Baptism of the Lord
Tony E Dillon Hansen
13 Jan 2019
I am not going to try to project to you that you should believe as I do. I make no expectation of how one should receive these words, but I ask you to open your hearts and minds.
Let us pray from Psalm 19, “let the words of my mouth and the meditations of [all of our] hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, [our] Rock and [our] Redeemer.”
Today is a festival of the baptism of Jesus!! Hopefully, you have some cake today to celebrate.
We all come to church and to baptism from a variety of directions and beliefs of what baptism is and does. Often, we pull from 2 Corinthians what Paul says about baptism. In this lesson, Luke’s Gospel also provides an idea of what baptism means, its role in our faith, and how this is a cornerstone to Jesus’s ministry.
Yet, we have to ask, what does it mean to me? What does baptism tell us to do?
We heard part of this story a couple weeks ago in Advent, and John is preaching and baptizing people in water. People are wondering about John and asking him what we must do. John preaches to let go of our worldly desires because true happiness is not found there.
“As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah …” (Luke 3)
Now, my dog, Reno, is ecstatic when we come home, but despite what Reno how wonderful he thinks I am, especially when I prepare his favorite dinner, I want to temper that enthusiasm when I think of how messy I am. In a similar way, John reminds us that he is not the one they came to see. John does not believe himself worthy, and John is kind of an outcast.
Then, the Gospel skips to the moment Jesus meets John to be baptized. Here, John’s expectation of Jesus may have been challenged too. He expected fire and a pitchfork. This expectation is of Jesus as judging and dividing people into who has reward versus punishment. Yet, Jesus does not project a vindictive God.
Jesus, by true example, comes out to meet John in the wilderness to be baptized by water. Jesus comes to be with the fringe of society, the outcasts and us, as sinners, to pass through the waters of baptism rather than burn with judgement.
Why go out to the fringe of society?
This is part of why Louis Gunnemann calls baptism a “Sacrament of Christian Vocation”
because through baptism, we are called into the Church, to the mission of Jesus and thus, to service with our community. Christians are a called people because we are called in baptism. Jesus answers the call in baptism and sets aside judgement.
Water is an important symbol of baptism because of the beautiful and life-sustaining properties, but the real sign is how the Spirit mutually connects to us in baptism. The Gospel tells us the real power of baptism when Jesus connects with the Spirit of God. Baptism is not just about someone getting wet with water but how we come into covenant with the Spirit so that new life begins. In baptism, one may find that relationship with God, and one may find, as Gunnemann writes, “liberation from the bonds of self-serving religion” (or judgement and desires). That is how we are given new life through this sacrament.
(For myself, I would like to consider baptism as part of ordination because one truly takes on a new life in Christ’s mission.)
When we, as people, witness this transformation, we can also affirm and connect to our understanding of that Spirit. Ultimately, baptism is a powerful and meaningful experience because baptism is about how Jesus is revealed within us. That is a revelation of Epiphany because the holy spirit calls our hearts through this covenant of faith.
To illustrate this, let me describe a couple baptisms that I witnessed and served at Plymouth.
(I should note that we do public baptisms in front of the whole congregation during worship, and the congregation is invited to renew their baptismal covenant as well).
This one gentleman decided to join Plymouth after many great experiences and to be baptized. He proceeds to the front of the church for the baptism. As he received baptismal waters, he just opened up like a flower, and it felt like ray of sunlight suddenly shown upon him. He was glowing with tears of absolute joy, and that joy flowed from him. There was a scarce dry eye that day in the whole congregation. This was truly a memorable experience and may illustrate what one might describe as a “conversion of the heart.”
In another experience, I participated in a baptism of an infant child that was obviously not sure what was happening. When Pastor started blessing with water, the young boy was startled by the water, suddenly looked up, and had giant smile. Of all us, our hearts just melted. Yes, baptism can be moving, and our smiles can be powerful and moving as well.
These happened because in baptism, there is something happening, perhaps a “conversion of the heart” or just warm smile of acceptance. When we let God connect, when we set aside judgment and when we set aside expectations, we might hear our call to do good today and be compelled to tears or a simple smile.
Further, Acts (8:14-17) reminds us that the Spirit is an active agent in baptism. That Spirit bridges the many divides around us to call us into one community with God. Then, with prayer -- answering the call, you can let God’s love fill you, and maybe, you can witness that light upon you too!
What does baptism mean to you?
I would suggest to affirm your baptismal call, listen for God speaking to you, and follow the light upon you – a child of God – for whom God is well pleased!
Hear God calling you to service in your community. That service can be your beautiful smile and tears that you share with the people in this very room. Thus, just as Jesus was called by God in baptism, we continue that call through our own baptism and affirm that call with our faithful service, charity, grace and love.
These are moments we can connect to the holy and live into your call to Christian vocation from your baptism.
Thanks be to God!