The Baptism of Jesus
Sunday, January 7, 2017
Genesis 1:1-5, Psalm 29, Acts 19:1-7,
Jesus’ Baptism- and Ours
Imagine the scene in the wilderness as John the Baptist preached repentance. People streamed into the countryside and from Jerusalem to hear what this fiery, ascetic preacher had to say, and to be baptized as a sign of their turning back towards God. It was probably dusty, hot, and crowded, with animals milling about, with people surging forward to catch what John was saying, and to wait their turn to go under the cleansing waters. Then they heard these incredible words, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” What strange and marvelous words! Who could this be? What could it mean to be “baptized with the Holy Spirit?
Then Jesus appears at the Jordan River and presents himself to John for baptism. It might have seemed like the other baptisms before and after, and then, the heavens were torn and the Spirit came upon Jesus in the form of a dove. And as if that weren’t enough, there was the voice from heaven, saying, you are my Son, with you I am well pleased.” Have you wondered why Jesus had to be baptized? After all, he didn’t have anything to repent of! In his baptism, Jesus, in his humanity, identified with us and our need of repentance, and though he was without sin, he went through the rite in solidarity with us, and as a sign of humility and obedience to God. In his baptism, Jesus received confirmation of his call as the Messiah, the Anointed, the one who came to speak peace and life and hope and love to a world so greatly in need of grace. And our readings today are full of rich imagery from the Hebrew Scriptures about water and the Spirit of God moving over the face of the deep in creation, and of the presence and voice of God coming out of the cloud. It is interesting that the Spirit descends on Jesus in the form of a dove, which might have reminded the gospel writer’s audience of the dove that was sent out from the Ark after the great flood, and heralded the return of the dry land. In Jesus’ baptism, God acts in history to confirm Jesus’ call as the anointed one, the Christ who will save his people from their sins and give them the promised gift of the Holy Spirit.
So what about us? What does our own baptism mean? Do you remember your baptism? Many of us probably don’t, whether we squalled in protest as the water splashed on our heads, or we slept peacefully in a parent’s arms. I was a teenager when I was baptized, and I still remember what I wore, what the weather was like, and what the choir sang. I even remember what we ate at the coffee hour afterwards! I’ll remember that day with joy forever. But whether or not you remember it, your baptism was an occasion of great grace. The catechism of the Book of Common Prayer states that “the inward and spiritual grace in baptism is union with Christ in his death and resurrection, birth into God’s family, the Church, forgiveness of sins and new life in the Holy Spirit.” In this sacrament, we are made part of the family of God, in a bond that nothing can break. In this sacrament, we are cleansed and made whole and new. In this sacrament, God says to each and every one of us, you are my beloved child, with whom I am well pleased. That is your birthright as a Christian person. In your baptism your status as God’s beloved; a person of inherent worth, is sealed and confirmed forever. And in your baptism, you are called to share with Christ in his ministry of compassion, transformation, healing, and justice.
In our baptism, we also partake of Christ’s death and rising to new life. When we go under the waters we experience death to the old life in which our own ego and limited perspective reigned supreme, and then we rise to a glorious new life in which God lives in us, at our center, and teaches us to see the world with the eyes of Jesus. In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? He goes on to say “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” In our baptism, we follow where Christ has led the way, and mysteriously share in his passion, death, and resurrection. Our baptism is a sign of our humbly walking the pilgrim way of transformation, of dying to the old, limiting way of life that is centered on oneself, and learning to embrace a life of gratitude, service, and tender-hearted love for others. In our baptism, we indeed submit ourselves joyfully to following the way of the Cross, the way of humility, mercy, and grace. And in our baptism, we will share in Christ’s suffering again and again as our hearts are broken with love and compassion for the world.
Our baptism is not only a sign of God’s commitment to us, to cleanse us, forgive us, and make us his own, but of our commitment to follow Jesus in humility and joy. Being baptized is actually a really countercultural act, if you think about it. In our vows we promise to renounce Satan and his empty promises, and to trust Jesus Christ and his grace and love alone. We commit to being part of a community that breaks bread together, respects the dignity of every human being, and has a special mission and ministry with those who are on the margins. This often puts us in conflict with the norms of a culture that puts material wealth, possessions, power, and influence over human need. Witnessing to love and humility in a world of arrogance and indifference is what we are called to do as baptized Christians.
Finally, did you know that your baptism is your ordination as a minister in the Church? I’ll say that again. Your baptism is your ordination as a minister in the Church! You may think that the ministers in the church are the clergy, like Leonard and I, who have been to seminary and ordained to the priesthood by a bishop. But who are the ministers in Christ’s church? They are all the baptized people of God, lay and ordained, who serve the world in Jesus’ name. Did you know that you, and you, and you, all of you are ministers in the priesthood of all believers, the body of Christ? Your baptism sanctifies and empowers you to take your place in the body of Christ and share your God-given gifts with your brothers and sisters in the faith and in the wider world! Some people think that the really important “spiritual work of the church should be done by the clergy, with the lay people serving in subordinate roles. I know I speak for both of us when I say that we don’t believe that here at HCSM, and we encourage and affirm your God- given call to serve as spiritual leaders, alongside the clergy. We as your clergy partners in ministry are called to equip you, encourage you, and nurture you from the riches of the sacraments and the tradition as you travel the pilgrim way of service, compassion, and reconciliation. Priests and deacons are not called so much to minister to you as to minister with you and alongside you as we all share the Gospel in the world.
So friends in Christ, boldly live into your baptism, your adoption as beloved daughters and sons of the living God, and share with us in his ministry of reconciliation. Commend the faith that is in you, and don’t be afraid to share your truth with the world. Stand up as compassionate leaders in a world that has lost its way in the mire of fear and hate. In the midst of the clamor of voices that seek to demean and undermine the dignity of people, let your voice ring out in a declaration of the great value of each human soul, precious in the sight of God. Let your baptism into the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ give you the assurance of his triumph over darkness, destruction, and evil, and that nothing in all creation will ever separate us from his love. Amen.