A tree having fallen
A tree having fallen

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

The scientist in me says, “Of course it would.” But this question really isn’t about science. It’s about philosophy and it’s one that has been debated for literally hundreds of years. The question is asking us if reality is dependent on community. What part does community play in our lives? A man by the name of William Fossett answered this question back in 1730. He said, “If a tree falls in a park and there is no-one to hand, it is silent and invisible and nameless. And if we were to vanish, there would be no tree at all; any meaning would vanish along with us.”[1] I like Fossett’s answer because it makes sense. He’s saying that something exists only when there is someone or something around to witness it. Without that witness, it means nothing. You could argue that a person could set up a video camera or a digital recorder instead, but in a way that is a witness. It’s a testimony to the fact that a sound is made. There is proof that something happened. So even if it’s not a human witness, there is still a witness to the event. And that’s what’s important. That life bears witness. It’s why even though eyewitness testimony can at times be unreliable, it is still one of the most powerful deciding factors in determining someone’s guilt or innocence. A survey reported on by Scientific American showed that “jurors tend to give more weight to the testimony of eyewitnesses who report that they are very sure about their identifications even though most studies indicate that highly confident eyewitnesses are generally only slightly more accurate — and sometimes no more so — than those who are less confident.”[2] The fact that someone is willing to put their testimony up on the stand and proclaim “This is what I believe” can be incredibly powerful. Our lives gain credibility when we can bear witness to it. Life has meaning in community. Life has meaning in community.

This is a lesson Jesus taught us many times.

If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone and want to follow along, we’ll be reading this morning from Matthew 3:11-17. Matthew 3:11-17. There are times we read about in the Bible where Christ does something for the sole purpose of having others bear witness to his actions. The Gospel of John tells us the story of how Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the dead, and just as he is about to bring Lazarus back to life, he says aloud, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me. (John 11:41-42).” It wasn’t that Jesus couldn’t have done it privately. In fact, it wasn’t that Jesus couldn’t have saved Lazarus even before he died. But Jesus wanted to show people that what he did was with God’s blessing and he needed to do it in front of the community so that there would be witnesses to God’s glory. Jesus was baptized for the same reason. Haven’t you ever wondered why Jesus was baptized? He was the only person who really was righteous before God, meaning he was the only one who hadn’t sinned. Yet, he came to John to be baptized. That’s the passage we are going to share this morning.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Our wedding day, friends and family bearing witness to our vows together
Our wedding day, friends and family bearing witness to our vows together

This is the only instance in Jesus’ life where all three parts of the Holy Trinity come together.

The clouds part, the Holy Spirit comes down upon him, and God proclaims, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” It is one of the most powerful moments in the Bible because in this instance God is fully present. But Jesus IS God. Jesus is part of the Holy Trinity. He KNOWS that his time on Earth is validated by God, yet he says in verse 15 that he is being baptized “to fulfill all righteousness.” What does this mean for the only person who is righteous, the only person who is without sin? This moment occurred so that WE know that Jesus is righteous. That WE know that John’s ministry is affirmed by God. And that WE bear witness to God’s work in Christ, that he is indeed the Son of God. It’s the same reason people have wedding ceremonies. If all we cared about was getting the legalities out of the way, we could all just go to a justice of the peace and get it done. But many of us don’t. Many of us have an entire ritual and celebration dedicated to this important event. Think about a wedding you’ve been to, maybe your own. Nobody thinks this is the first time that these two people have proclaimed their love for one another. No one thinks that the couple doesn’t already know their true feelings for one another. But this is the moment they have chosen to proclaim to the world that they have decided to live their lives together as one. They’ve gathered an audience to bear witness to their love and to their promises to one another because there is something extremely powerful in public commitment. It’s a willingness to put yourself on the line and to say that you are willing to be held accountable for what you are about to do. It’s what marketers call the rule of commitment. It’s what marketers call the rule of commitment – that once you make a public commitment toward someone or something, you feel more invested than if you had never done that at all.[3] You are far more likely to follow through, to stay loyal, and to stick by your decision than if you don’t. Studies have been done to prove this very thing and in those studies this rule has proven true. We become more confident in our decisions and we elevate the importance of those decisions when we publically commit to them.[4] That’s why we find that eyewitness testimony is so powerful. People are willing to publically put their convictions up for display. That’s why people are fighting for the right to marry one another. Because it IS a big deal to be willing to proclaim your love and have it recognized by the world. And that’s why we do baptism. To proclaim our love for Jesus Christ to the entire world and to have others bear witness to our commitment to God.

