Baptism of the Lord, 2022 – Sermon

(Modified 2022-01-10: Added audio recording)

Isaiah 43:1-7
Psalm 29
Acts 8:14-17
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

January 9, 2022
St. Mary’s Regina
Baptism of our Lord
Year C

Audio recording of this sermon

Within the season of Epiphany, we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord. It is one of the traditional times for baptism in our church year.  Most, if not all of us have been baptized. (If you haven’t and are interested in baptism, please see me after the service.)  Most of us have been witnesses to many baptisms over the years. Some of us are God-parents or sponsors. We ourselves were presented for baptism by parents or someone who cared about us or for us.  We, in turn, have presented our children for baptism and perhaps grandchildren…I had the privilege of baptizing my grandson Owen and Boyd had the privilege of baptizing all but one of his grandchildren.  We know that Baptism is a holy time within families and for the people of God.

           When we present our children or ourselves for baptism, we are responding to the gentle call of God…to begin a journey with God. Baptism marks the beginning of a life long journey of discovery for us as we learn to love God.  As we learn to love God, we discover that we too, are the beloved of God.  Therefore, Baptism is a time of joy within the church as well as a time of celebration for families.  We warmly welcome the newly baptized who are brought, by faith, into the family of God.  So with these thoughts in mind, let us turn our attention to the baptism of our Lord and his call to ministry.

            All four writers of the gospels introduced Jesus by talking about John the Baptist.  We heard a lot about John during Advent for good reason.  John is the messenger of God…that’s right…John is God’s idea…. and John waits for the One to come (like everyone else) without knowing his identity.  John is the one who tests all those who think they want to enter the Kingdom of God. Think about that for a moment. Anyone who cannot handle John…cannot handle the One who comes after him.  As different as they will turn out to be, John’s judgment precedes Jesus’ grace.  They go together like night and day, because those who know nothing of judgment need nothing of grace. (repeat)

            John’s business was all about repentance.    It was not about becoming a Christian, because John was not a Christian.  He was a devout Jew and a teacher in his own right.  He had followers, also called disciples, who would have their own doubts or questions of Jesus.  Remember that while he is imprisoned, John sends his disciples to Jesus and asks, “Are you the Messiah or do we wait for another?”  So it is important not to confuse John’s baptism with the one we know about. 

When John waded into the water with people, he was cleaning them up for their audience with God, which he believed would take place very soon.  He begged them to change their lives in preparation for that event, and he wasted no time worrying about what they thought about his tactics or his appearance.  John wanted to wake people up and make them see that they were sleepwalking through their lives…most of them confusing their ways with God’s ways and accumulating sin like an empty house accumulates dust. 

            He offered to wash them off if they were willing.  All they had to do was to open their eyes long enough to see what was wrong and say so out loud…then he would wash it away for them, forever; or rather, God would. The same God who could make children of Abraham out of river rocks…could make children of God out of them RIGHT there…if they were willing.  All they had to do was consent, repent, and return to the Lord.  Sounds pretty simple…then they could start their lives all over again before they even dried off.  

            And what were the results of John’s baptism?? The past would lose its power over them.  What I mean by this is that what they had done, what they had said, what they had made happen and what had happened to them would no longer run/ruin their lives.  They would no longer hear those nagging voices in their heads that told them how bad they were, how ruined.  AND in the silence that followed they would be free to begin again…listening to GOD’S voice this time telling them how blessed they were to God….how BELOVED!

            John is doing what he does…baptizing people…standing waist deep in the Jordan River when Jesus walks into the water.  As the current swirls around them…John, with questions filling his mind, does for Jesus what he has been called to do for everyone.  In the afterglow of that moment a remarkable thing happened.  Heaven opened, the clouds parted, white light poured through and a figure that looked a lot like a dove, but most of all like something straight from the heart of God, settled on Jesus as a voice from somewhere other than earth told what it meant.  “You are my Son, my beloved, with you I am well pleased.” (Pause)

            Jesus steps into the water of the Jordan a carpenter and comes out a Messiah.  He is the same person, but with a profoundly new direction.  His being is the same, but his doingis about to take a radical change in response to God’s call in his life. (pause)

