ever go on a blind date at which you wished you were deaf?
Or, how about the first night home with your first born child, totally unprepared and afraid you would break him or her?
We call these experiences, “baptisms by fire,” or, “trial by fire,”
because they are very difficult situations which seem to make us very uncomfortable.
Just like a fire, we want to run away from them before we get burned.
However, it also indicates a sort of refining and an experience which actually strengthens you in the process.
And today, as John is baptizing people in the Jordan river,
he prophesied the one who will come after him,
who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
John was baptizing with water all those who wanted to atone for their sins.
It was a symbolic act of worship and rededication.
It had become a popular thing to do, and all types of people came to assuage their guilt.
But this baptism was not a lasting one like Jesus would provide.
And John expresses this as he says, “he who is mightier than I, is coming.”
pointing to Jesus
when the people hoped John was the promised Messiah.
What made Jesus baptism superior to Johns was that God himself, by his Holy Spirit, would be present, and give it its power.
Moreover, this baptism would not just acknowledge sin and our need for repentance, as Johns did,
but it would destroy sin and it's payment, death,
as though they were totally consumed by fire.
John's baptism was for the heart and mind of the penitent.
Jesus’ baptism could save one's very soul.
John's baptism was a sign of repentance.
Jesus’ baptism was a sign of reconciliation.
John's baptism might temporarily ease one's conscience.
Jesus’ baptism delivered hope and salvation for eternity.
By your baptism you have a sure and certain hope of total forgiveness of your sins and eternal life with God.
It is an unbreakable covenant between you and Jesus.
He will never rat you out as the sinner you are as long as you stick with him.
Believe in Jesus and he will proclaim your innocence and holiness to God the Father.
Even if you stray for a while,
upon your return to faith, the promise made to you in baptism will still be valid.
Sometimes the fires we face may put great strain on our faith.
But these stresses are tolerated and make us stronger in our convictions.
Like a blacksmith hardens steel in the forge,
The trials and tribulations we face and through which we faithfully emerge,
Make us stronger to resist the temptations which swirl around us.
By the gifts of the Holy Spirit,
you are more than amply equipped to not only do the good works made for you to do,
but God has promised to resource you in every way to see it to completion.
Your baptism, therefore, not only benefits you,
but all those whom you love, to whom you have been called to serve
as one baptized into Christ and his body, the church.
when John talks about the other fire Christ will bring when he returns again, knowing our salvation in Christ through baptism brings us comfort.
The fires of judgment for those who do not believe.
They are real and will come on the day of the Father’s choosing.
And, unfortunately, many we know and love will be among those caught in its fury.
Therefore, the church, and we, its members, are tirelessly seeking to extend the love and grace of Jesus to as many people as we can.
We bring them with us to worship.
We invite them into our homes to study God’s word.
We pray for them and intercede on behalf of their needs.
And we give them comfort, care, and compassion, as only Christ and his church can provide.
When we do these things together, the Holy Spirit of God is there with us.
Even when and when as few as two or three are gathered.
And we feel just like the disciples on the road to Emmaus on Easter when they said,
“did our hearts not burn within us while he (Jesus) was with us?”
because serving together in the name and in the presence of Jesus lights a fire within us.
And the more we do together the more we want to keep doing it.
And that's what disciples do; Follow Jesus together, to serve together.
The time is right to experience the fire of the Holy Spirit here at Saint John.
As we come together to follow Jesus and to do his work,
similar to the work John described to those who asked on in his day,
“what then shall we do?”
In each case he basically said, “quit thinking of yourself and focus on others.”
And one of the unique ways the church does this is by sharing the gospel.
There are many poverties that need to be cured in this world with many organizations working to fill them.
Lots of groups feed the poor and house the homeless.
There are groups that care for the infirm and treat the addicted.
But only one entity in the universe will tell someone about Jesus and his love for them
and that is his church.