Yeah. That’s what it looks like…
January 13, Sermon Two: Baptism
I preached again. I felt more nervous than the first time, but I think people maybe liked it more? I’m not totally sure. I’m mostly judging by Clint. He seemed super happy about it. All the theology people were out there going, “Yes!” And all the non-Theologian trained people were going, “Yes, I think?”
JANUARY 12, 2014 SERMON
Part 1: Recalling our own baptism
Whether you remember it or not, baptism is an incredibly sensual experience. Whether you were being baptized, or you were a witness to a baptism, or are just guessing what a baptism might be like.
For a moment, relax a little. Get comfortable in your seat. Maybe close your eyes if you want, breathe, and take a second to imagine baptism. You could remember your own baptism. You could recall being a witness to someone’s baptism. Or, if neither of those work, just imagine whatever you think baptism is—the setting the feelings, the water, all of it.
What comes to mind? What are you thinking? Feeling? Are you afraid? Excited? Nervous? Maybe even inconvenienced or annoyed? Where did/does it happen? In a church? Camp? Outside? Inside? In a hottub? a Pool? the ocean? Maybe a lake? A river? A trough? A Baptismal just behind the pulpit and the curtain? How is the weather? Sunny? rainy? cold? Hot? Are you the only one being baptized? Who else is there? Your family, friends, children? What are you wearing? Who baptizes you? What might be that person’s significance?
What does the water feel like? Is it cold? It’s always cold. Maybe it was the perfect temperature. I don’t know. If you were only witnessing the baptism, did you wonder? Why did you do it? Or not do it? Or why did your parents do it?
I remember my baptism better than my mom remembers. It was after one of my first years going to Bible camp in Southern Indiana. Everyday we sung, played, learned about Jesus, and gossiped about who had a date to the end of the week event. Regardless, I knew long before camp that Jesus loved me, and I loved Jesus, but being a fifth grader in the Church of Christ—there is a lot of pressure to get dunked. The day I was baptized, a Sunday, I don’t remember the crux of the preacher’s sermon, but I do remember the intense need to get baptized, like if on the way home from church we crash and I die, my sinful 11 year old self was going to be in eternal danger!
After church, I told my mom that I wanted to get baptized, she told the preacher, and after church he took us back to his office and he asked me if I believed that Jesus was my savior, I said yes, and soon after I was waist deep in that hidden chlorinated pool behind the curtain behind the pulpit.
It was cold, wet, and full of grace.
Part 2: Why did Jesus get baptized?!
I was a sad sinful 11 year old. That makes sense, but why did Jesus get baptized? What is this baptism? Why? It is a strange ritual. Before Christianity embraced traditional baptism, ritual cleansing was practiced by the Jews. This is why we have John the baptist, a voice crying out in the desert calling for repentance. This is why John had the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to him, because baptism was the thing to do… But Jesus didn’t need to repent, did he?
Originally, I was going to run down about 5 reasons “Why Jesus got baptized” but I changed my mind this morning.
[Here they are, not in my actual sermon. These reasons are not mutually exclusive…1. To be an example. Jesus got baptized, told us to be baptized, so we should be baptized. Pretty straight forward, pretty simply. We obey. 2. Jesus as “the new Adam.” Some suggest Jesus baptism as a representation of the undoing the fall of man… Adam fell/disobeyed, and Jesus is the ultimate example of complete obedience to God. It says in Isaiah “See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare.” And with these new things, a new symbol, as opposed to circumcision, we Gentiles have baptism. 3. Foreshadowing of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Easy peasy. Next, two more reasons…]
One of the traditional reasons for Jesus baptism is to mark the beginning of his ministry, or perhaps some sort of ontological change in Christ. In a sense, it marks the complete obedience of Christ’s will with God’s will. But was Christ not God and savior before his baptism. Spoiler alert: Orthodoxy says, “Yes.”
Theologian Raniero Cantalamessa, who wrote a tiny little book on the Holy Spirit in the Life of Jesus, asks the questions (p8), “How can the word incarnate become something new, which he already was not at the moment of incarnation?” Was he not perfect savior and perfect human from the moment of his birth? It is not an easy question, and has been under scrutiny in Christianity for hundreds of years.
Another reason Jesus was baptized is to fulfill the prophets. Rarely do all four gospels record the same event. And all four of the Gospels record the baptism of Jesus, and all of them are a little bit different in their approach.
Matthew is particularly concerned with reaching the Jews, essentially convincing them with the prophets that Jesus is the Messiah. And so, Matthew is the only Gospel where Jesus explains (sort of) “Why?” as if directly responding to Isaiah 42:6, “I have called you in righteousness.” And Jesus answers, Mt 3:15, “Let is be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”
Consistent with Matthew, all of the Gospels cross-reference Isaiah 42:1 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights.” Perhaps the Gospels are calling back to prophecies involving literal water, and even the Psalm reading, 29:3 “The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over the mighty waters.” This feels reminiscent of the voice of God over the waters of Jesus baptism.
Of course, we can easily make sense of baptism, and the prophets, retroactively. And I think if Jesus wasn’t recorded as being literally baptized with water, we would probably still be able to make sense of Jesus as savior. Even without the record in all four gospels of Jesus being baptized, Jesus could have just told us to be baptized and we would have done it because ritually it made sense then, and it sort of makes sense now.
