The Baptism of the Lord
Isaiah 43:1-7
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

We are still in the season of Epiphany, where we look for signs of Christ being made visible to us through our baptism, the breaking of bread, water, and word that claims us as God’s own and reminds us of who we are and what our lives are to be about.

Today, we align ourselves with Christ, who aligns himself with us as we are called to remember our baptism.  It takes us back to the beginning of our faith journey, even if we were infants or too young to understand what was going on.  There was a moment, some specific time in place and history, in which our parents, grandparents, or godparents— somebody— and a congregation stood up for us and affirmed our presence within the body of Christ.

And ever since, whether conscious of it or not, we have been on this quest to know ourselves and our Creator to whom we belong and in whom we have our being.  Today, we celebrate our faith and how it all got started; that God has sought us, claimed us, and calls us God’s own: son, daughter, beloved, well pleased.

We need these reminders, don’t we?  We need them because it is easy to live our lives as if they belong to ourselves without giving it very much thought.  We live in complex times, and it’s easy to forget our true identity and why we are here.

We are reminded that our baptism is a call to the purposes of God in our lifetime; not a call to comfort and ease, a ceremony or a photo op.  It is a call to the hurting and dispossessed among us.  We get in line along with them as Christ got in line with us when he came to the Jordan River to be baptized by John.

Though he was the holy Son of God, without sin or blemish, Jesus got in line with all the rest of those gathered looking for something new; all of those people broken by the “wear and tear” of life, on the verge of giving up; those downtrodden by military and political systems of oppression, desperate for a way out and a fresh start.

Jesus got right in line and allowed himself to be baptized.  I think he did so in order to show solidarity with a nation and a world full of people who needed to know the depth of God’s love.

At its best, that’s what the church still does.  We allow people to get in line with us without partiality.  We allow them to join the long procession of ordinary people trying to make their way in the world.  We say, “You are welcome to stand in line right here with me.  I am no better than you; no worse.  I am hungry for bread and drink and fresh water to wash away my troubles and cool the fiery darts of life.”

And it’s hard work that we do; hard and arduous and not always comfortable on the verge of this new year, while many of us are still wondering how we will live into it and how to be our best selves.  These days when we are busier than ever, so busy that we hardly have time for anything or anyone other than ourselves and our small circle. These days when our nation is so divided that everything is political and we seem to agree on hardly nothing at all; with a government shutdown and many without pay and no real sense of how long things will change.

It’s hard work when men, women, and children are at our borders in search of a better life, and others live under the threat of deportation every day, and we don’t always know what to do or how we should feel about it all.

It’s hard work as our own United Methodist Church is declining and on the verge of splitting and God only knows what else.  Here we are amid hatred and indifference, senseless killings and more sexual assaults than will ever be reported.  Amid sick and hurting people, hungry people, the mentally challenged.

And we are often afraid to get involved or too involved or to let our voice be heard because we know how dangerous that might be.  We often settle for Facebook and Instagram posts, but that is not enough.

Get this my friends: there is no Jesus without baptism and there is no baptism without service and there is no service without getting dirty and bloody and making a sacrifice.  There is no baptism without a commitment to the hard things of life; to love and generosity; forgiveness and grace.

In our Old Testament lesson, the prophet Isaiah says:

…thus says the Lord, who has created you…do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.  When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.  For I am your God…[1]

And then he tells us why: “Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.”[2]

When was the last time somebody said that to you?  My goodness: You are mine.  I will be with you.  You are precious in my sight, honored, and I love you.

These words, spoken to a people in exile, a people overwhelmed and beleaguered; weighed down and troubled.  They were spoken to give them hope and encouragement – that regardless of their past, regardless of what they had done or had not done, all of the missteps along the way, salvation has now at hand.

We might need to be asking ourselves, “Who are those people in our world today who need to hear this word spoken and embodied?  Where are they?”  For the Lord reminds us that this message is for all: they will come from the east, and the west; north and the south – and from all the ends of the earth.

“Do not be afraid,” says our God.  There it is again: “Do not fear.”  Twice in these seven verses he repeats the message that thousands of years later would be spoken to the virgin Mary and to her beloved, Joseph; and to the shepherds.  Words also spoken to Abraham and Hagar; to Joseph and Moses and Joshua, to Elijah, Peter, Paul, and John, and they are also spoken to you and to me.

To remember our baptism is to remember that there is work for us to do; work that will require us to be strong and courageous; to go against the grain, to take risks, to step out and launch out into the deep.

When you pass through the waters – oh my, oh my!  Not, if but when.  That seems certain, doesn’t it?  When you walk through the fire – not if.  You will! It is a guarantee.

But there is also another guarantee; another certainty.  And that’s the one we are banking on, isn’t it?  When we pass through the waters and the fire, we will not be overwhelmed or consumed – at least not so overwhelmed and not so consumed that we cannot endure and accomplish the work given to our hand.

Do we believe that?  Is our baptism of water and fire?  And what is at stake for us if we do not?

Thanks be to God for a day of remembrance and a measure of memory that continues to guide our way and breathe new life into our existence.  Thanks be to God for enough memory to recognize that we are called and set apart to bring good news even when we do not feel like it.   To remember that we are not alone; even in the fire, we are only passing through.

Chard and bruised, perhaps, numb and suffering in great pain, but not consumed; not completely burned.   For we are precious in the sight of our Creator; loved and honored.

We ask in awe and wonder:  how can these things be?

In just a few moments, we are going to reaffirm our baptism; why we are here.  What our lives are all about.   We will share in the liturgy, and Isaiah and I will walk down the center aisle, across the back, and up the sides like we’ve done in recent years.  We’ll take a branch and lightly sprinkle you with water, just a bit.

Imagine yourself being held as a beloved child of God.  We will invite you to “Remember your baptism and be thankful.”  And when you feel the drops of water, imagine the heavens opening and the Spirit of God descending upon you.  Listen carefully and see if you can hear God’s voice calling your name. And may the fire of love burn within you calling you to be a light to the world.

[1] Isaiah 43:1-3a
[2] Isaiah 43:4a