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Sunday, January 8, 2017

Beloved of God, Sharing a Baptism with Christ

Matthew 3:13-17 Baptism of Jesus
It’s hard to believe it is a new year already. I, for one, am still having trouble writing “2017” on documents and correspondence. I’ve heard the lament from more than one of my friends, from many of you, and reflected in words coming from my own lips – “time really flies” – it goes by so fast. Over and over, there is that repeated refrain - “how can it be….?” – and then we fill in the blank – “how can it be … December,” or … “June,” …“a new year,” …“another birthday,” …“his high school graduation,” …“my baby’s wedding day,”  or, if we are lucky, … “our anniversary – 50 years”! Can anyone here relate?
We feel the astonishing passage of time here in church, too. Just last week, our gospel relayed the story of the naming of Jesus. The gospel gave us the story of the day when Mary and Joseph brought an eight-day-old Jesus to the temple for this naming.
So it is, that with a hiccup of surprise we realize that in our gospel text today, Jesus is now a grown man – some 30 years of his life have flown by. That’s thirty years that we don’t know much about – Jesus has grown up in the blink of an eye, or the turn of a page, leaving all those growing up years and the stories that go with them, a mystery to us.
But that doesn’t much matter, because the important stuff, the stuff that tells us about God, and how God is acting in and for the world through Jesus, is revealed through the public ministry of Jesus, and the scriptures are full of those stories – stories that we will encounter as we make our way through the gospels.
It is that public ministry for which Christ is anointed through this baptism we observe today. Right after his baptism, Jesus would go into the wilderness to prepare himself for that ministry. Even Jesus had to prepare.
Back in this baptismal scene, we read about the voice of God which Jesus hears as he emerges from the water – “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  As Jesus receives the Holy Spirit “descending like a dove” and alighting on him, Jesus is both revealed and acclaimed as the Son of God.
Reflecting on this passage, we might ask ourselves, did Jesus really need to be baptized? As the Son of God, as the blameless, sinless one, did Jesus really need this washing?
The thing is, as Jesus was baptized at the Jordan River, as God claimed him as his Son and filled him with the Holy Spirit, God provided for us what may be the closest connection between Jesus’ life and ministry and our own, making this a very special day for us, as well. Once again, God enacts mercy and grace for us through Jesus.
For, as Jesus invited John to take part in his baptism, Jesus invites him – and us – into the work on which he himself will embark, proclaiming and embodying the goodness and justice of God.
It is in baptism that we too, are claimed as daughters and sons of God. It is in baptism that we are blessed by the Holy Spirit, and filled with the gifts we need for ministry. It is in baptism that God tells us that we are beloved, and that our inheritance is secured; we are given new life and thereby we each become a new creation of God.
How does it feel to know that this thing that we have experienced in our baptism was once experienced by Jesus himself? For myself, I am simply struck with awe of this reality.
One of the most powerful experiences of our Christian lives is remembering our own baptisms. To hear once again the claim that we are beloved of God, as Jesus was; to remember that we are anointed with the Holy Spirit, as Jesus was; To absorb the reality that we are known and empowered by God, forever, is an experience like no other, and it is an experience that we share with Jesus Christ, himself. To be reminded that this baptism commissions each one of us into ministry in the name of Jesus is a holy experience.
And so, I hope that you got good and soaked as I came down the aisle with water this morning and “sprinkled” you in remembrance of that day when you were washed in the living waters of baptism. I hope that as you felt drops of water from the font fall on you, you felt solidarity with Christ himself in the remembrance of this means of grace we share.
Today we reflect on the sacrament of Baptism, through which each of us has received grace upon grace for the living of our lives and for carrying on the holy work that God entrusts to each one of us.
Although we are reminded of our baptism when we gather together each week, as we gather around the table and nurtured for our work as disciples of Christ, our Holy Baptism is best remembered and most explicitly appreciated when, as a community, we celebrate the baptism of a new sister or brother.
On such occasions, we powerfully recall that in baptism God made each of us a participant in the ministry of Jesus for the sake of the world. The importance and the reality of our baptism should never be far from our minds. For, as Jesus shares life, death and resurrection with us, Jesus shares the work and call of ministry with each of us as well.
Christians often describe baptism as an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace that God works on our behalf. It is God’s action that is of import here, not our own. It is God who makes us holy, not we ourselves who accomplish this by anything we do. It is for God’s sake, that we are sent to reflect God’s love as we are empowered, through the sacraments, for the work of God’s mission to love, heal, bear compassion for the poor, the marginalized, the unloved, the unaccepted, the disregarded ones who are part of God’s creation.
It is for this reason that there is but one baptism for the forgiveness of sins and the commissioning of our call as children of God and workers together for the kingdom of God. Yet Baptism is not a “one and done” kind of thing. In fact, it is the opposite of an isolated act carried out once in our lives for our own benefit.
As Martin Luther said, each day, in baptism, we die to sin and are renewed in the new life given to us by God.
In Baptism, we received the everlasting, perpetual declaration of love and pleasure that God takes in us, and the grace God repeatedly extends to us for the sake of the kingdom of God.
In baptism, we recognize that God loves us and is well-pleased with us simply because of who we are – his own beloved children. This realization frees us to live into the baptismal promises with gusto.
We are freed to live out the gospel goodness of God; to feed the hungry, to give water to those who thirst, to work for the life of all people. In the next several weeks, through the scriptures we encounter, we will learn how to share the light of Jesus by living as Jesus teaches, in humility, serving our neighbors and giving comfort to those who are hurting. Soon, we will hear from Jesus’ own mouth, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ recipe for living into the grace of God.
There are challenges in this, for sure. It can be risky, sometimes, to offer hope to those in deep despair, to those who look around and see only desolation in the world and in their lives. Through our baptism and the grace of God revealed to us in Christ we are bold to offer comfort to those who live in fear of terror attacks, and shootings, and disease and hunger, and the uncertain and frightening possibilities of what our future world might look like, living today in a world full of division, apathy and anger as we are.  
We live into our baptismal commission when, as the Body of Christ, we continually seek new ways to engage with our community and our neighbors to ease suffering and isolation, homelessness and fear locally and in places far away from here. Our baptism calls us to share in the goodness and justice of God. That means seeing all people, even those with whom we disagree, even those who look, speak and worship differently than we do, as sisters and brothers created by God and beloved of God as well and therefore equal to us in every way.
We are blessed when we remember our baptism, and reflect on the mercy and forgiveness showered upon us in drops or currents of water on that day and we are blessed by the Holy Spirit to live each day as an opportunity to rejoice in the daily death of sin and birth into new life and a new creation of God.
As a congregation, this year we will seek to intentionally and continually remember our baptism by engaging in prayer and bible study reflecting on the history of our faith, and seeking to discern God’s plan and mission for this Body of Christ in this time and place.
We will remember God’s words, spoken of Jesus, “This is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased,” and we will recall that as these words shine a light on Jesus, that light is reflected upon all the baptized and all who remain close to him by following him and his holy word.
Please pray with me.
O Most Holy God, who blessed the world through the birth and revelation of Jesus as your own Son, now bless us as we seek to follow him, reveling in the gift of our baptism, and emboldened by your holy word. Grant us the wisdom and grace to live as your daughters and sons, washed in the waters of life for the sake of Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.


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