Just as a wedding marks the beginning of a new chapter in your life, so does baptism.

Picture in your mind a house and imagine that the house is representative of your journey in developing your faith. Baptism is the door to that journey[5]. Baptism is the door to your journey of faith. Until you walk through it, there’s only so much you’re able to see and experience. You can peek around the outside. You can kind of experience what it’s like to be a homeowner. You can visit the model homes in the neighborhood or if it’s a home someone is selling, you can see what they have it look like, but only when you walk through that door for the first time and claim that home as your own does it begin to take on a different meaning. The same is true with baptism. It’s only when you make that commitment to a life of faith that you really are able to explore the rest of the house. Otherwise you’ll always have one foot on the other side of the door. And as anyone knows, you can only see so much when you’ve got one foot in and one foot out. You’ve got to commit yourself to going inside and seeing it on your own.

Flowering of the Cross at our church today
Flowering of the Cross at our church today

So why are we talking about baptism at Easter?

Because there is no more appropriate time. Easter is a celebration of the risen Christ! It is the day in which Jesus rose from the grave and is the single most important event in the history of the world, because it was the day WE knew that Christ had conquered sin and death. Had Jesus remained dead he might have been seen as a miracle worker. He might have been known as a great teacher or prophet. But when he presented himself to Mary and the men walking to Emmaus, when he showed himself to the disciples, when others were able to bear witness to this thing that Christ and only Christ had done, WE knew that he was truly the Son of the Living God. When he showed Thomas the holes in his body, WE knew that it was the same Jesus who died on the cross. When he ate with the disciples WE knew that he wasn’t some spirit or ghost but Christ incarnate, Christ in the flesh. What Jesus did on that Easter morning was for us! What Jesus did on that Easter morning was for us so that WE could bear witness to the glory of God. So that we would be encouraged that all of what Jesus promised was true. That he did go before us to prepare a place for us in Heaven. That he did sacrifice himself that we might be forgiven. That he did take upon himself the sins of the world and give himself to God that we would have the chance to be righteous before him. Baptism for us is a chance for us to lay down our lives before God and rise anew. To be like Christ and in a way sacrifice our old self to God and to truly begin this journey of faith. Baptism for us is our opportunity to have others bear witness to this transformation in our lives.

Today we will participate in a baptismal remembrance.

We will remind ourselves before God and before these friends and family what it means to rise anew in Christ. We will remember that in our baptism, whether it was as a baby, a child, or as an adult, we were marked by God as his children and our own journey of faith began. And we will accept the mark of the cross with baptismal waters as a reminder that Christ gave himself up so that we could rise again in new life. If you have never been baptized, I want to encourage you to do so. When we invite you to come forward just let me know that you would like to be baptized today and at the end of the baptismal remembrance, I will invite you to come forward to receive the gift of baptism. If you have children you would like to have baptized, also, just let me know as you come forward that you would like to have your child baptized and at the end, I will invite you and your family to come forward that we may baptize your child. The only requirement we have for baptizing children is that at least one of the parents is a member of one of our churches. That’s because it is the responsibility of the congregation to help raise this child in the ways of Christ. It is our responsibility as the Body of Christ to protect and nurture each child until they can confirm on their own that they want to follow the path of Jesus. So as we enter into this time together, do so with a renewed heart, knowing that we are renewed in Christ because he rose on this day. It is because of the resurrection that we too are risen again. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.



[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/If_a_tree_falls_in_a_forest

[2] Source for information on eyewitness testimony http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/do-the-eyes-have-it/

[3] http://psychology.about.com/od/socialinfluence/f/rule-of-commitment.htm

[4] http://www.worldresourcesforum.org/files/file/Gopinath%20%26%20Nyer%20-%20The%20effect%20of%20public%20commitment%20on%20resistance%20to%20persuasion.pdf

[5] http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/baptism

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