Sunday, January 10, 2016

"Jesus' Baptism and Ours". A sermon from Littlefield Presbyterian Church on Baptism of the Lord Sunday on January 10, on Luke 3:15-17, 21-23

           "Jesus' Baptism and Ours"
          Luke 3:15-17, 21-23

 Here we are again, in the season of Epiphany, on Baptism of the Lord Sunday.  Each year the lectionary gives us the story of Jesus’ baptism, as told by Matthew, Mark, or Luke.  This year, it’s Luke.            
            When Jesus came out to the Jordan to be baptized, he came to be publicly identified as the one John had been proclaiming as the pivotal figure in the movement towards the kingdom of God.  His baptism was a sign that God was now taking steps through Jesus’ ministry that the world was beginning to turn.
            Jesus’ baptism takes place in community.  It is not a private ceremony.  After Jesus is baptized, the heavens open, and the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus in bodily form like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
            Jesus’ baptism was an epiphany moment—as the Holy Spirit descends upon him… and  he and others heard confirmation from God:  “You are mine.  Beloved.  I am well pleased with you.” 
            “You are precious in my sight, and I love you.”  These are words the people of Israel heard—words that helped them to understand who they were, and whose they were. 
            Baptism teaches us who we are – God’s beloved children.   It  reminds us of the promise:  God loves us unconditionally.   Baptism reminds us that we discover who we are in relation to whose we are:  God’s beloved children.  We belong to God’s family, and baptism is a tangible sign of that.
            Baptism is about knowing who we are--  so we don’t waste  precious time searching frantically for an identity that something or someone else can confer on us--  but instead, use our lives to live out our God-given identity.
            The same Spirit that descended on Jesus baptizes us!   We can live in confidence that-- no matter how often we fall short or fail-- nothing that we do or fail to do can change the fact that we are God’s beloved children.  This identity is something God gives us—as a gift.
            Maybe you don’t remember, but at your baptism, that voice named and claimed you.   We need to remember our baptism.  So, turn to your neighbor, and remind them.    Tell them, you are God’s child...  God’s beloved.   God loves you and claims you.  [People actually got out of their seats to share this good news.  There were smiles and maybe a handshake or hug or two.]
            There’s something else we need to remember:   at our baptism, God gave each of us the gift of the Spirit.   So, let’s turn to one another and remind one another:  You’ve got the Spirit, because God gave it to you when you were baptized.
[Again, people moved around a bit and made sure everybody was reminded that they’ve got the Spirit.]

Okay, so what does all this mean? 
            Without the rest of Jesus’ life, his baptism isn’t something we can comprehend.  We can only comprehend the purpose of Jesus’ baptism when we look at the days and years that followed that day in the Jordan.  It’s when we see Jesus taking his place with hurting people that his baptism starts to make sense.  Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan foreshadowed his baptism on the cross.  Baptism was Jesus’ commissioning for ministry.
            During the week before his death, Jesus was challenged by the leaders of the temple:  “By what authority do you do these things?”
            Jesus answers by referring to his baptism:  “Was the baptism of John from heaven-- or not?”    In other words, I was baptized.  That’s how all this started.”  It was in the waters of baptism that Jesus heard the Spirit calling him to speak the truth     and to live with grace.
            Baptisms, like all beginnings, find their meaning after the event.  Beginning is usually fairly easy.  Finishing is usually harder.
             Starry-eyed young couples who are in love come to the pastor, and very often, they’re focused on having the perfect wedding.  It’s part of the pastor’s job to remind them that the wedding is just the beginning.  It’s the living out of the promises they make that’s the hard part...  the part that will make all the difference ten or fifty years from that day.
            Baptism is the beginning of a journey.  We’re handed a map, but we have to take the trip.  It takes our whole life to finish our baptisms...  to fulfill what was started when we were baptized. 
            In baptism, God proclaims God's grace and love for us.  God claims us and marks us as God’s own.  We have a new identity as members of the body of Christ.
            So we are baptized   and begin a lifelong pilgrimage with God...  a lifelong process of conversion and nurture which begins at the font...  and doesn't end until death,  until we are at last tucked safely into the everlasting arms of the God who first reached for us in baptism.
            God keeps on reaching out for us throughout our lives.  God isn't finished with any of us yet.  Every day we live out our baptism.  Every day we need to respond to God's gracious gifts in our lives...  open ourselves again to God's work in our lives...  say YES in all the big and little things we do   and people we meet   and promises we keep throughout the day.
            A major part of God's daily saving work in our lives is God's gift of the Holy SPIRIT.  Just as God's creating Spirit hovered over the waters in the very BEGINNING, the Holy Spirit works in us...   leads us daily...  tugging at our lives until we are fully turned toward God. 
            In our baptism, we become part of a royal priesthood...  a holy nation...  in order that we may proclaim the mighty acts of the One who called us out of darkness, into God's marvelous light.[1] 
            As followers of Christ, we're called to let our light shine before others, so that they may see our good works and give glory to God.  
            In our Reformed part of the Protestant branch of Christ’s church, we take our membership in the priesthood of all believers very seriously.  In fact, in the Presbyterian Church, we take this calling so seriously that we ordain our officers for service.  The questions we ask at a service of ordination and installation of elders and deacons--  the questions you'll hear in a few minutes--  are the same questions asked of a Teaching Elder, or Minister of the Word and Sacrament, except one.   The congregation makes promises too:  to support and encourage and pray for those who are serving as officers.              
            Every one of us gathered here has been given a particular set of gifts to use in God's service.  This community of believers is part of God's plan to bring good news of healing and freedom to a broken, hurting world. 

            On this Baptism of the Lord Sunday,  we are reminded of Jesus' baptism...   and our own.  We are reminded who we are...  and whose we are.
            At your baptism, the same Spirit came down upon you as came down upon Jesus at his baptism.   The same Father said to you,  "you are my beloved son"...   or "you are my beloved daughter."  The same Father has continued ever since to hold you...   and to work to empower you for God's work.

How easy it is, in the midst of this life, to forget who you are...  and whose you are.  So the church is here to remind you that God  has named us...  and claimed us...   and seeks us and LOVES us unconditionally.
            What a difference it can make in our lives when we know—deep in our souls—that we are God’s beloved!   
            This is the gift Baptism gives to us.   We are children of God, joined together with Christ to all the other Children of God. 
            So...   remember your baptism...  and be thankful.  For this is who you are.
            Listen attentively for God’s call.  Go on and be the minister God has called you to be.  Use the gifts God has given you as a sign of the outbreaking of the kingdom of God.  Take on new challenges in your ministry.  Rely on the Holy Spirit to lead and empower and uphold you. 
            As you go out into the world, be the minister that God has called you to be...   ordained you to be. 
            So be it! 

 Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
January 10, 2016

1]1 Peter 2:9.

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