Here we are again--the baptism of Jesus. Every year we read this story. Every year I wrestle with the question of why Jesus needed to be baptized. Every year, I think back to the warm water I waded into at my own baptism when I was 9. Is there anything new I could possibly say to you? I went online and looked for pictures of baptisms...loving parents holding hands, watching as their newborn is cradled in the arms of a priest or pastor, water being sprinkled on their tiny heads, adults making a profession of faith as they bend over into a baptismal font to have a jug of water poured over their heads, people wading out into rivers to be reborn in the water. It’s a strange thing--baptism. For a non-Christian, it probably makes no sense at all...what in the world could water do to or for a person...is there some kind of “magic” happening?
The Anglican or Episcopal theology of baptism, according to the Articles of Religion (which by the way are found in your prayer books beginning on page 867, and specifically speak to the theology of baptism on page 873), is a, “sign of profession, and mark of difference (from non-Christians)...[it is] a sign of Regeneration or New-Birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons [and daughters] of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed; Faith is confirmed, and Grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God.” In other words, it is an outward sign of inward grace. It means we are forgiven and marked as a follower of Christ. Baptism is a big deal, and not at all “magic”.
And while all of that is important (and really, it is), what this says to me, and what the lessons from today say to me is that God loves us. And we belong to God. So for me, part of my theology of baptism is that not only is it an outward sign of inward grace, but it means that we are re-membered. And what I mean here by “re-membered” is about being put back together, being made whole, and remembering who we are and to whom we belong.
So let’s look at the lessons for today.
In the reading from Isaiah (43:1-7), two things strike me. One is in the second verse “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” and the other is further down “For you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you”.
If you remember from last Sunday, the prophet Isaiah is speaking to a people in captivity and exile. They have been removed from their homes, overcome by Babylonians, their sons and daughters taken away, and they feel abandoned. And yet, in the midst of all this chaos and upheaval, God speaks to them through the prophet and reminds them that they are loved, protected, redeemed, and precious; words of comfort for a people in distress. And not only are they loved, but they have been called by name. Now this is significant in the ancient world. To be named by someone was a sign of “ownership” if you will. Not ownership in the sense of being a slave to, but ownership in the sense that you belong to someone who will look after you. So for these early Jews, to be named and thus belong to God meant that they were being cared for and looked after.
In the Luke text (3:15-17, 21-22) we have another “naming” story. Jesus has come to John to be baptized. And after Jesus is baptized, while he is praying, the heavens open up and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descends on him while these words are being spoken from above “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased”. In this moment, God names Jesus—the Beloved, and it is from this moment onward that Jesus embarks on his mission and ministry. God has claimed him as God’s own.
In Isaiah, when the people are reminded that they have been named and are loved, they are “re-membered” as children of God; they are put back together and made whole. Not that they hadn’t been, but because they had forgotten. In Luke, this is Jesus’ first direct encounter with God, and he is “re-membered” as a child of God...he is put together and made whole for the ministry he is about to do.
The celebration of Jesus’ baptism perhaps isn’t so much about a deep theological wrestling about why did Jesus need to be baptized, as it is a reminder of who we are and to whom we belong. It is so easy to get caught up in the belief that who we are is based on our resume, on our paycheck, or on our standing in the community. Those things might be a part of who we are, but more importantly, we are children of God. And it’s even easier to think that we belong to the never ending cycle of emails, text messages, phone calls, budget meetings and a whole other barrage of issues that come at us daily, but ultimately, we belong to God.
When we are baptized, or when we renew our Baptismal Covenant, we are claiming our name as “Beloved” and we are giving ourselves over to God. We are being marked for a variety of ministries--be them as teachers, advocates, offerers of hospitality, of kindness and presence. We are re-membered as part of this community and the household of God. Through baptism, we become outward signs to the world of the grace and love of Jesus Christ.
So what’s the point of hearing about Jesus’ baptism? It’s so we can be reminded of who we are and to whom we belong; it’s so we can be “re-membered”…put back together, made whole, and renewed. It’s so we can remember that we have been marked for ministry and that we are beloved.
Let us pray:
Holy God, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have re-membered us as your beloved. Sustain us, O God, in your Holy Spirit. Give us inquiring and discerning hearts, the courage to do the ministry you have called us to do and a spirit to know and love you. Amen.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.