            Each of us is no less loved…no less the Beloved of God than our Lord.(repeat)  Baptism is the beginning of being called by God into a life of service in God’s name.  It would be very exciting this morning to hear those words…You are my beloved, in you I am well pleased…and maybe we will, but in case we don’t…how do we recognize when God calls to us and for us? (pause)

            When people call us, it is to get our attention, to make contact with us and to draw us closer to them.  It’s the same thing with God.  A call, (and I’m not referring to ordination) may come as a gradually dawning of God’s purpose for our lives.  It can involve an accelerating sense of inner direction.  It can emerge through a gnawing feeling that we need to do a specific thing.   Occasionally, it can burst forth as a sudden awareness of a path God would have us take.  A Call may be emphatic and unmistakable or it may be obscure and subtle.  God’s call to us will speak to the special gifts each of us has been entrusted with during our lives…the gifts of who we are and the talents that support our identity as the people of God.  God’s call usually becomes our vocation, although we often fail to recognize it as such.

We task is to learn to trust God and ourselves and to listen carefully throughout our lives so we recognize God’s voice calling deep within us…in our unique identities and gifts where God’s Word is implanted or rooted. God speaks through the gifts that God has given each of us.  And God speaks to us through community, too…within the opportunities, challenges and affirmations offered by others in our lives who respond to our individuality as they have come to know us. 

Within God’s call to us we will discover our deepest sense of meaning.  If we sidestep or shirk or ignore our call, we enter a kind of death while yet living. It was once said that when this refusal of call happens, there is a drying up; a sense of life lost.  Everything in you knows that a required adventure has been refused.  Therefore listening for and hearing God’s call is essential for our life…every day!  As we learn to listen for and respond to God’s call, we become empowered by God to respond in our very own unique and personal ways.  It can be a bit scary at times, but we are all called to ministry by virtue of our baptism into the body of Christ. Ministry is anything we do for others in the name of Christ. With that definition in mind, we can understand how vocation and ministry can be partners!

The English word “vocation” has its roots in the word “vox” which is the Latin word for voice and in the Latin infinitive ‘vocare” meaning “to Call”.  Thus it is often used interchangeably with the concept of call.  It refers to the voice of God that “calls all things into being:  and then addresses them to become what God plans them to be.  Vocation is about the entirety of one’s life…. everyone…not just those called to ordained or religious life.  Vocation refers to the calling of all Christians to their work…. for the sake of God.

James W. Fowler in his book “Becoming Adult, Becoming Christian” writes: “Vocation is the response a person makes with his or her total self to the address of God and the calling to partnership.  It involves the orchestration of our leisure, our relationships, our work, our private life and of the resources we steward (how we use our money) so as to put it all at the disposal of God’s purposes in the service of God and neighbour.”

Therefore, vocation involves our private and public lives in all the areas/arenas in which we live and minister…our families and friendships, our learning environments and work places, in neighbourhoods and churches, our citizenship in our local communities and in the world.  In all these areas we offer and use our gifts and call…within the sacramental belovedness of who we are as children of God.

Jesus’ baptism in the river Jordan reminds us that those same words apply to us.  God proclaims, “You are my beloved (invite folks to insert their names), with you I am well pleased.”  In baptism we hear God’s “YES”! to our existence and our purpose in life. In other words, we are commissioned as ministers the world.  

In baptism we remember that we are the beloved of God, showered with gifts, and entrusted with the great work of ongoing creation and healing in the world.  Our response is a grateful “YES” because we are  incarnational people whose lives and vocations will pulse or beat with both service and thanksgiving.

This was the blessing that sustained Jesus during his life.  Whatever happened to him…praise or blame…he clung to/held onto his blessing:  he always remembered that he was the Beloved Child of God.  Jesus came into the world to share that blessing with us.  He came to open our ears to the voice that also says to us that we are beloved.  When we can hear that voice, trust in it and remember it, especially during dark times, we can live our lives as God’s blessed children and find the strength to share this blessing others. AMEN.