Epiphany 1C 2019

Epiphany 1C 2019

Baptism of Our Lord
Texts: Isaiah 43:1-7

Psalm 29
Acts 8: 14-17
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

“I baptize you with water; but the one who is more powerful than I is coming…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  Luke 3: 16

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.  Amen. 

The first Sunday after Epiphany is always the Sunday when we remember the Baptism of Our Lord.  Matthew, Mark and Luke attest to it, and the Gospel of John, although not describing the event, still records John the Baptist’s response to it.  Each evangelist writes from a different focus and perspective and emphasizes a different message to be derived from the experience, but all agree on one thing; Jesus’ baptism was the inaugural event in his public ministry.  

In the Gospel of Luke we are told that “the people were filled with expectation and all were questioning in their hearts concerning, whether he might be the Messiah.”  People had been searching and wondering.  People had been questioning not just in their minds, not just in their thoughts, but also in their hearts.  

The people weren’t taken to task for this.  John didn’t point to their questioning and wondering as proof of their lack of faith.  We are told that they had questioned and wondered in a very matter of fact sort of way, as if it was the most natural thing in the world to ask, “Is this the one?  Is this who we have been waiting for?  He speaks with such authority, like he really knows what he is talking about!” 

John wasn’t the one and he is very clear about that.  He wants no one to think that he is the Messiah.  Being the Messiah wasn’t John’s job; pointing to who the Messiah was, that was John’s job.  The people still might not understand who the Messiah was, but they were told who he wasn’t. 

The people gathered that day at the river weren’t told that they had to put aside their questions and wondering before John would baptize them.  John asked them not to put aside those things, but to put aside those sins that were keeping them from God and that is a huge difference.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the reason for John’s insistence on a baptism of repentance and not a baptism of certainty is because the waiting and wondering and questioning were some of the things that would help them to grow closer to God and to live a new life, a life rededicated to God and to their community.

Perhaps, just perhaps, John was telling them that to be baptized into the name of Jesus was to have the Holy Spirit fill the spaces in their hearts and minds that surrounded their questions and their fears.  Could it be that John was telling them that the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives was to happen along side those wonderings and questions?

I told you that all three synoptic gospels agree that Jesus’ baptism was the start of Jesus’ public ministry.  That fact has radical implications for us 2000 years later.  It has implications because as it was with Jesus, so it is with us.  Baptism was meant to change us from the people we are to the people God wants us to be.  Barbara Brown Taylor in her book “Mixed Blessings” writes: “Jesus goes into the waters of the Jordan a carpenter and comes out a Messiah.  He is the same person, but with a new direction.  His being is the same, but his doing is about to take a radical turn.”

 For us, baptism; the naming, claiming and being in Jesus Christ, is to have the effect of doing things in our lives in a radically new and different way; a way we perhaps don’t see quite clearly or we may question where it is taking us, but it is doing different things, living a different life, and going a different way than we would or could take ourselves.

Baptism is all about identity.  It is about discovering who we are by discovering whose we are.  I love the pairing of the Old Testament reading for this morning from Isaiah; “Do not fear for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine,” and the words from the Gospel; “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Because we are called by name, because we are first, foremost, and eternally God’s own, we are of infinite worth.  Knowing this can make all the difference in a life.

Fred Craddock, a Disciples of Christ minister and who was considered one of the best preachers in the English language, told the story of when he and his wife were vacationing in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee.  They were eating dinner when an old man introduced himself to them.  He had gone from table to table talking with all the patrons.  He asked where Craddock and his wife were from and they replied Oklahoma.  The man then said, “I am from around these parts.  My mother was not married, and the shame the community directed at her was also directed toward me. Whenever I went into town with my mother, I could see people staring at us, making guesses at who my daddy was.  At school, I ate lunch alone. 

In my early teens, I began attending a little church but always left before church was over, because I was afraid somebody would ask me what a boy like me was doing in church.  One day before I could escape, I felt a hand on my shoulder.  It was the minister.  He looked closely at my face.  I knew that he too was trying to guess who my father was.  “Well, boy, you are a child of…’ and then he paused.  When he spoke again he said, ‘Boy, you are a child of God.  I see a striking resemblance.’  Then he swatted me on the bottom and said, ‘Now, you go on and claim your inheritance.’  The man told Fred and his wife, ‘I left church that day a different person.  In fact, that day was the beginning of my life.” 

“Do not be afraid for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” 

“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

This knowledge gave the gentleman the courage to do things he never thought he could do.  This man, whose name was Ben Hooper, was elected twice to be Governor of the state of Tennessee.  Rather than becoming bitter, he began to see himself as blessed.  Once he knew that he was God’s beloved son he had the courage to claim his inheritance of God’s grace and goodness.

At every baptism we renew our baptismal vows, those wonderful promises that we make that proclaim that we are a different people committed to a different type of life. 

We take these vows and we renew these vows not individually, not alone, but in community.  We stand together and vow to each other that we will be there for one another; that we will help each other along the way to get back on the road God wants for us, not just as individuals, but as a community of faith. 

We are to show the world a new way of living, a new way of doing at the same time as we commit ourselves to God’s world.  They are not two different actions but one action.  We are to show the world God’s way of life not waiting for our certainty to kick in, but while we have questions ourselves. 

To be committed to God’s world and God’s people is the new way we are to follow and it is the new way we lead; that is the ministry we are all called to.  Sometimes we need to be reminded of that fact.  The Church knows that and so it reminds us of our ministry and our belovedness at every baptism and every year especially at the baptism of our Lord.

Now St. Luke’s, go out into the world and claim your inheritance.





Robin Whittington