First Reading Isaiah 43:1-7
Psalm Psalm 29
Second Reading Acts 8:14-17
Gospel Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior. In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
We are continuing our journey through Epiphany, paying attention to and recognizing the manifestations of God’s divinity among us. Today we hear and remember the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are also called to consider our own baptism. Though from one source, different denominations practice many baptism traditions. As Anglicans we typically pour water over the candidate. Some adhere to the original Greek word that means to immerse. Others, perhaps the most zealous, interpret this to mean “put them under til they bubble.”
A group of clergy were attending a conference in Scotland. Several of them set off to explore the area. They came to a rickety, old bridge, and not seeing the sign that it was unsafe, they began to cross. The bridgekeeper came running toward them waving his arms to protest. “It’s alright,” declared one of the priests, “we are Episcopalians in town for the conference.” “I’m no carin’ aboot that,” declared the bridgekeeper, “but if ye dinna get off the bridge, you’ll all be Baptists!”
No matter the ritual, we understand baptism as the sacrament of full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s body, the Church. It is an indissoluble bond, no matter how much or how little water is used.
As we hear about Jesus’ baptism, one question comes to mind. Why would Jesus, eternally begotten, without sin, the Son of God, need to be baptized? The tedious texts of Jesus’ genealogy could be a clue. Jesus comes from a line of real people, not all of them holy. In the Incarnation, Jesus is born from and into a world of systematic sin that is imperfect and full of flaws. Jesus stands in kinship with all of humanity, and baptism suggests Jesus understands the full implications of our condition. Jesus identifies with all the sin-sick souls longing for God, needing God, reaching out to God, as God is simultaneously reaching out to us.
Another clue might be Jesus’ posture of prayer after baptism. Throughout the gospel, Jesus is constantly praying, in ceaseless communication with the Father, and obedient to God’s will. Perhaps this is our example of holiness. Jesus Christ, fully human, fully alive, engaged and participating in the world, while constantly connected to God.
Or perhaps the Baptism of our Lord is for our benefit. Perhaps it was witnessed and recorded in the gospel as an epiphany. In Jesus’ baptism, we see the Triune God fully present in Jesus, the descending Holy Spirit, and the affirming voice of the Father, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Jesus’ baptism is a prophetic anointing. John the Baptist’s ministry is coming to a close, and Luke gently removes him from the scene. God takes the lead role in the baptism of Jesus. God declares his love for Jesus before his ministry begins, thus God loves Jesus for who he is, not what he has done. And it is because Jesus is loved and beloved that he is obedient, and will follow the will of the Father. Brothers and sisters, this is the example for each of us. God loved us first, and in baptism we respond to God’s love with the rest of our lives.
I imagine the objections. “But, I am not Jesus!” Of course we are not, but in baptism we are initiated into the Body of Christ, and become the outward and visible signs of Christ in the world. We are living sacraments, called to share the epiphany of God among us in the world. Through Christ, we are also beloved. God loves us and is pleased with us. We are created by God to reveal God’s glory, which is why he chooses to redeem us ... not because we are good or worthy, but because he graciously, abundantly, and inexplicably loves us.
If we ever doubt our ability or authority to proclaim Christ to the world, we need only remember this. Jesus was not a priest in the religious systems of the day. Jesus did not go to seminary or wear a collar. Jesus was ordained in baptism to do God’s will, just as we are. Bishop Wright notes that his ordination certificate is a big, obnoxious, poster size document, suitable for framing and hanging on a wall. I also have a big, obnoxious, poster size ordination certificate. All we receive from our baptism is a small, note card sized piece of paper, usually tucked away in a file or with other keepsakes. This is backwards. The baptismal certif
icate should be the biggest, most declarative sign of our belonging and call. The baptized are the largest order of ministry in the Church, and it is within the ranks of the baptized where God’s’ will and work are done. The call of baptism is all we need for leadership and service, work and witness, care and compassion, invitation and inclusion, and light, life, and love.
By Jesus’ baptism and our own, God is present in the world. It is not just the establishment or fulfillment of a sacramental rite, but the first step toward the cross, so that after a life fully lived, in victory over death, we along with Jesus can proclaim, "It is finished." And we long to hear God’s response on that day, “My Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
Our response to the incarnate expressions of God is the very basis of discipleship as followers of Christ. We will not be perfect, but might strive for perfection in our response ... “Here I am, servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word!” God is pleased with humanity that strives to please God. Not the perfection of humanity, but humanity that recognizes our creator, longs to be reconciled, and journeys in the knowledge and love of God and one another.
Thomas Merton offers a prayer appropriate for both our imperfect humanity and our beloved-ness. Beloved, let us pray ...
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone.