The Baptism of our Lord (Luke 3:21-22)
We’ve all heard the story of Jesus as told by the four New Testament writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Each one tells the story differently. Most people meld the four stories into one. However, when we do this we miss the adventure, beauty and questions that enrich the never ending story of our Lord’s life, death and resurrection.
Luke’s story of Jesus’ baptism is different from Matthew’s and Mark’s, and John doesn’t mention it at all. Look at your bulletin. Who is the man pouring water on Jesus’ head? It isn’t John the Baptist because, according to Luke, John is in prison. So who did baptize Jesus according to Luke? The same person who baptized all of us – the Holy Spirit!
This opens up all kinds of questions about baptism. If God baptizes us then it’s the one relationship in life that we can’t mess up, because we did not establish it. Baptism is God’s gift to us and he will not take it back or revoke it no matter what.
The gift of baptism defines “who” we are, because it tells us “whose” we are. We belong to God, and in our baptism we are made ministers of God’s grace. He sends us into the world to share his Word and his love, just as Jesus was sent. We are not here to save the world. Jesus has already done that. We are here to proclaim the good news that in Jesus, God has made peace with his creation including every single person in the world.
This truth leads us to another. We baptize infants as a demonstration of God’s unmerited favor toward us. An infant cannot earn God’s grace or his gift of baptism. Infants can only receive, and that’s what we all need to remember during our faith journey – to be grateful receivers. If God, the Holy Spirit, baptizes us no one can demand a re-baptism or declare ours invalid. Infant baptism declares that God gives us our new life in Christ before we have a chance to refuse or to do anything in response to this great gift.
Good parents do what is best for their children even when those children rebel and hurt others and themselves. One theologian has said that in baptism God, like a good parent, grabs us by the neck and never lets go.
Here’s my question. If in the waters of baptism the “old me” was drowned and destroyed and the “new me” came forth to live with God forever, why don’t I remember that every day? Epiphany is the season of identity. Who is Jesus? Who are we? Let this be our answer. “I am God’s beloved child, called and sent to make a difference in the world.” Say it when you step into the shower, when you wash your hands.
The thing I like best about baptism is that it makes the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus our own. In Jesus’ death we die and in his resurrection we are raised to new life. The story of Jesus is not just something that took place 2,000 years ago. In our baptism Jesus breathes his eternal life into you and me.
So what about people who are not baptized? That’s one of many questions I cannot answer. I’m here to proclaim the good news as I have experienced it through the scriptures and the church. When I see you coming here expecting God to speak to you through his Word, through baptism and holy communion, through liturgy and hymns, through your witness as you share your time, talents and treasures, I am strengthened. Baptism may seem like a little thing to many people, but God surprises us with little gifts every day: a smile or a compliment from a family member, a question that comes from a sincere desire to know more about Jesus, someone who takes time to listen to your story, someone who makes you laugh, someone who gives you a second chance, someone who accepts you as you are, someone who loves you in spite of yourself.
These and many more are the little epiphanies that keep us going, but the greatest gift of all is God’s gift of himself. He gives us himself in Jesus who loves us more than his own life. On his cross he hands his precious life over to us. In our baptism we begin to live his life for the world. That’s why we are together. That’s why each one of us is a minister of the gospel sent into this community with a story to tell, a life to share.
Since we share in Jesus’ baptism, his death and resurrection, we are his sisters and brothers forever. We are free to give ourselves to the other relationships in our lives. Sunday worship isn’t an end in itself. Giving ourselves away in the world is our reason for living. We need regular worship to be reminded of who and whose we are and to be strengthened with Jesus’ body and blood in order to do our ministry. We can do this because the same Spirit who baptized Jesus baptized us and empowers us to do things we never thought possible.