Baptism of our Lord – January 12, 2020
Matthew 3:13 – 17
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.’ Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’
I remember that day like it was yesterday. It seemed as if everyone from town was down at the river. Crowds everywhere you looked. It was almost impossible to make your way through. It seemed as if the crowds were parting, letting one man through. He looked familiar. I think I’d seen him around town. He worked in one of the shops downtown.
The familiar man went right up to John. John was standing in the middle of the river, dunking everyone who came to him into the water and telling them they needed to make some changes in their lives to get ready for the One who would be coming to save them. John saw the familiar man coming. “Why are you coming up to me? I’m the one who needs to be like you.” The familiar man answered. “Right now I’m the one who needs to be one of you. You need to treat me just the same as everyone else. You are a part of what God is doing.” That’s when it happened. John did what he’d been asked to do. He dunked the man in the water. When he came up out of the river the beads dripping off of him, sparkling like diamonds in the sunlight. All of a sudden I saw a bird and it seemed to land on the familiar man. Then the wind seemed to speak. I heard the words and I knew this man was special. “I’m connected to this man in a special way. He’s a part of me and I’m a part of him. I’m so proud of him.”
Something changed that day. I’m not sure I knew it that day. But looking back………Yes, I’m certain. That was the day I began to understand that everything had changed. God had put skin on and was here, right here, living with us, showing us how to be in the world in a new way.
Everyone from town was going to see John at the River Jordan. One of the last great prophets, John was helping everyone to get ready for the Messiah. He was encouraging them to change their behaviors, to turn and be ready for a new way.
He was confused when Jesus appeared at the River. This was the one! He was certain! Jesus didn’t need to change anything to get ready for the new way. He WAS the new way.
What John didn’t understand at first was that Jesus did need to do something so that his belonging to humanity would be apparent. What he did at the River Jordan, he did in solidarity with all humanity. It was in this moment that his identity became clear to those who gathered at the River. This moment was the beginning of Jesus’s public ministry. The voice that spoke that day made it clear that Jesus was related to God in a very special way. As much as he belonged to humanity, he also belonged to God in a unique and distinct way.
Jesus, emerging from the river, was dripping wet. The mud of the River bank oozing through his toes, Jesus recognized that this moment was the beginning of his mission and as he carried that water with him wherever he went, his identity as Son of God and his solidarity with all the people developed, grew and deepened. Wherever he went, transformation followed. Water’s like that. Water changes things.
His skin shining from the water of the River, Jesus gathered his disciples. Sunlight sparkling on water droplets that clung to his face as he taught, healed, fed multitudes of crowds and people were transformed.
That water quenched the thirst of all who were seeking a new way. It was that water that renewed all who were wilted from being mistreated. The power of that water to change things drew people together in a way that threatened the status quo. Water from the River Jordan mixed with his own blood as he was nailed to the cross. Rivers of water flowed out from him as he was raised from the dead.
Those Rivers fill our fonts every time we present someone to receive the Sacrament of Baptism. Water that marks a new beginning. This is the water that changes everything. This water offers us a chance to fully live into what it means to be human. Everything that happened after Jesus emerges from the Jordan, water sparkling as it catches the sun, shows us how we can embrace our own humanity.
For us, our identity changes when the waters of the Font run across our foreheads, flowing down our heads and travelling out the door with us. In this moment we accept that our identity is found in God. We are connected to God and flowing from this truth, everything we do is drenched with that connection.
She was in her forties when she learned something that totally shifted her identity. A member of my home congregation, I got to know her more deeply during an ongoing Bible Study that both of us participated in. That day we were looking at one of the Baptism of Jesus passages.
The week prior to this, we’d been asked to learn about our own baptisms. We could bring in items for show and tell to help us to tell our stories. Most of us had no memory of our baptisms. We’d been brought to the font as infants.
That week she’d gone home and called her mom to see where she was baptized and when. Were there pictures? A gown? A certificate? A candle? Anything that she could borrow and bring to Bible Study the next week.
In her conversation with her mom she’d learned that she’d never been baptized. That knowledge had thrown her into a tailspin. She’d always believed that she was baptized. It was a part of what had formed her perception of herself. Her identity was shaped by the fact that she was a baptized Christian. Just like Jesus, carrying the water of her baptism with her throughout her life had influenced decisions that she’d made, ministries that she’d been involved with, her interactions with family and friends. Everything about her life grew out of her baptism.
Only she’d never been baptized. As she shared her story, tears began to form in the corners of her eyes. As they spilled over and slowly wound their way down her cheeks, it was easy to see that they replaced the waters of baptism that she’d believed were always there. The silence that flowed with her tears gave way to her fear. This was a church that honored baptism as the initiation rite that entitles the newly baptized to participate in all of the Sacraments of the Church. Without baptism, the sacraments aren’t available to you.
“What’s going to happen to me. I’ve taken communion as long as I can remember. I shouldn’t have. All those years. So, I’ve made a decision. I can’t receive anymore.”
The priest let that sit for a minute and then a question pierced that awkward silence. “Would you like to be baptized?” “YES! Can my baptism happen soon? Like this Sunday?”
This was also a church that believed deeply about Baptismal Formation. We followed the model of the Catechumenate and this was a wonderful teaching moment. Together, this Bible Study would walk with her throughout her formation during the entire Lenten season and she would be baptized at the Easter Vigil.
She embraced this news with an excitement that I’ve rarely seen. She deeply wanted to move through the stages of the Catechumenate and celebrate all of those stages publicly throughout the season of Lent. She stopped receiving Communion.
Travelling with this woman helped all of us reconnect with our own baptisms. Even if we were baptized as infants, we remembered what it was like to feel the waters of baptism dampening our skin. Our sharing awakened the reality that we carry that water with us wherever we go. Through the questions that we explored we began to reconnect with God in a way that helped us to define how we might respond more deeply to the fact that we’d been changed by that moment of baptism.
Easter Vigil arrived. Our friend was ready. She was so excited. She’d lived her whole life for this moment! Her life was about to change. We didn’t’ have an immersion font. We did have a priest who believed in powerful and abundant symbols. She’d been warned that she would get wet. Very wet. And she did.
(Go to the Font taking the pitcher of water)
Water wasn’t dripped over her head by cupped hands. It was poured from the pitcher. One third of the pitcher flowing with each pronouncement. “I baptize you in the name of the Father (pour), of the Son (pour), and of the Holy Spirit (pour).” She was drenched as she knelt in our midst.
Her skin glowed with that water. It sparkled as the light of the candles danced on those water droplets.
We were changed that day too. We remembered. We renewed our baptismal promises right along with her. It was different this time. We’d spent the entire season of Lent exploring those questions, wondering what difference they were making in our lives today. We dreamed of how God was transforming us in ways that continued to deepen our identities as Children of God.
Today we are going to remember our baptisms. As we prepare to renew our baptismal vows, I invite you to come down here to the waters of baptism. Touch the river that is contained in this font. After we make our promises, take this water. Spread it on your forehead. Remember. This water connects us to God in a different way. This water connects us to one another differently.
Join me at this river……Experience your new identity as Children of God.