Luke 3:15-17,Luke 3:21-22
15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
The Baptism of Jesus
21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
I’ve shared this story before. But it seems pretty important in this season, as I’ve been thinking a lot about Robbie Waddles. When I was 8 years old, my best friend, Rob was baptized. When I saw him get baptized, I thought that was pretty cool. I love Robbie, still do. We did literally everything together growing up. He died at age 46, unexpectedly…which is sad, because he was an amazing human…English professor, musician, athlete…and he believed in me, and I in him. Growing up, if Robbie did it, I was going to do it.
So, I asked my parents if I could be baptized. We set-up a meeting with our Baptist pastor, we talked about it, I got real excited…and the next Sunday, I was immersed in this huge tank that was in our Sanctuary behind our choir.
I did not want to wait, I wanted to get in and get it done.
I don’t remember much about my conversation with our Baptist preacher. I just remember that it was something that my best friend did and he was glad…and it sure did make my parents happy.
In our reformed UCC understanding of Baptism, we believe it to be a sign of God’s faithfulness to us. It has much more to do with God’s actions on our behalf through Jesus than our actions. It is also a seal that God puts on us…God’s “signature” if you will. Baptism marks us as a people living in community with God. God seals us to God’s self. We may not always live that way, but in affect, God is saying that he won’t give up on us and that he believes in us.
As Jesus comes up from the water, there is a voice from heaven, God’s voice that has these amazing lines from our gospel lesson this am. “This is my son, the beloved, with whom I’m well pleased”.
Jesus is God in the flesh, the flesh part means that Jesus represents all of us to God and God is represents to all of us through Jesus. Jesus says elsewhere in Scripture that if you want to see what God looks like, look at him. In our Christian understanding, God is three persons that are of the same substance. They mutually indwell in each other’s being in such a tight community, even sharing the same essence, so much so that they are one God and speak as one. Jesus is unique in that he is divine, yet also human.
James Torrance, one of the great Scottish Torrance brothers who were writers, theologians, philosophers, and pastors says this about Jesus’ baptism:
“When he [Jesus] saw the people going down to the river to be baptized by John, confessing their sins, submitting to the verdict of guilty (which is repentance), Jesus said to John, ‘baptize me! I will submit to the verdict of guilty for them!’ He identified himself with sinners, the he might take their place…”
Jesus’ baptism is for all of humanity.
This action by Jesus demonstrates the whole of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and even resurrection. Jesus came to give us life. We share the same essence as Jesus. It’s wild, but what it means for us today is that when God looks at us, he sees Jesus and the words of this passage are also addressed to us. God is well pleased with us! We are God’s beloved. We often forget that we are God’s beloved…we live as if we are God. Actually, we are God’s heart. And, when we look deep into our selves, our true selves, we find God waiting for us there.
Jesus came to restore us to our true identity. Baptism signifies a death of our old selves, the old self that lives in its pathologies and old ways of thinking, when we are put under the water. When we come up, we are reminded that God has cleansed us and that there is new life.
Paul addresses this in Romans 5:5-6; 13-14:
5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.
13 No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
We have been freed to live as our true selves, the persons that God created us to be. My understanding of sin is that it’s always relational. We hurt ourselves, others, we betray and are betrayed in all of our relationships when we are not living authentically as best as we can as our true selves…and God wants us to be in authentic relationships…where we can be honest, brave, vulnerable, and real. Righteousness is a relational term. As is it says in verse 13, we are called to be instruments of righteousness, to live lives that are filled with grace for ourselves and others as we receive it from God.
Having said all of this…it seems to me like many of us, including myself, are still waiting for something to happen in our lives and in the lives of those around us. And we come to seasons like the one we are in now, when things maybe are not going as we had planned, yet we find God in the midst of life situations that we never thought we’d be in…God moving in the midst of chaos, darkness, broken relationships.
Jesus has done the work and this Jesus is calling us to stop waiting and move into his actions for us that can bring us a new way of thinking, a new way of living, a rebirth.
This rebirth is in constant motion. Since Jesus is God, Jesus doesn’t end, therefore Jesus’ actions are sealed forever with us, just as we are sealed with Jesus. At 54 years of age, I am again realizing deeply what it means to present myself to God and others as someone who has been brought from death to life and to be truly “present” to God and others. This season of so much loss in my life, I am realizing that losing everything, means to gain everything. My reality, my true self, is found in Jesus as the great Catholic writer, Thomas Merton says:
“Our reality, our true self, is hidden in what appears to us to be nothingness….We can rise above this unreality and recover our hidden reality….God Himself begins to live in me not only as my Creator but as my other and true self.”
God, the Creator, wants you to know that life, real life, is happening through God’s constant actions in and around you. There is new life, this rebirth, as signified in baptism! God is doing a new thing as the writer in Isaiah says:
18 o not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
19 I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
We may be living in a dry place in our lives. We may be having a hard time forgiving someone or being forgiven. Maybe you are waiting for something to happen in your life, but you aren’t sure what that is. You may want desperately to experience something new. Friends, We don’t have time to live in regrets, the waiting is over, it’s time to grow up and live, really live as we learn to love ourselves, God, and others. As Yale divinity professor and author Miroslav Volf says that in our journey, we remember truthfully, we condemn wrong deeds, we heal, we repent, have a change, and we end by letting go of the memory of wrongdoing as we are reconciled through Christ.
Jesus has brought a new thing and wants us to live reconciled and reset lives as we enter into new reality that is fully present with each other. You, and our community, have been baptized in Christ. The old life has gone, and a new reality is upon us. May we stop waiting and live in the reality of God’s Presence within us, around us, and follow God’s movement towards all of humanity in the streets and neighborhood around us.