The Power of Baptism

Matthew 3: 13-17 – 13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. 16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him

According to the church calendar, last Sunday was listed as the first Sunday after Christmas – but not for Pleasant Grove UMC. The previous week, Sunday was Christmas Day December 25th — but we were closed because the weather was so cold and the wind coming across the fields had chill indexes in the single digits. Levuene’s cane probably would have gotten stuck on the road.

As many of you know, we had Christmas Eve on New Year’s Day – our calendar was really messed up and we didn’t even have communion on the first Sunday of the month.

Guess what — I’ve packed communion and a message on baptism and a message on Epiphany all into today’s worship.  

So, I am afraid I’m going to have two messages packed into one. And I know that sounds bad, but I actually wrote three! Two messages kind of works, given precisely where we are in the church calendar. Friday, January 6th was Epiphany.

Epiphany is defined as a new awareness or “Aha”—that’s what that means. Or Eureka  – wow! I see it in a new light— or the problem is solved.

In Epiphany, we commemorate the moment when the Three Wise Men brought to baby Jesus the three worst baby shower gifts in all of human history. I mean, I have been to baby showers, and I have seen some really awful gifts, but these really take the cake[1].

Mary probably said: “Oh, thank you, Gaspar, our little baby Jesus is going to love this … frankincense! What a thoughtful gift. Look, honey, did you see what Gaspar brought? Frankincense. Yeah, I know. Well, you are just so thoughtful: infants love incense! It should really freshen up the barn we are currently living in. Although Joseph and I had made the decision already not to let babies play with fire.”

BTW, frankincense was burned so that it would add a perfume incense to the area! Just what a stable needed on a cold day!

“Wow, Melchior, what a clever idea—to give an infant myrrh! That’s perfect: just born and already ready for his funeral. Myrrh is used as an embalming substance.  Just put it right over there, yeah, next to the gold and frankincense.”

Of course, this was not really a baby shower. And the gifts don’t point us to Christ’s birth but to his life and death. That’s why the called the Epiphany, because it points to Christ’s glory bursting forth.

  1. They point to his status as king, as priest, and as sacrifice.
  1. They point to God’s gift in Christ being given freely to the entire world, without distinction or preference.

A child born to save, born to rule, born to die.

Happy Epiphany!

Now for message number two. And really it builds off the first message.

Today is the Baptism of our Lord, the first Sunday after Epiphany. And the time God makes his glory known at Jesus’s baptism in the river Jordan.

Each year, the lectionary invites us to contemplate Jesus’s baptism. It’s very easy to get swept up in the cinematics of the event, much like we do in our retellings of the Christmas narrative.

There’s the quiet approach to the riverbank, the testy moment when John and Jesus argue about who should be baptizing whom, the voice from heaven, the dove, the haziness in the texts about who actually hears and sees what’s happening, and Jesus comes out of the river and suddenly he knows who he is…We watch it unfold, paying half mind because we’ve heard this story so many times. Seldom do we ask, “What is this experience like for Jesus?”

It’s an interesting question, because we don’t know what prompts Jesus to be baptized.

  1. Is he merely curious about what his cousin’s up to?
  1. Is he looking to join a subversive religious movement?

Does he even suspect that letting John take him down into the water will result in him coming back to shore certain of who he is, why he’s here, and what his calling will be?

Who can say? We can say this: baptism equals epiphany for Jesus. Before this, he’s not made the slightest dent on the world. But after this pass through the water, nothing will ever be the same.

  1. In those few moments, everything opens up.

The narrow stream we call the Jordan River grows as wide as all of creation and as deep as the greatest possibilities God can endow to anyone.[2]

When we are baptized into the body of Christ or when we accept Jesus as our Savior and Lord or we join PGUMC worshiping community as members, several life changing things happen. We make a covenant.

  1. We promise to serve and worship God, to resist evil, to proclaim the good news, to seek Christ in all persons, and to strive for justice.

We receive the Holy Spirit, which empowers us to keep our promises.

We also get to claim as our own the very same words that Jesus hears from God in heaven. “You are my beloved son, in you am I well pleased.”

  1. Incorporated into Christ’s body, we hear for ourselves God say to us, “You are my beloved daughter, my beloved son, and in you am I well pleased.”

In a way that we would never be able otherwise, those words become true for us and in us.

Martin Luther used to say, “Remember your baptism!” I realize that most of us have no memory of our baptism as we were baptized as infants

So how do you remember your baptism? What does that mean? It doesn’t mean remembering the physical, embodied moment in which you were baptized in water. It means remember who your baptism says you are.

I want you to imagine God, who made all things, who holds all things together by his mighty power, sits with you, looks directly into your eyes, and says, “I am proud of you. I see you for all that you are, for all that you have, for all that you’ve done, and for all that you ever will do. I’m so glad you’re my child. And I am proud of you.”

You know, as far as I can tell, I don’t know that you can ever get much past that.

  1. No matter what happens with you relationships, your work; no matter how many mistakes you’ve made, how much you have done that you aren’t proud of, how much you wish you could change.

No matter how many things you have, how much influence you exert, I don’t know that you can improve too much, when it is all said and done, on the very idea that there is a God and in baptism you get to know that God is proud of you.

God says in baptism. God repeats it every time we come to the altar. God never changes God’s mind. “You—you! —are my beloved daughter, you are my beloved son, and in you am I well pleased!”

In some ways, we are all looking for the blessing.

As a parent or grandparent, we have the opportunity to give our children or grandchildren the blessing. The way I do that is look them in the eyes, and with all the earnestness and sincerity I can muster, I say their full name and I remind them, “You are my beloved daughter, beloved son, and in you I am well-pleased.”

It is the blessing God the Father gave to Jesus Christ, and it is the blessing that God gives to each baptized Christian.

Jesus’s baptism also marked the beginning of his ministry. And our baptism is also an ordination of sorts. We make vows to serve God and God’s world with love and justice.

Do you know what happens after Jesus’s baptism?

  1. It’s the verses immediately after our Gospel reading.

Jesus is lead into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan.

Our vocation as baptized Christians won’t be easy either. As we seek to establish God’s justice and peace on earth, we will battle the demons of hatred, racism, sexism, ignorance, oppression, all of which seem to gather more steam every time we open our newspapers or look on line to social media.

  1. But Jesus has been out there before, with the wild beasts. The angels were there, too, ministering to him.

And we won’t be alone either, as we go to the wilderness to fight for God’s righteousness.

So, I wonder what would happen if we all started remembering our baptism. Maybe if the words, “You are my beloved child, and in you am I well pleased,” took hold, we would find the self-love to love God for God’s sake and love our neighbor as ourselves.

  1. Maybe then the glory of the Lord would shine forth.
  1. Maybe God’s justice would cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.

Maybe then we will see Epiphany.

Today, as we each renew the vows we made at our baptism, let us recommit ourselves to living into those sacred promises.

  1. Let us repent of our own failure to follow in the way of love and rededicate ourselves to becoming Christ to the world.
  1. We have been given a sacred calling…all of us members of the priesthood of believers…..the disciples of Christ.

Let us not be afraid to proclaim the Gospel message of love in our words and our actions and may the Holy Spirit pouring down upon us from God the Father give us the grace and the strength to be the lights of Christ in our generation.

Page 50 of the UMH

[1] Rev. Matthew Larsen, Christ Church, New Haven Connecticut. January 7, 2018

[2] Rev. Tim Wolfe Edgebrook Community Church January 12, 2020