How do you eat your donuts?
Do you dunk them or do you like eating them “as is?” And what do you like to have with your donut – milk, coffee, or something completely different? Me, I’m an “as is” kind of guy. I like to experience my donuts without other flavors impacting the “donut experience.” I know some people like to dunk them, but I can’t bring myself to do that. I like to think of myself as a donut purist and even though I love milk, I wouldn’t want to blend the tastes together. It’s the same reason I eat cereal the way I do. I’m on a timer as soon as the milk hits the bowl. It just makes me cringe to think about eating soggy cereal and I feel the same way about donuts. Who wants a soggy donut? It would be like putting sugar on grits, butter on rice, ketchup on eggs! Wait, I do that. The point is we each have our own way of doing things that WE think is RIGHT and we can’t IMAGINE doing it differently. But are we correct? The funny thing is we have controversies like this in the church, too. Different denominations and even different churches have different ways of observing certain rituals that are central to what we believe. Baptism is like that. The people of God have very different viewpoints on what constitutes a “proper” baptism. To dunk or not to dunk? That is the question. And the attempt to answer it has driven right thinking people in different directions. How you dunk your donut doesn’t seem to upset anybody, but for some reason, how you dunk people does.
There are basically four methods of baptism – aspersion, affusion, immersion, and submersion.
Say it with me. Aspersion, affusion, immersion, submersion. It’s a tongue twister. Sounds like that Gene Kelly song from Singing in the Rain. “Moses supposes his toes-es are roses, but Moses supposes erroneously.” Anyway, aspersion is a fancy way of saying sprinkling with water, that’s what we do most commonly. You take a palm full of water and just run it gently over the person’s head. Affusion is the pouring of water over the head, usually from a jug or pitcher of water with a bowl underneath to catch it as it drips off. The advantage of these two types is you can still dress up. Immersion is literally standing or kneeling in a body of water and using a jug or bowl or something where you can scoop up a lot of water, and having it poured on top of you. Sort of like a Gatorade soak at the end of a football game. And then there is complete immersion or submersion, which is the mother of ALL baptisms. It’s the one we most commonly think of when we think of someone being “dunked.” In the United Methodist Church, ALL of these are acceptable forms of baptism, but not every church sees it that way.
In fact, some are very rigid in their beliefs.
I had a friend named Susan who belonged to the International Church of Christ. I remember talking to her one day after I had moved to Atlanta. We had lost touch for a couple of years and I decided to reconnect with her, see how she was doing, and she told me about this church she joined. It seemed strange right from the beginning. She was telling me about this intense discipleship training they had to go through before they were allowed to be baptized. ALLOWED! They had very strict ideas about baptism and the saddest one to me was that she believed only those baptized in this particular way were going to be saved. It literally made me sad. Incidentally, only her church baptized people in this particular way – which she never gave me the details. She said there was only one true baptism and if you didn’t take part in it, you couldn’t be saved. I wish I had known then what I know now. If you would turn to Luke 23:33 we will begin our reading for today. This was the passage I wish I had read to her. Luke 23:33-43. Because this one passage would shatter that belief in a second. This one passage shows all you need to receive salvation in Christ. This is the reading from Luke of the crucifixion of Christ. We begin the reading with Christ at the top of Golgotha along with the two criminals and this part of Scripture describes what happens next. But pay attention not only to what happens but to what DOESN’T happen.
33When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. 35The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.” 36The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” 38There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
39One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
40But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
42Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
43Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Nowhere in the Bible does it say you HAVE to be dunked.
Nowhere in the Bible does it say you HAVE to be dunked. I’ve looked and I’ve looked, and it just doesn’t say that anywhere. People will argue, “That’s how Jesus did it.” But if you read the Bible, it doesn’t say anything about HOW Jesus got baptized, just that he did. Jesus himself never says anything about it either except that we should do it, too. Dunkers will argue that the word “baptism” itself MEANS to “dip” or “immerse,” but they downplay that it also means to “wash” or to have your hands poured over with water. So even though “baptism” does mean to “dip” or “immerse” it also has meaning to “wash” or to “pour water over.” Dunkers even ignore the historical and archaeological evidence that even in the early church people often had water poured over them instead of being dunked. The only requirement for faith, the only necessary to receive salvation as we see in our reading this morning is belief in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Everything else is humanity adding rules.
The people watching ridiculed and mocked Jesus.
Even the one of the criminals, as he is hanging there in pain insulted him and shouts at him “Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal scolds the first one and admits to his crimes and proclaims that Jesus has done nothing wrong. And then he says to Jesus, “…remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus says these words, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” Today you will be with me in paradise. The man repented, moments before his death, with a sincere and honest heart, and Jesus forgave him. It’s as simple as that. And that thief? He never got baptized. He never got baptized. His sins were never washed away in some river somewhere. He never went underwater. There isn’t some hidden gospel account that shows the thief being taken down to receive the ritual cleansing. Instead, with a love of God and repentance in his heart, the criminal asks for forgiveness and Christ forgives.
But that doesn’t mean baptism isn’t important.
In fact, for anyone who knows the love of Christ, it is essential. Jesus himself commanded us to baptize all nations in his name. And if salvation is based on our faith in Christ, what does it say about our faith if we refuse to be baptized? As one of only two sacraments in our faith, we believe that baptism like communion is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. We participate in baptism to acknowledge our faith in Christ and we do it in the community of believers because baptism is about joining the family of God; becoming a true child of Christ. There are no secret baptisms. And in the Methodist tradition, we accept the baptisms of any Christ-centered church. I know in some traditions, it’s customary to be “rebaptized.” When you change denominations, some churches want you to do it again. But that treats baptism on the same level as a do-over in kickball or flipping the reset button on your video game. When I was younger, we had an Atari. Back then there were no numbers. No 2600. No 5200. Just Atari. Nintendo wasn’t even a blip on the radar screen. My mom and I would spend hours playing Air-Sea Battle together. And the coolest thing about the Atari was the reset button. If I didn’t like the results, just flip the switch and POOF I would get to start the game over again. The concept of rebaptism is sort of like that. It’s a do-over because the first one didn’t count. And I can completely understand why some people would want to do that, to hit the restart button.
I had a friend who asked our pastor to be rebaptized.
She had been baptized as a child and at the time it didn’t have the meaning it did for her now. She had been away from the church for a long while and when she came back, she really felt that her life had been transformed. She wasn’t the same person she was before and she felt like she needed to rededicate her life to God. And our pastor told her that we didn’t do rebaptisms and the reason she gave has always stuck with me. She told her, “We believe God got it right the first time.” We believe God got it right the first time. That’s why we don’t rebaptize people from other denominations or rebaptize adults who left and came back. Because baptism, isn’t like a video game where you start over if you don’t get it right. Baptism is a covenant between you and God. And just like your parents will always be your parents, once you become a child of God, you are ALWAYS a child of God and God loves you whether you love him back or not.
We make up a lot of rules in the church.
A lot of rules that aren’t necessary or Biblical, but humankind likes having rules. We like rules not just because it adds structure and order to our lives, but because we can more easily determine who’s in and who’s out. But maybe, if we focus instead not on the minutiae of church, but instead on the overall goals of the church – to bring other to faith in Christ – we could BE the church Christ wants us to be. Baptism IS important, but not because of some sort of legal requirement to become adopted into the family of God, but because it is a milestone in our faith journey. It is a commitment to a life in the care of Jesus Christ. And an opportunity to share our faith with those we know and love. Whether we are baptized by sprinkling, pouring, or dunking doesn’t matter to God. What matters are your faith and your heart. That’s always been enough for him. Now I need to go and eat a donut. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.