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First Sunday after the Epiphany year A

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First Sunday after the Epiphany

The baptism of Our lord Jesus Christ

Year A

January 13, 2008

St Francis, Norris

  Matthew 3: 13-17

Why in heavens name would Jesus need to be baptized?  Why would a person such as John be the one doing the baptism? Why did Jesus go immediately into the wilderness after his baptism? So many questions arise from these biblical stories, don’t they? It becomes more and more obvious to me that the writers of scripture have more than just the telling of a story as a goal. Their intent is also to make us think.

A more fundamentalist approach would be to just accept, believe and don’t think about what it all means. But we will avoid that approach wont we? We are not robots to be programmed without any doubts or wonderings. God made us to be free. Free to think, free to make our own decisions and free to believe or not believe whatever we wish.

 That is where we get into so much trouble isn’t it? Freedom has its price is a saying that applies in many ways. But that is how we learn and, to be perfectly honest, that freedom is how we come to have faith. Blind acceptance would require no faith the way I see it. Faith requires that we make a decision to believe something that cannot be explained. Saying that I believe in the resurrection because I have faith, (even though I cannot explain it) is not the same as saying I believe it because the Bible says it.

Jesus is baptized. Baptism is a rebirth and a washing away of sins. Jesus never sinned is what we are taught. Jesus would have no need of baptism then. Jesus was a Jew. Jews were not baptized…then or now. Jews were the chosen ones; the children of Abraham. They had no need of baptism. Only those sinning gentiles were baptized so what the heck was Jesus trying to do?

We were taught in seminary that baptism was the full and complete initiation into the church. Once baptized you are forever a member of the church; and I believe that. I disagree with being baptized more than once, just as I disagree that you must be an adult to be baptized. To me that implies that you must earn the right to be baptized. Baptism is a part of God’s free grace. Free means you can do nothing to earn it. Nothing… And re-baptism makes me think that we should be baptized whenever we fall into sin and wish to repent. If that were the case, I guess I would hardly ever have the opportunity to dry off other than in sleeping. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

But again I ask; why would Jesus need to be baptized? Well, I am certainly not the first to ask that question. Nor the last.  But, I do have a theory.

We hear John proclaiming the coming of a great Messiah to baptize them with the Holy Spirit and fire. He tells us that he is going to forcefully wipe up the mess in all the land. And then this mild mannered Jesus walks into the river to be baptized by John…just like everyone else. The key here is “just like everyone else.” The people are awaiting a strong military type and they get Jesus instead. John is more surprised than any of them and feels like Jesus should baptize him rather than the other way around. That certainly is understandable, especially at this very beginning of the ministry. They have no idea what Jesus will be like.

I think that this is the earliest indication we have that when God sent his Son to be one of us, he was very serious about Him being one of us. God didn’t send him to be our ruler or dictator. He could have had him be born into the ruling class and become the King in a more conventional method but the point would be totally missed. God came down to be one of us. A commoner, not one of the elite. Someone with humble beginnings.

John did not expect that. John was clearing the way and letting it be known that the Messiah was on the way. So, when Jesus asked John to baptize him, he didn’t know how to react. He wanted to be baptized by Jesus, not the other way around. But Jesus would have none of that. Jesus is demonstrating humility. He is also being initiated through this baptism. Initiated into humanity.  He is putting on of the final touches on his being completely human…one of us. It is the initiation into His ministry also. His ministry of leadership, by the example of humility.

Right then God also sends His Holy Spirit upon Jesus. So at the same instant that Jesus is baptized into humanity he is also empowered by God, with his divinity. I like that concept. Becoming completely human and divine at the same time.

It is of no small importance that Jesus goes into the wilderness to be tested immediately after this baptism, being led by the spirit. That same spirit that settled on him in the Jordan. Just as we are continually tested after our baptism. We often fail in our being testing. But the fact that Jesus did not fail and then gave his life in order to forgive our failings means that One baptism is a full and sufficient initiation into the church.

Jesus knows; God knows we are going to fail, over and over again. Baptism means that we are to be forgiven our failings…we need only repent. Jesus being baptized by a man of humble beginnings was an act of humility done on our behalf. Jesus being crucified by common soldiers was an act of humility done on our behalf. God coming to the world, born of a woman of humble beginnings is an act of humility done on our behalf.

We are about to renew our own baptismal vows. I hope that it can be done with great humility also. For we deserve none of the great blessings we receive through baptism. We have done nothing to earn the unending forgiveness that we have received and will continue to receive as long as we repent our misdoings. Many of us were baptized as infants and many were baptized as young people who had a feeling for what it means to be baptized. A few were baptized later in life. God values no one baptism any more than the other. They are all equal initiations through the grace of God into the kingdom of God.

I was baptized over fifty years ago. Maryn and Eli were baptized less than a year ago, in this Church. I know now what my baptism means, to some extent. They have no idea what it means. Yet the grace of God handed out to the three of us is the same grace handed to every baptized Christian…no matter what the age or level of understanding. It means that we are all members of a very non-exclusive club. We have met the qualifications to become members…that is, to be loved by God. Loved so much that he would send his only Son as a sacrifice for us.

While we are members forever, (if we want to be), there are a few things that we need to practice for a meaningful membership to exist. We need to renounce evil. We need to believe in God. We need to believe in Jesus. We need to believe in the Holy Spirit. We need to follow the bible, come to communion and pray.  We need to ask forgiveness of our sins. We need to have Christ as our example of how to live our life. We need to love our neighbor. We need to strive for justice as we respect the dignity of every person.

Whenever we do these things we are living into our baptism and are members in good standing. Keeping in mind that we will often fail, it is important to remember to ask for forgiveness, over and over again. Its ok, the grace is still free. Always has been…always will be. AMEN

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