Baptism of Our Lord
January 12, 2014
Matthew 3: 13-17
“What? Me baptize you? I should be coming to you?” John’s reaction to Jesus request to be baptized is pretty close to the question people have been asking for centuries. If Jesus is the Son of God; if he is the Messiah, isn’t he already free of sin, included in God’s family, all those things that we’ve said baptism is good for? Already?
Well, yes, he is all those things, but he wanted to do it anyway. “Let’s just do it, because it’s the way things are supposed to work for people.”
There have been so many understandings over the ages of how baptism works, and those difference in theological understanding provide some of the major divides between Christian denominations. In the earliest days of the church, you were dismissed from the assembly before communion, spent at least two years in formation and were baptized with great ceremony on Easter Eve at the Vigil so you could be included in the full life of the church. During the Middle Ages, baptism was understood as cleansing from sin, and that when you emerged from the waters of baptism you were sinless. That led many kings and princes to postpone their baptism to their very last breath so that they could arrive on God’s doorstep perfect and ready for glory. When my daughters were baptized, it was a private ceremony, done after church with only those few people we’d invited to be present.
Now we understand that in baptism as we are adopted into God’s family, our church community is the representative of the larger family of God throughout the world and throughout time. Now we anoint you with oil, marking you forever as Christ’s own. Things have changed a bit in our understanding and practice of baptizing. But some things haven’t changed at all.
Baptism is a mark of a passage. The ritual washing moves you from one existence to another. You come to the water, buried alive in human capacity for hatred, cruelty, blindness to other’s pain, greed, craving for things that woo you away from love of God and love for each other. When you are splashed with this water, you step to new life in God’s Spirit, seeing with new eyes the hurt of the world, the darkness of sin and evil, and your heart opens to share in the burdens of others. You have walked from death to life. We say that you have been buried with Christ and risen to again. The amazing thing is that you have done so little. You promised to live as God’s people live in the world, promises that you know you will not be able to keep nearly as well as you intend. God does the rest. God touches your heart, calls you by name, and makes you his own forever. It is God’s power that begins the new life of faith in your heart and God’s love that invites you into the Kingdom of God that we share. God may already have been at work in your heart, like Tom, bringing you to faith, but now you commit yourself to living out of that trust, and trusting in that power to live. It’s all about God’s unbounded, undeserved love, for you and for the world you live in. Now the power of that love is indelibly printed in your heart, power to live the best of your humanity and to be part of bringing that love to everyone.
And so with Jesus. When he comes out of the water, the heaven opens, the Spirit of God descends on him, and the voice from heaven calls him beloved, and says that he is pleasing. Don’t you think he needed this at the beginning of his ministry? His first work will be in the desert, meeting his archenemy Satan, face to face. How important to know, how important to remember that rising, dripping wet, out of the water, seeing God’s Spirit, hearing those words.
And that’s our story too. We won’t see the heavens open this morning, but the story is just the same. You may not remember your baptism because you were an infant, but when you were baptized you became God’s beloved. God’s Spirit came to be with you forever, and as you grew in faith, that Spirit was the one who opened your eyes to what the world looks like to God’s people. You were named as God’s own and claimed for the whole of your life. You were invited into God’s plans to bring justice and mercy to the world, and as you grew, you longed to hear that you are God’s Beloved.
Last week you heard from John’s Gospel how the coming of Jesus made it possible for you to be born as a child of God. I made you say to yourself that you were a child of God, loved and respected, the recipient of grace on grace, and part of God’s plan to change the world. It is in your baptism that this birth took place, and so as you say to your morning face, I am a child of God, you can remind yourself that you are God’s Beloved, sealed with the Spirit. Nothing you can ever do or fail to do can take that away from you. It is God’s gift, it is God’s claim of you, and it is God’s promise to you. Amen.
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.