Baptismal Sermon for Jonathon Roberto
Bellevue SDA Church 12/29/2018
©2018 by Maylan Schurch

(To hear the audio for Jonathon Roberto’s baptism program, click the “play” triangle on the line below. First you’ll hear my introduction of Jonathon, then Shelley presents a “roll call of welcome,” which is followed by Jonathon’s baptism. His mother Shellie presents the children’s story, and sings a song accompanying herself on the guitar. Then comes my sermon. — Pastor Maylan)

Please open your Bibles again to Psalm 23.

If you ever wondered what winter on the Great Plains can be like, where I grew up, let me quote to you part of a news story from yesterday’s online edition of the Aberdeen, South Dakota, American-News. (Aberdeen is where I went to college—it’s 40 miles north of my hometown of Redfield.)

“Much of South Dakota was digging out Friday after a two-day winter storm that was downright nasty. Within a 48-hour period, inches — or in the case of Sisseton, a foot-plus — of snow fell, partnered with wind gusts Thursday that approached 50 mph.

“In Brown County, accidents were few, Emergency Manager Scott Meints said. There were vehicles in the ditch here and there, but no major crashes.

“Still, plenty of people got stuck in Aberdeen Thursday night and Friday morning. Even some main drags proved treacherous, thanks to the wind piling the snow high.

“After a sharp drop in temperature Friday, milder weather returns to the Aberdeen area starting this afternoon.” – Katherine Grandstrand

So what do the kids do now? It depends on what kind of snow has been left from that blizzard. Usually, blizzard snow is not the best for making snowballs or snowmen, because it is nothing but powder. There’s not a lot of moisture to it, and you need moisture to pack a good snowball, or start rolling a snowman.

But if the snow isn’t snowman-quality, you can play Fox and Geese. Has anybody in this room ever played Fox and Geese? Raise your hands if you have.

To prepare for Fox and Geese, you need a large field or yard covered with snow. You tramp out a very large circle, and then you tramp out lines through the middle of that circle like a large outline of a sliced pie. A person is chosen as the Fox, and stands in the very center of the circle, at the pie-slices’ points.

The other people (who are the Geese) go out to other parts of the pie. The Fox chases after the Geese, making sure to stay within the trampled paths in the snow. The Geese run squealingly away, not letting the Fox tag them, but also making sure that they too stay on the paths. (If anybody steps out of the path, that person automatically becomes the Fox.)

If you are to hold your own at Fox and Geese, the skill you must be good at is the pivot. Because if you have been the Fox, and have just managed to tag one of the Geese, that person becomes the Fox, and is likely to turn right around and try to tag you back. This is where you must use the pivot to change direction and scramble away.

The pivot, of course, is used in lots of sports. You’re playing basketball, and suddenly the other team gets the ball and starts rushing in the opposite direction with it. You need to quickly pivot and dash after them. A baseball pitcher up there on the mound needs to be ready to pivot and throw to second base if a runner is trying to steal.

I’m pretty sure that neither Jonathon, nor anybody else in his family who might have helped him choose the Bible verses for today, was thinking of the word “pivot” this week. But in each of the three passages, that’s what’s happening.

And what’s more, as Jonathon and I and the rest of us look forward to this new year, we will need to perform each of the three pivots his verses talk about. So let’s get right to them. They’re very important.

The first one is really interesting, and is something that not everybody catches when they read the familiar Shepherd’s Psalm.

Psalm 23:1 – 3 [NKJV]: The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.

So far, so good. Do you see any real pivoting going on yet? Not really. Sure, there might have to be some pivoting for a sheep to be convinced to not run off somewhere, but to follow the Shepherd to the green pastures and the still waters, and even into the paths of righteousness.

But get ready for what I think is the major, and very important, pivot in this Psalm.

Verse 4: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

Do you see the pivot? David, who wrote this Psalm, is going along talking ABOUT God, describing some of the things God does. But suddenly he pivots, and starts talking directly TO God, calling Him “You.” David could have simply gone on to say, “I will fear no evil; for God is with me; His rod and His staff, they comfort me.”

But he doesn’t. He switches to “You.” Why does he do this at this point? The Bible doesn’t say. But from this point on in this Psalm, David talks about God not as “He,” but as “You.”

It’s interesting to notice what is going on in this Psalm. In the first three verses, David talks about God doing pleasant things, nourishing things. But all of a sudden, in verse four, David talks about walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Suddenly we see some real danger.

