Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT)
Other than a one year “student pastorate” McIntosh Baptist was my first “full time” church. McIntosh is a sleepy little incorporated town in Northern Central Florida near Gainesville. They have “hello” and “goodbye” on the same sign…don’t blink or you’ll miss it.
Don’t ask me why, but I never questioned the fact that the baptism pool was not in sight. I guess I assumed you had to go down to the river if you wanted to baptize somebody.
The pool was there…in fact I stood on it while I preached every Sunday. Located just behind the pulpit, in the floor below, it was swimming-pool sized, about 6’ x 12’ and took most of a day to heat the water with a submersible heater. It took four adult men to lift the heavy oak floor covering off that pool, one section at a time. This, I found out, took planning. It was a process; you had to really want to baptize somebody!
When I’d been at the church for a few months we started having a few people make a profession of faith. The Deacon Chairman told me, Let’s wait on baptism until we have a few more. It didn’t take long, and we had 8 to baptize one Sunday morning.
The Chairman encouraged me to baptize in the afternoon apart from the worship service. I objected, eager to include the entire congregation of 35 people in celebrating the new members; I wanted to have the event right at the beginning of worship.
Something I hadn’t counted on (I am easily blind-sided) was the pulpit being moved out so the congregation can see what‘s going on.
When I walked in the Chairman said, well, where you goin’ to stand to preach after you baptize ‘em? I stammered…well…I…guess I’ll…..figure out something.
The baptisms went well…down into the pool from the left…buried with Christ, risen with Christ… up and out on the right. One through eight; just like clockwork!
Then, after number eight, it was time to hurry to the men’s room to shed the wet robe and waders, dry the arms (in the short-sleeved shirt I’d learned to wear for baptism), and rush back to the service as they were finishing the last verse of Shall We Gather at the River, and preach.
Now…where to stand?
To stand off to one side seemed awkward; to stand behind the pool would have been like Joshua standing on the other side of Jordan. The only reasonable spot was in front of the 72-square-foot-hole. Just about two steps separated me from the edge of the preaching platform to the hole, but I was young and agile….sorta.
The sermon was going fine, but I have this habit of moving as I preach….first to the left, then to the right; I like to connect – bring the Scripture to the people; push forward, and lean back. I’m a moving target! At some point I was so inspired to be preaching to all those brand new believers and a house full of their relatives, neighbors; we were on the cusp of a revival in little McIntosh. I forgot that hole was there.
I thought the congregation was really into my sermon….I spoke, they swayed – first towards me, then back the other way. Back and forth; I spoke – they were moving! I was moving, they were moved. Great!
The only problem was (my dear bride told me later) the congregation wasn’t so much into my sermon; it was more that every time I took a step or so back towards that 72 square-foot hole, they were swaying up to see if I’d actually fall-in!
Well, I never did, but neither did anyone remember a single thing I said in that sermon!
Maybe just as well. The “sermon” might have been more about my pride over 8 baptisms in a 35 member church than about God’s kingdom.
For You, Today…
A simple question: Has your pride ever gotten in the way of your service?