A few years ago I watched season 14 of The Biggest Loser. If you are not familiar with The Biggest Loser it is a television show in which a bunch of very, very, overweight people are taken to a ranch that has all their housing, food, and fitness needs and each week, someone goes home, usually the one who has lost the least weight, or someone voted off from the team that lost the least weight.
And at the end someone who ends up losing a lot of weight is the last person left and is crowned the biggest loser.
Season 14’s winner Jeremy Brett weighed in at 389 pounds and when he was weighed in at the final weigh in several months later he weighed in a 190 pounds. An incredible 199 pound weight loss.
Believe me, it is a powerful emotional experience to see people who are changed dramatically because of their weight loss. And it is also maybe no surprise to many of us that heavy weight gain is often associated with emotional stress. Sometimes the people on the TV show, told their stories of being different, or being people who have been picked on; or sometimes their story was that of hard times and struggles; and they eat as a way to cope with the emotional pain of life.
I was thinking about this show in particular one time when the lectionary reading about Jesus’ baptism appeared and what Jesus’ baptism meant.
Most of us, when we see a baptism, we see a cute little baby, dressed up in white and all the family and friends come, and church attendance swells a little bit.
The minister walks the baby up and down the aisle, says a bunch of nice words and then sprinkles water on the baby…
And it is cute and the family takes a bunch of nice pictures.
And even though the minister talks about the various meanings of baptism, I sometimes do not think we get it.
The whole moment is just too cute. Because…
Because… one of the meanings of baptism is that we are baptized into Christ’s death. We are buried with him and we rise with him, which is to say that we are initiated into the same ministry of Jesus: The ministry of giving our lives for others; The ministry of doing hard, dangerous and sometimes impossible thing; Fighting for justice; Forgiving ignorant people who we don’t want to forgive; Making peace with our enemies; Reaching out to the untouchables, or the losers, or the dirty, or the sinners, or whoever we think is unworthy; Changing our mind set to be inclusive and loving of all people… I could go on and on about the ministry of Christ.
And believe me sometimes it is dangerous. When you love everyone, it means that you will love people that others do not love, and they may try to get you for it. May I remind you that John the Baptist loses his head for calling people to change their ways. And Jesus himself knows what his ministry will cost him. It will cost him his life.
And so being baptized is not all cute and cuddly warm and fuzzy. It is sometimes about entering the battlefield against evil and hate and prejudice and injustice and intolerance, and pettiness and gossip. And sometimes it ain’t easy.
Well when they started the 14th season of the biggest loser, they picked 15 people to go the farm. And these people were happy and crying, and telling their stories of pain, and so looking forward to changing their lives. And then they got to ranch and they started their first big workout and it was a baptism of fire. Some of them didn’t know what had hit them. The workouts were extremely demanding, the trainers were yelling at them. The trainer Jillian was back on the show and she was literally screaming at people. And several of the contestants literally keeled over. Some needed oxygen and some were vomiting. It was a mad house. And I am sitting there watching, thinking at first. “Oh my God, that Jillian is abusive.”
But upon reflection what she was trying to do by screaming at them was get them so mad and angry at her, that they would fight back. Because the reason that they had the weight problem is that they wouldn’t fight for themselves. They wouldn’t stand up for themselves and their health. And she was screaming. Screaming at them: “Make the choice. Make the choice. Make the choice to do the workout or get out of here.” That is what they were baptized with….
And sometimes, I wonder if we have lost that side of baptism in church. The side that says following Jesus is hard. It is to take up a cross. It is to enter the battle against evil and hate etc. It is to make a choice to keep going in the struggle even when you want to give up. It is to make a choice to love even when the other is hate. It is to make a choice to love even when the other is violent. It is to make a choice to love even when the other is prejudiced. It is to make a choice to care because only in caring may someone else be changed. But who knows what crap will be dumped on you. Jillian is screaming. “Make the choice.” Make the choice to fight and do what is right and good and true and loving.
That is the side I think we sometimes lose in our Christian ministry, in our church, in our lives, in our baptism. That dogged determination to fight for Christ and for love, come what may, even if it is a cross, or our own death.
So where do we get the energy to do this and to keep going? From God. When Jesus was baptized, in Luke’s gospel it says. “You are my son. With you I am well pleased.” And God’s very presence, the Spirit of God descended upon him. The touch of God… The blessing of God…
And while I have talked about our dogged determination to follow Jesus and make a choice to be his disciple, I want to remind you that baptism is primarily not about our choice, but the fact that we are chosen. Baptism says that God touches you with love. That God puts his hand upon you with blessing. That God cares for you and loves you and treasures you. That God makes you his child. Today Jesus reaches out his hand to bless you… To touch you with love… To baptize or immerse you in love…
And then Jesus invites you to respond by loving everyone, so that you will reach out your hand to bless someone, so that will be one less loser in the world. Amen.
The Rev. Harry Currie
First Presbyterian Church, Edmonton