Jonathon doesn’t seem to me to be somebody who can be scared easily. He walks through life with a steady gaze, and he has a deliberate and thoughtful way of dealing with people. But I’m sure, when he was really little and just learning to walk, there must’ve been a time when he and his mom were in a store, and maybe Jonathon decided to go exploring. He heads down to the end of the grocery aisle, makes a right, then makes another right. And suddenly he looks around. Where’s mom? Mom is nowhere in sight!

So what does little toddler Jonathan do? Does he stand thoughtfully, musing about Mom in the third person, something like this: “Well, that’s interesting. I don’t see Mom anywhere nearby. I wonder where she can be? I’m sure she can’t be too far away. I guess maybe I’ll just stand here and see if she shows up.”?

No, if Jonathan is like any other toddler I’ve seen in any other grocery store, Jonathan immediately begins addressing Mom directly. “Mom! Mama! Mommy!”

I don’t know if this was why David switched from the grammatical third person to the second person – from “Him” to “You”, but I know that is what little two-year-olds do when they get scared. Maybe as David was writing the verse about coming near the valley of the shadow of death, maybe he instinctively wanted God closer.

So that’s the pivot I found here in Psalm 23. In fact, if you’re taking sermon notes, here comes what you could call Sermon Point One.

Don’t just talk ABOUT God—pivot and talk TO Him.

Talking ABOUT God is very important, of course. Jesus told His disciples, “You are My witnesses.” In other words, He was saying, “People will learn about My Father and Me as they watch and listen to you.”

But, as most of you in this room already know, we need to be ready to slip easily into prayer. I’ve gotten into the habit of saying a quick thank you to God when good things happen – after I’ve eaten a good meal, after I’ve dodged a potential traffic accident, after I’ve caught myself before slipping and falling.

Earlier this week Shelley was searching for something in our house. We’d been searching for that item for several minutes. Suddenly she paused to pray out loud about it, and within literally three seconds, she spotted that item. And then she immediately said thank you to God.

I think a good New Year’s resolution for Jonathon and his family, and for the rest of us, is to not stop talking about God, but spend more time talking TO Him, about anything and everything. Dan and Shellie Roberto love to hear their children’s voices, and God does too.

Now let’s move to the second verse Jonathon and his family chose for his baptism. It’s the Bible’s most famous verse – John 3:16.

But as we read it now, let’s watch for the pivot. This time the pivot talks about Jesus Himself.

John 3:16: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

So where’s the pivot here? Well, if you suddenly start believing in Jesus if you hadn’t before, that’s a pivot. But I think it goes even deeper than that.

If you read verses that came before this one here in John three, the pivot seems more dramatic. In fact, let me give you Sermon Point Two and then we’ll talk about it.

What’s the second pivot we’ve discovered?

Don’t just talk ABOUT God—pivot and talk TO Him. And don’t just STUDY about Jesus—pivot and BELIEVE in Him.

So this second pivot takes the first pivot a step further. You see, Jesus isn’t just speaking John 3:16 into the night air. He’s speaking them into the ear of a highly respected Pharisee.

And this Pharisee, whose name is Nicodemus, along with all the other Pharisees, have certainly been studying Jesus carefully. They’ve followed Him around from place to place, they’ve watched His miracles, they’ve listened to His parables, and they have wrestled with the idea that maybe this Nazareth woodworker could be a whole lot more than human. Was He the Messiah? Had God sent Him? They had probably spent hours and hours hashing this over.

But Nicodemus seems to have been the only one who decided to pivot away from those earnest little discussion-circles, pivot away and start walking toward Jesus and a possible belief in Him. Nicodemus knew that coming to talk to Jesus wasn’t a popular thing to do, so he came at night. But he knew he needed not only to talk to this Teacher – he needed to explore the possibility of believing in Him.

So Jesus first tells him that he (Nicodemus) needs to be born again. Nicodemus sputters a bit, and tries to start a rabbinic argument, but Jesus keeps pressing the point – Nicodemus needs to be born again. And that’s when the Savior coins the Bible’s most famous verse:

Verse 16: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

In fact, talking about the word “pivot,” Jesus actually sometimes used a word which means pretty much the same thing. In Matthew 18, when His disciples asked Him who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus called a little child over to Him and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”

That word “converted” is the Greek word strepho, and it literally means to turn around. When the Bible talks about conversion, it means an about-face, a pivot.

