Early in my ministry I learned that it is a good idea to plan ahead for all parts of a worship service, not just the sermon. I learned an early lesson when I was the music and youth minister at Woodville Baptist Church in Woodville, Miss.
One Sunday, the pastor planned to conclude the evening worship service with a baptism of a new believer. We Baptists practice full water immersion. In days gone by, baptism was done in a river. Even though the Woodville sanctuary was built in 1809, the year was 1979, and those modern Baptists had installed a full baptistry behind the choir loft, to perform the ceremony in full view of the worshippers. However, the church had not gotten so advanced as to provide the pastor with waders under his robe, so he got wet along with the person being baptized. Thus he usually did the baptism at the end of the service.
On this particular evening, the pastor gave me, the song leader, some special instructions to prepare for the baptism. After the sermon, he said I was to lead the congregation in several more songs while he put on his robe and quietly stood in the baptismal waters, out of sight behind a curtain. Then right before they drew back the drapes and he did the baptism, he instructed (at least I thought this is what he said): “Read the first few verses of Matthew 6 — it’s about baptism.”
All of this went smoothly, and I stood before the congregation and opened my Bible to Matthew 6, announcing, “Before the baptism, Brother Ben asked me to read about baptism from Matthew 6.” Then I looked down to read the passage, but before opening my mouth, my eyes saw that the passage was about giving alms to the poor. I said aloud, “Maybe he meant Mark 6,” and I turned to the Second Gospel. But Mark 6 was about Jesus being rejected in Nazareth. Quickly, I turned to Luke 6, only to discover that it was about Jesus being Lord of the Sabbath. With only one gospel left, I reasoned aloud, “I guess he meant John 6.” But the sixth chapter of John revealed two truths: one, that Jesus fed the 5,000, and two, that I had no idea which one of the 27 books of the New Testament had a sixth chapter that was about baptism, and I didn’t want to wade through 23 more of them to find it.
I stood before the congregation, frozen in time, looking like a deer caught in headlights. Then a familiar voice called to me from behind the curtains and said these wonderfully welcome words: “Romans 6!” After the laughter died down in the congregation, I read these verses: “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4, KJV).
Since then, I have baptized many people after reading Romans 6. But I always read the passage myself.
(Copyright 2012 by Bob Rogers. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Read this column each Friday in the Herald. Read other “Holy Humor” columns by visiting www.fbcrincon.com and clicking on “Pastor’s site.”)