The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Baptism of our Lord
Today is the annual Sunday we commemorate Jesus’ baptism, the first Sunday after the Epiphany. We should be interested, because our baptism is connected to his. Jesus actually commands us to go and baptize all nations. How many of you are doing this? It’s scary. Imagine how that sounds to unsuspecting folks: “Hey, you over there come here. A miracle-working Jew who got resurrected from the dead long ago sends me to baptize you.” “Say what?”
Our culture has changed – outside and in the church. Fewer people grow up in the church which means many have no idea what baptism means or why it’s important. Churches can’t agree when to baptize – infant, adult or in between; or how much water to use. Do we sprinkle, pour or dunk? I have recently read an article asking, “Does Baptism Matter?” People have asked me: “What about those who are never baptized, or who refuse God?”
You are free to disagree with me, but I believe Baptism matters – but not as a “get out of hell” free card, or so God will like you more. In the new Prayer Book, new for 37 years now, baptism admits you to Communion. Before the Book became new, you needed baptism and confirmation, and then your first communion. I’m not sure baptism matters as much to God, as to us, though.
So again, does baptism matter – and how so? Son of God gets in line with sinners to be baptized. What’s up with that? Someone may mistake him for a sinner. What would his momma say if she saw him waiting in such a line? Son of God also prays often. He claims he and the father are one. Since he’s Son of God, why does he need to do all of this? He does have a special connection, after all. After his baptism he hears a voice, “You are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Has Jesus done something to become the Beloved, thus pleasing the Father? Hardly. Then why does he do these things? He never says.
In baptism Jesus gets in the water not to wash his sin away, but to be at one with us – to bring us into right relationship with the Father. In Jesus we too, are named “beloved, pleasing.” That matters. We do nothing, except receive and accept how God sees and names us. God wants all people to know who you really are and to whom you belong – who marks us forever His in Christ, without our help. Salvation is when we accept God’s acceptance of us.
A blessing to me is to be able to remind someone who loses sight of who they really are. Sadly, we too often let others define us, or our own inner voice judge us – and we forget. Someone may have tried to tear them down or walked all over their dignity. Maybe they screwed up royally, lost their job, family and home. How easily we can lose sight of how much God knows and loves us. And young people, I remind, “You are human. You’re going to mess up. You’ll have doubts about God, the church, your parents and yourself. You may forget whose you are and walk away. But one day you’ll remember who names you ‘beloved and pleasing.’ You’ve been marked with Christ forever, and you will remember where you first received and heard it.” Baptism matters. In Baptism God names us – not sinners, disappointments, greedy, boring, selfish. You’re beloved – beloved, beloved of the Father and a beloved child in this household of faith. Nothing we can do removes what God does. Baptist matters.
Maybe someday we’ll all want to live up to being worthy of this love we can’t earn. What might you do to please God who’s first pleased with you, not because you must, but by your own passion and desire. God makes us something special, (remember that’s God’s gift, not our self-assessment) and the church shapes and forms us, to live in ways that please God. We promise to support those who are baptized in their life in Christ, to hold each other in love and prayer, to teach and shape, to be taught and be shaped. And when we fail, Jesus waits for us in the waters of repentance to remind us again who we are.
Shortly we’ll renew our baptismal vows. Listen closely for what pleases God. Baptism shapes how we treat one another. Baptism commits us to tend the wounded, heal the broken hearted, protect everyone’s dignity, love our neighbors, work for peace. By striving to please God we grow into becoming the beloved God has made us to be. Baptism matters. And when we fail, Jesus picks us up. First, admit it. For some reason that is harder than it sounds. Then Jesus can do the healing and reclaiming work you need.
I hear we may get asked a question when all is said and done: “What did you do with your life?” A friend of mine had a Near Death Experience decades ago. I’ve never had one so I can’t say “Yea” or “Nay.” I trust my friend, though. While the future is out of our hands, the present isn’t. We have choices. George told me that he stood in the presence of a divine Light of unconditional love. He watches every detail of his 20-year life pass in a moment – the good, bad and ugly. And then a question: “What have you done to show the love I taught you to live?” How would we answer that one? That experience, real or not, totally changed George Ritchie’s life, and turned him fully toward God.
Baptism matters. Jesus must agree. And that’s why I think it didn’t bother him to be mistaken for a sinner. Nor should it matter to us. He gets in the water of forgiveness with us. We know we are sinners yes, forgiven for sure. Most of all we are God’s beloved. Baptism matters. How will you choose to live in that light? Do you believe how we answer matters? I do. Otherwise we’d be at Starbucks reading the morning paper about now.