Sermon First Sunday After Epiphany

Sermon Matthew 3: 13-17

“Fulfilling Our Baptism”

The Rev. Robert W. Landry

What I believe the message for us today is, are we fulfilling the commitments of our baptism? I don’t think that we really think about this, but for most of us, the one thing that brings us to church on Sunday is the fact that we were baptized. Some of us were baptized without being given any choice in the matter as newborns. And I really don’t think that the cries at the baptismal font are interpreted theologically. Some of us may have been baptized because we turned ten years old and decided that we were sick and tired of not getting to receive the wine. Some of us might have gone to a worship service where the minister made us cry and invited us to be baptized. Some of us may not have ever been baptized because we’ve never seen any reason why we should be. And some maybe haven’t been baptized but have had to work hard to avoid seriously considering it.

I think that it is a good thing that we learn the meaning of our baptisms after the fact. Those of you who were baptized as babies didn’t fully know what you were doing on the day you were baptized. And even some of you who may have been baptized as young children or young adults may not have for years later realized what your commitment might have been as a result of your baptism. I think for most of our lives regardless of when we were baptized, we make our way slowly, and hopefully progressively into our faith, and as this does happen the purposes for us begin to unfold before us. So, for most of us, we discover what our baptisms mean after the event rather than before. That’s how it was for Jesus as well, at least as it appears in our gospel this morning from Matthew.

This story skips from Jesus as an infant to Jesus as a thirty-year-old man, and we don’t have any clue as to what happened in between those twenty or so years. There is nothing we have that tells us. It is much like our own life changes, one day Jesus puts down his hammer, takes off his tool belt, hangs a “Closed” sign on the door of the carpenter’s shop, and asks, “What does God want of me?” Jesus heads south and finds his cousin John, standing in the muddy Jordan in his camel-hair baptismal robe, smelling of locusts and honey. And then Jesus gets in line and waits his turn. He wades out into the water, right next to real live sinners just like you and me.

There are three Gospels that tell the story of Jesus’ baptism, but only Matthew records a rather curious conversation prior to the baptism. Jesus is eager to be baptized, but John hesitates. They stand hip-deep in the river and engage in a rather intense theological debate concerning who should baptize who. This is the first time Jesus speaks in Matthew’s Gospel, and it is to say that he needs to be baptized, because baptism will help him learn who he’s meant to be.  So, then Jesus leans back into the water because he believes that God is calling him to a different kind of life than the one, he has as a carpenter.

So then after John does as Jesus requested of him, Jesus stands up, with the waters of the Jordan dripping down his face, he sees the Spirit descending like a dove to rest upon his soggy head. The Spirit comes, not as an all-consuming fire of judgment, but with the flutter of hopeful wings. A voice says: “You are my child. I love you. In you, I am well pleased.”

So, then Jesus goes into the desert for forty days to think about what it means to be God’s child. Jesus spends all the days and years that follow that afternoon in the Jordan discovering the meaning of his baptism. Jesus gives everything, his dreams and deeds, his labors and his life itself.

Jesus gives himself to God’s people, takes his place with hurting people. Baptism was Jesus’ commissioning to do ministry. Just as it is ours at our baptism. We are baptized to do the will and the work of God in this world.

During the week before his death, the leaders of the temple challenge Jesus: “By what authority are you doing these things?” (Matthew 21:23). Jesus answers with a reference to his baptism: “Was the baptism of John from heaven or not? I was baptized. That’s why I do the things I do.” In the waters of baptism, Jesus heard the Spirit calling him to speak the truth and live with grace.

So, Jesus doesn’t die of old age. He dies because he takes his baptism seriously. When Jesus cries on the cross, “It is finished,” it is his baptism that is complete. Baptisms like most beginnings in life, find meaning long after the event. Beginning the journey is often easy, while finishing it is often hard. The significance of many of the decisions we make takes a while to emerge. The moments of initiation of the courses we take or words we speak are meaningless until we are true to the promise of those new beginnings we choose along the way. We’re handed a map, but then we must take the trip. I truly believe that it takes our whole lives to finish the journey we begin when we are baptized.

So, what does it mean to us to live out our baptisms? If we are true to our baptisms, we cannot make ourselves comfortable. You all know that saying, I’m sure you’ve all heard it: Jesus came to make the comfortable; uncomfortable. We cannot do only what will be appreciated, and we cannot, or should we be satisfied with the way things are. Our baptisms demand that we struggle with what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s important and what’s not.

 

The children of God tell the truth in a world that lies, we are to give in a world that takes, love in a world that lusts, make peace in a world that fights, serve in a world that wants to be served, pray in a world that waits to be entertained, and take chances in a world that worships only when it is safe. The baptized are citizens of an eccentric community where financial success is not the goal, security is not the highest good, and sacrifice should be for us a daily event, a daily choosing to go beyond ourselves.

Baptism is our ordination to ministry, our vow to live with more concern for the hurting than for our own comfort, and our promise to take issue with ideas with which everyone else agrees. Baptism is the commitment to share our time with the poor and listen to the lonely. So the question that I leave us with is this: What did it mean when you were baptized? The meaning of your baptism is seen in what you think, what you feel, and what you do this day. Have you done anything today that you wouldn’t have done if you had not been baptized? We are forever answering the question “Why was I baptized?” And finally, I asked this: are we fulfilling what our baptism’s calls us to?