The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
The Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ
What does your baptism mean to you? Some can’t remember theirs. You were too young. Mamma carried you to the font kicking and screaming, whether you wanted to be there or not. You had no choice, only a certificate and stories told you by those present about that day to let you know you are baptized. Later you may have confirmed that you accept the promises and commitments made on your behalf. Others remember their baptism well. You waded into a water tank, a river, or walked to a font. You confirmed your faith and trust in God, and made your own promises and commitments.
For some baptism ensures them they have a reservation made in heaven at a future date. For others baptism means they focuses on the now. You are being made a new creation to serve Christ in all persons on earth.
I confess. I was raised a Baptist. In our tradition baptism was the culmination of a process. First you “accepted Jesus,” meaning, you choose faith, either because of parental pressure, or by some mystical moment of holy realization. You then walked the church aisle during a hymn at the end of a worship service, and shook the pastor’s hand. He explained to the congregation that you were the joining the church by baptism, which also included Christ. You would be baptized soon, usually on the next Sunday. The pastor must have thought you might bail out before you got into the water. Baptism meant your sins are washed away, so we were baptized in water from head to toe. Maybe we needed more water than those who only got a sprinkle or splash – must have had much more sin that we already had perfected.
At baptism, we become one side of a two-way covenant we make, or is made for us, regardless of when, how, or how much water it takes. We renew the covenant we make often, because it’s easy to forget our commitment and whose we are. Baptism is the beginning, not the destination. Over time we tend to become disconnected from God. Regardless of what we do, on the other side, God still faithfully holds us.
That makes baptism central in the faith journey, even for Jesus. Before he took the stage to proclaim God’s reign, Jesus first got in the river with sinners who John told needed to repent and receive forgiveness. I’m not sure why Jesus thought he needed such a baptism. The church says Jesus has no sin. So, Jesus’ baptism with all those sinners has always been a problem. Maybe he hadn’t gotten the word yet, or maybe he had some little secrets he’s hiding. And then maybe Jesus gets baptized, not for his sake but ours. That’s how I see it. He freely and willingly gets into water we make dirty, so we’ll know he’s swimming along side all of us, sinners and those who think we might be decent folks. Deep down, though, we are all the same. But not everyone wanted to be told they are the same. The sinners, outcast, diseased, broken down, hopeless seemed to understand. The powerful, socially connected, and those who figured they were already “in” with God without Jesus’ help, couldn’t get it.
Notice in Luke’s story, God rips open the heavens to send the Holy Spirit – not as John raises him, dripping river water, but afterward, as Jesus is praying. Turned toward God in prayer is the place God’s voice affirms His love and pleasure in Jesus and for the mission he undertakes. Our baptism is in Jesus, whose life in us makes us new creatures. Baptism confirms we are God’s beloved, too, pleasing to God not as a reward for getting baptized, but simply because He made us. God delights and loves all creation, because that’s how God is. In response to such love and delight, we love God by promising to do all in our power to manifest Jesus’ life and mission in ours. So our work is to do as Jesus, stay open and become more intimate with the Father. God sends the Spirit to dwell within us, to seal and strengthen us in the struggle stay on track, to grow spiritually. That means we pray, worship, meditate on and study scripture, eat the sacred meal often, serve God in others, and remember who we are so we can tell others who they are in God’s eyes. Otherwise, regardless of our initial good intentions, we might find we spend more time working out in the gym, watching what we eat, on how our hair looks, on what we wear, than time we give God. Spiritual disciplines and exercises build our connection with God – and we are more likely to find hope and God, in times when we’ll feel lost, broken, wounded, that we’ve failed, or we may wonder if we are alone.
Over time, as we devote ourselves to grow more connected into God’s life and will, can the Lord form and transform our character to be like Christ in this world. We promise as the household of God, to live as Jesus has, by serving him in all persons; by loving neighbors as ourselves, even those who get on our last nerve. We’ll take risks to work for justice, peace, and the dignity of everyone, even our enemies – because deep down, we know in God’s eyes we all look the same. That’s how God’s spirit forms us. We are no longer us and them.
God comes to dwell with us is in the child of Bethlehem. God comes to dwell within us in baptism. Your baptism is highly personal and no one can do it for us. At the same time baptism becomes communal and relational. As individuals God forms us into Christ’s body on earth, to fulfill God’s mission to the world. That means we welcome and rejoice with those who find the light of Christ’s love and forgiveness; those who search to find hope in despair; who want to know if anyone up there, or down here cares when they are broken, hurting, dying for new life and divine closeness.
In his time, sinners who found comfort, new life, and welcome in Jesus – though he loved the powerful, the greedy and selfish just as much. Today the church that embodies Jesus is too often a place for the good and respectable. Get cleaned up before you come in here, is the message some see in us. Jesus was not that way. He went to those most in need of God’s love and life, helped them understand who they really are. Maybe we need to recover the passion for God, God has for us – and commit ourselves more to helping others join us in the river where we all know Christ has gone before us. If we could just see others as God sees us – beloved and pleasing; maybe, infused in baptism with God’s spirit, we can.