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Baptism of the Lord
Genesis 1: 1-5 Acts 19: 1-7 Mark 1: 4-11
We have begun a New Year 2021. We are hoping for better things. The news this week about our rising Covid 19 cases is disturbing. The events in Washington this week were scary and reminds us how fragile we are as human beings. These protests demonstrate how we can be misled and behave in ways that dishonour who we are as human beings. We all want to belong to something to give us meaning and purpose. Some things we belong to are healthy and good, but others can lead to lies and destruction. The truth is as people of faith, we believe we belong to God, we are God’s beloved. This is what should shape all our actions and we need to see our fellow human beings in that way too. We are all Children of God. We need to love and respect one another in that regard. It is so easy to pick fights and see enemies in others. It is easy to find flaws and look down on others. We do this I think to make us feel better about ourselves, but it is so wrong.
Today, as we move into this season of Epiphany, which leads to Lent, we have the Baptism of the Lord Sunday. Jesus is baptized in the River Jordan by John the Baptist. This is a powerful story and is found in Matthew, Luke and Mark’s gospel and is referred to in John’s Gospel. This is a powerful story of belonging. According to Christian Historian John Dominic Crossan, Jesus’s baptism was an “acute embarrassment” for the early church. This is evident in the unease we find in all four gospel accounts. Mark which we read today, keeps his version of the story as brief as possible. Matthew insists that John tried hard to dissuade
Jesus from receiving baptism as he offered the crowds. Luke skips the identity of the Baptizer altogether. And the Fourth gospel does not mention the actual baptism
Apparently, what bothered the Gospel writers was Jesus decision to receive a baptism of repentance. Why did the Son of God get in line for baptism behind the tax collectors and sinners – the very folks who could sully his reputation? People could think why didn’t Jesus care about appearances? About disgrace? Aren’t God’s children supposed to care about such things ? Apparently not, because Jesus’s first public act was an act of radical solidarity. It was Jesus showing he belonged to the human race. In his baptism, Jesus entered into the full, unwieldy messiness of the human family. In one watery act, Jesus stepped into the whole story of God’s work on earth. In our baptism, we vow to do the same. In our baptisms, no matter when they were or how they were performed, we join
our beings to all beings and become a part of God’s family. It is not just about a nice ritual for our family to gather and celebrate around. It is something very profound. I know it is hard to fathom it when we witness a baptism, but it is very powerful act, which we renew each time we witness a baptism. We say “we will seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbour as ourself” and “we strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being”.
This is a great sense of belonging to God and to our fellow human beings. No matter who they are. Whether they are from different places or whether we like them or not. This is a big challenge. When we embrace Christ’s baptism story we embrace the truth that we are united, interdependent, connected, one. This makes a stronger claim on our lives and loyalties than all prior claims of race, gender, tribe, nationality, or politics .
It bears the risk of belonging. The risk that others might hurt us. The risk that others will change. The risk that they will change us. God is seeking to change us always. We can’t receive baptism without surrendering our separateness. It does not matter one bit if we are “non-joiners” by temperament. Our baptism is our belonging.
In an essay entitled, “Holy Water Everywhere,” writer Stephen Thorngate, describes baptism is a sacrament that straddles the “locative” and the “liberative”. We are baptized locally, in a specific time and place, into the life of a particular parish or faith community. It is concrete. Your baptism and mine was on a particular day and time and in particular place. At the same time, baptism liberates us into the global universal, and the timeless. The water we have put on us is connected to all bodies of water, everywhere, which means it is not connected to any denomination. The geography of baptism is vast. It spans all times and all worlds. It is far too large and wild a thing for us to contain or control.
During this season of Epiphany we are invited to leave miraculous births and angel choirs behind and seek the love, majesty and power of God in seemingly mundane things. Rivers. Voices. Doves. Clouds. God’s grace blesses our ordinary lives. May we during this season and always, join Jesus as he stands in line at the water’s edge, willing to put himself in the shame and scandal so that all of God’s gifts will be there for us to cherish. May we too hear the delighted voice that tells us who we are and whose we are in the sacrament of baptism. WE too are God’s beloved. Let us rejoice in it and share it.