Baptism of the Lord Sunday

Genesis 1:1-5
Mark 1:4-11

We gather on this first Sunday of the New Year to remember our Baptism as we align ourselves with our Lord and Savior at his own baptism.  And because it is the first Sunday, we will also gather around the Table for Holy Communion; the breaking the bread and sharing of the cup.

Today is right on the heels of the Feast of Epiphany, where we celebrate and acknowledge those “aha” moments of God’s light shining in on us.  Always January 6,  12 days after the celebration of Jesus’s birth though most theologians say that Jesus could have been as old as 1-1/2 to 2 years old by the time the wise men, those foreigners, people of other faiths and traditions found him bringing gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Like so many of us, they journeyed a long way, over many years, through all kinds of things to get to Jesus; to get to this point.  It is worth registering all of these moments as we head into 2018 – not knowing what lies ahead for us and those we love.  It is a time to draw near, to be together for fellowship, and tend to the business of the church that has been given to our charge.

Now we know that there is nothing inherently special or magical about baptismal water.  On its own it’s just water straight out of the faucet; nothing magical about the bread – just challah from Eli’s and Cokesbury’s most discounted wafers; and the grape juice from Fairway.  On their own, nothing special, but in the context of shared worship and church life, these elements take on significant meaning.  They become signs and symbols of who we are and what we believe – signs of our faith and what we claim about ourselves, about God, and other people.  And we need these reminders, don’t we?  We need them often – almost every day if we are honest; every week rather than once a month or once a year.   We need them because day-to-day living has a way of distracting us, pulling us apart and away from God’s claims.

“Remember your baptism and be thankful.”  Remember that you are sealed as God’s own and claimed as God’s child forever.  Remember and never forget the depth of God’s penetrating love reaching out for you.

Our Old Testament passage, which we did not read takes us to the book of Genesis 1 and reminds us that when the earth was dark and there was nothing here, it was void and God was creating the heavens and the earth out of nothing.  We jump to the New Testament lesson to the book of Mark and Jesus is being baptized in the Jordan River by John.

These two passages together remind us that the Creator who was in the beginning is the same Creator who is still at work creating.  And that you and I are also being created and recreated through the waters of our baptism.  The creative process is essential to our being and God continues to participate and we continue to participate as God’s people.

The Creator has not finished.  The world is not finished.  And we are not finished.  The Creator creates.  Through every circumstance, we are being created.  We might want to give that some thought.  For every person who comes into our lives to love and encourage us as well as those who find loving us difficult; for every job gained or lost; every diagnosis; every good thing and every challenge, God is creating.  I believe that’s really true.

Jesus was baptized.  Though he was sinless and perfect in every way, he joins us in this holy act and aligns himself with our humanity as we align ourselves with his divinity.  Mark tells us that the heavens opened and the Spirit – the same Spirit that was in the beginning when the earth was created – descended as he continues to descend upon us.  And a voice was heard, “You are my Son, my Beloved with you I am well pleased.”[1]

Is that not your most passionate hope this new year: that the presence of God will descend upon you and that you might hear the voice of God calling to you?  Son, Daughter. You are mine; loved.  I am pleased.

I come from a different faith tradition [Baptist] where one makes his or her own profession of faith at a certain age, usually around 12 or so.  But as United Methodist, most of us were baptized as infant babies; long before we would have a memory of it.  Our parents stood up for us.  They made sacred vows to God and to the Church and the entire body stood up and affirmed us and also themselves.  And I like it because it suggests that long before we were able to utter a word or do any act of charity or benevolence, long before we knew our own name or the difference between good and evil, long before we ever had God on our mind, God wanted us and God claimed us and made us God’s own.  Therefore God’s love for us is not predicated on anything we say or do but on God’s own good love, grace, and mercy.  And no further baptism is ever needed.  What we do today is a mere symbolic reminder that we have been claimed and sealed into this truth.

And there is no such thing as a private baptism in Methodism.  You cannot come to the Pastor and schedule a baptism at 5 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon.  No.  We are baptized into the Body of Christ; into the Church. And we need to remember that.  Though we may disagree, we are part of the collective.  And as a collective, we share common work.

And we must admit that while our collective work in the Church – capital “C” – has done great and wonderful things, we have also been guilty of missing the mark, of hurting people.  We have read through dimly colored lenses.  We have rejected those who came looking for grace and mercy; made it difficult for young people and others whose ideas were different from our own.  We have not always been welcoming to our gay, lesbian, and transgender brothers and sisters.  We have treated women with utter disrespect, like second class citizens.  We have declared “no politics at all” as a way of not addressing difficult issues that plague our community. We have sat in judgment over the wealthy or the extremely educated, or anyone who does not fit well into our own small group.   We have turned inward on ourselves and one another with personal agendas rather than pushing outward to be larger signs and symbols to the world.  What are we to do with ourselves?  How do we move past survival and maintenance into vision and purpose?

On cold and frigid days like today, how are we not moved to consider the poor and disadvantaged who yearn for food, shelter, warmth and coats on this cold day?  How do we not think about those who will die this winter because of inadequate heating trying to stay warm?   How do we use this time in history for something new; to set the standard for the world instead of waiting for the world to set the standard for the Church.  Our Creator is creating and great is the opportunity before us.

Genesis tells us that when God finished God’s creation, God said that it was good.  Not perfect.  But good.  And God’s good is better than good.  It’s better than good enough.  It’s super good, brilliant, excellent.  As Jesus was being baptized God set a sign for all to see – the sign of a dove; sealed with the Holy Spirit.

I like to think that when God sees us coming into the persons and people that God has created us to be – people of light and love; generosity, good-will, people of hope and promise – God looks at us – you and me and I think God says to God’s-self: “Wow, look at that!  It’s good! Look at what I’ve done.  It’s good.  I am pleased.”

In just a few moments we’re going to affirm our baptism. We’re doing it a little differently this year.  You will be invited to come down the center aisle.  Isaiah and Rebecca will greet you and place water slightly on your forehead – remember your baptism and be thankful.  You will then receive the bread and body of Christ in Holy Communion and return to your seat.  I will be standing at the baptismal font.  You see, we always assume that everyone has already been baptized.  And as Methodist, your infant baptism took and there is no need to ever do it again.  But if someone is here and you have never been baptized, this is your day.  Or you are not sure.  Or if it was long ago and you just want to start something new for this New Year, I will be standing at the font and I will baptize you afresh this morning.

Thanks be to God.

[1] Mark 1:11b