And as Jesus has that nighttime conversation with Nicodemus, He is telling this Pharisee that he needs to go far beyond just discussing Jesus and studying about Him, but he needs to turn directly toward the Savior Himself, and believe in Him.
And Nicodemus eventually did come to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. After Jesus’ death, when most of the other disciples were shrinking disconsolately away into the darkness, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea calmly took charge of Jesus’ body and placed it in Joseph’s own tomb.

Nicodemus had evidently developed such a solid belief in Jesus that the Savior’s death didn’t cause him to run back to the safety of the Sanhedrin, but it instead kept him true to the Savior even at this dreadful time.

When I was in my mid teens, my sisters had become friends with a girl named Margaret, who lived on a farm about 15 miles east of our hometown. Margaret had a brother named Joe, and Joe had built a small two-passenger airplane from a kit.

Joe flew that plane all over the prairies in the area, and one day we were all invited out to that farm so that Joe could give us a ride in his plane.

I didn’t quite know what to think about that. On the one hand, I had never been up in any kind of airplane before, and I wanted to see what the prairie looked like from high above. On the other hand, that plane looked so flimsy – I think it was made of a fabric that had been coated with something – that I didn’t want to fall out of the sky.

So when Joe told me I was next, if I wanted to come, I ran some things through my mind. Joe was a Christian – he didn’t drink. Joe knew his plane well. He had built it himself, and knew it better than anyone else did. And Joe was a nice guy, and knew better than to be reckless when carerying a passenger.

So I pivoted away from my doubts and fears, and gingerly climbed into that little plane with him. I don’t even remember that we had seatbelts or anything like that. He took me up, this new believer in him, and we had a great time.

And that’s what we need to do with Jesus. We need to step out in faith and simply believe Him.

And this guides us naturally into the third “pivot” in the verses Jonathon and his family chose. Because as we believe in Jesus, He provides us with some powerful, faith-building help so that we can pivot away from our previous life and march toward the new life He offers us.

Let’s start a few verses ahead of Jonathan’s verses.

Galatians 5:19 – 21: Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

And that, of course, can be pretty worrying. The more courage we summon up to look into our own hearts, the more we see the seeds of what we’ve just read about. We see the seeds, and maybe even have done some of the deeds. And so, when somebody wants to turn to the Savior, the understanding is that all of those evil things need to stop.

But notice something really interesting. Verse 19 calls these evil practices “works” of the flesh. And it might seem natural to think that it is now our Christian duty to work hard to fight against these tendencies within us.

But watch what happens.

Verses 22 – 23: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control . . . .

Do you see the pivot? We’ve gone from talking about the “works” of the flesh to the “fruit” of the Spirit. It’s not the “works” of the Spirit, but the natural growth that a fruit tree or a stalk of grain goes through as it matures.

And notice something else that’s important. The “works” of the flesh are evil-selfish deeds, or acts – such as adultery, idolatry, sorcery, outbursts of wrath. These are things we do.

But the fruit of the Spirit is not deeds but attitudes. Love is an attitude. And of course out of that attitude comes many wonderful deeds. Joy is an attitude, and it produces good deeds. So do kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

These are attitudes. And when you have the right attitude – an attitude that happens when the Holy Spirit is within you – your deeds pretty much take care of themselves.

So what is the third pivot?

Don’t just talk ABOUT God—pivot and talk TO Him. And don’t just STUDY about Jesus—pivot and BELIEVE in Him. And don’t just grit your teeth and try harder to be good—pivot and allow the Holy Spirit to change your attitudes.

This works even on a human, non-spiritual level. If you are a faithful Seahawks fan, you probably listen to the post-game interviews. If you do, you hear coach Pete Carroll and quarterback Russell Wilson preaching “attitude.” And you can probably repeat right along with them what they’re saying – we’re just taking one game at a time, we are not going to give up hope even if we are down several points, and you know the rest. Other players in their own interviews say the same thing.

And if those attitudes did not work so well, they might sound a bit corny coming out of the mouths of those big football players. But those attitudes work. And game after game, especially the most recent one, they translate into deeds that win victories.

So what do I need to do now that I know that the Holy Spirit is willing and able to change my attitudes? Well, I need to ask Him to do this. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to His followers, and we need to ask Jesus to fulfill that promise in us.
Because Jesus is our friend. He wants us to succeed. He wants us to pivot away from anything that would turn us back toward the selfishness that develops into sin, and pray for His help. Would you like to commit to making this a firm New Year’s resolution?