After all, what is it we say, “I baptize you for the remission of sins, in the name of the Father, the son and the Holy Spirit.” Jesus, didn’t exactly need “remission of sins.”
Maybe baptism is simply something that Jesus, God, wanted to share with me, us, humanity, and all the earth. This vivid process. Jesus was, and is, with us through the entire process—before, during and after. But there is more than just the person of Christ at work in the baptism—there are other divine persons involved here that deserve equal attention.
What I’m talking about is the Trinity. The readings in the lectionary for the past couple weeks are, whether you notice or not, Trinitarian in nature. All three, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are mentioned in one passage.
Like Clint discussed last week, Christian theology tends to solely focus on Christ, not that Christ isn’t important, but Christianity also affirms that there are two other persons of the Trinity, traditionally, the Father and the Holy Spirit.
The baptism of Jesus isn’t just an announcement of Jesus, but an abundant image of a breaking open of the heavens, communion between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Where none are completely separate from one another, or are any more or less than the other, and where none were before or after the other.
Now, I understand that Father (and probably even Son) imagery for describing the person(s) of God isn’t helpful for everyone, especially if you didn’t have a father, or had a not very nice one. That doesn’t mean that the tradition has to be abandoned altogether—there is more to “The Father” as God in the person/action of the Trinity, than the literal image of a father. Likewise, there is more to the Son and the Holy Spirit, none of which are mutually exclusive. They all work together, and all are in the baptism story!
The Father: Clint talked about this week—this power, this creative person of God. Almost like the brains of the operation, the one who conceives this plan. The one who is like a parent constantly reaching out for connection.
The Son: The redeemer, the human, the one on the ground unifying, seeking justice and peace, the one in solidarity with our hopes, dreams, trauma, and sufferings. The one whose example we can understand, follow, make sense of, and trust.
The Spirit: The one who sustains us, sanctifies us. The one that mediates between Father and Son. The one who insinuates action, makes things happen and then keep happening. The one who is with us presently as a gift and acknowledges and knows what is holy, good, and names it as such.
The word “trinity” isn’t in the Bible. It is simply something that we use to attempt to explain God and how God relates to God within God’s self. God, in God’s self is a representation and example of loving and holy relationship. This is ever present in the baptism story. God, in the Trinity is a radically relational being— an example of relationship while also actively engaging in relationship.
In this baptism, we are given the picture of the unification of God, God communing with God, while also communing with us. God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is invited to commune with us in baptism, and God invites us to commune with God’s self in baptism.
Can you imagine being the next guy or girl in line?
Part 3: ACTION
Well, technically, we all are next in line.
Jesus stands right next to us in line for baptism. The triune God is waiting to break open the heavens for us.
Jesus, who is God, stands among us, who are unworthy, he is mercy and grace.
While we don’t know, I like to imagine that Jesus did stand in line, and was just like us.
How did he know where John was? Maybe he needed to ask directions to get there. Was it a far walk? I wonder if it was in the morning or afternoon. I wonder if it was really hot and sunny, or maybe overcast, hazy. Was it dry? It is a desert out there. Maybe everyone is covered in dust. Were there only men, or were there families? Did Jesus go alone? Was there a long line? Was the water cool or warm? Was it rushing or calm? Was it shallow or deep? When he came up from the waters, was Jesus the only person who heard God’s voice and saw the spirit “like a dove”? Or did everyone?
Movies always show him just walking up and the crowd parting. Did Jesus cut the line? For some reason, I doubt he cut.
He probably made small talk with the people around him. Acting no better or worse than anyone else in his position desiring to be baptized by John.
Jesus, the spotless, sinless, perfect Lamb of God was baptized. Jesus, 100% divine and 100% human and 100% savior took a walk out into the desert, to a river somewhere, likely stood in line with and among sinners, and then received baptism from a sinner. How mundane and how awesome is that?
Just like us, Jesus made a decision. Jesus in human flesh, in our body, stood in solidarity with suffering humanity yearning for redemption. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the human and the divine, experienced baptism just like we are able and invited to do.
Like Jesus’ baptism was concrete, vivid, and particular, we live out our call, our baptism, in the concrete, vivid, and particular days of our lives. God chooses to make a seemingly impossible relationship, possible, by just standing in line. How much more are we called to relate to our fellow human being.
If we as Christians claim this relationship with God—impossible! We should probably learn how to relate to one another. At whatever time you choose, perhaps your baptismal calling is to simply make small talk with the person next to you. Maybe it’s reaching out to a friend. Maybe it’s generosity. Maybe it’s your in your job. We are called to be with and among whatever is most other to us, as God stood among us, but not like we are gods.
Jesus, being God and Man, and the Holy Trinity, is an incredible, beautiful, and extremely mysterious example of probably the most other things (God and Man) being one.
Not only that, but that we are invited to partake in this divine relationship, and if we claim to have such a divine relationship, then having a relationship with my enemy or with those I ignore and avoid should be a lot easier. Right?
No, it’s not always easy. It’s a daily struggle being human. But the baptism given to us, the invitation to commune with God, ought to be a daily reminder of who we belong. It doesn’t always make sense, and so we need to leave room for mercy, mystery, and grace.
The experience of baptism encompasses whole body, mind, and spirit, as well as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Whether you realize it, or not, in the moment, whether you are conscious or not, fully prepared or not (really, who can be fully prepared), there is something at work backwards and forwards through time and space that we are unworthily invited to over and over again—being baptized with God.