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Faith United Methodist Church
January 12, 2014
Baptism of the Lord
Rev. Krista-Beth Atwood

Scripture: Matthew 3:13-17, Isaiah 42:1-9

Prayer of Illumination:

God has blessed us with more than an understanding of what is good and pleasing.  God has blessed us with new life and power through the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Rejoice in the glory of God that thunders for all the world to hear.  Sing praise to the one who was baptized by John, that we might become his disciples and children of the living God.  Amen.

Sermon: God’s Servant  

Last Sunday marked the arrival of a much-anticipated event.  It was the culmination of many months of waiting and wondering.  Indeed, sometimes it seemed like the day would never come.  Yet, when it did, it was as beautiful and heart-wrenching and joyful as I imagined it would be.  Does anyone want to guess what I am talking about?  Yes, the return of Downton Abbey.

For those who may not know, Downton Abbey is a British period drama shown on PBS Masterpiece Classic.  Currently in it’s fourth season, the story takes place in the early 1900’s.  It follows an aristocratic family ~ and their servants ~ through the cultural and personal changes of the time.  While Downton followers love the story lines that take place downstairs in the servants’ hall, I suspect we fancy ourselves as members of the family.  At home, Gary and I jokingly wonder when Mrs. Patmore will have dinner ready or when Carson will bring our tea.  It is more fun to think of oneself as the served, rather than the one doing the serving.

I could go on about Downton Abbey ~ Will Daisy find love?  Will Mary take her rightful place in running the estate?  Will Lord Grantham come to his senses and move into the 20th century?  But I should probably get to the Baptism of the Lord, since that is the real topic for today.  Today is the day we recall Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan by John.  Jesus, the one who last Sunday was worshiped as a King by Kings from the East, had grown into a man.  Despite all the talk of Kingship when he was an infant, Jesus did not appear much like a king.  He had no flowing robes, no Downton Abbey size mansion, no thrown.  He was simply the carpenter’s son from Nazareth headed down to the Jordan to visit his cousin John.

John, though, recognized Jesus for who he really was ~ the one everyone had been waiting for, the very Son of God.  So when Jesus presented himself to be baptized, John hesitated saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  Yet, Jesus explained to John that it was necessary.  “Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”  Jesus needed to go to the riverbank, to get wet, to sink his toes in the mud just like everyone else who had come down to the Jordan.  As Eric Barreto wrote, “Jesus is not a king who won’t deign to tread the humble paths of his servants.”   We don’t go into the waters of baptism alone.

John was right, though.  Jesus’ baptism was no ordinary baptism.  (Not that there ever is an ordinary baptism.) The Scripture tells us that as Jesus came up from the waters the heavens opened and the Spirit of God descended like a dove.  God then spoke, saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  A baptism fit for royalty.  What wonderful words to hear.  Yet the people gathered on the banks of the Jordan heard more than beautiful words.  They heard words echoing back to those spoken long ago by the prophet Isaiah, words we read this morning.  “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom I delight.”  This passage is from a portion of Scripture known as The Servant Songs.  Some 600 years before Jesus The Servant Songs describe the one who will come to save Israel, not as a mighty king but as a humble servant.

How often do you think of you own baptism?  Once a day?  Once a week?  Once a month?  I have to admit that I don’t think about my baptism very often.  I know I am baptized, but I think of the fact of it less often than I would like.  Yet remembering our baptism can help give us strength and guidance as we move throughout our days.  Martin Luther, the Reformer, remembered his baptism often as he battled despair.   Remembering our baptism also can help us make choices about how to live our lives and spend our time.

Like Jesus’ own baptism, our baptism confers blessing as well as responsibility.  Being baptized into Jesus’ own baptism we are baptized into servant-hood. As Isaiah wrote the words of God, “I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”  This was Jesus mission and today, as those baptized in his name, it is ours.

So, what does it mean to you to know that you are loved as God’s child and also called to be God’s faithful servant?  When watching my cherished Downton Abbey, I would rather put myself in the place of Lady Edith than the housemaid, Anna.   In our day ~ as in Jesus’ day ~ there are values around position, class and prestige.  The higher up the better.  But those are not God’s values.    God’s values, as reflect through Jesus’ life and the words of Isaiah, center around peace and justice and love.

In a few moments we will join in the Baptismal Liturgy from our United Methodist Tradition.  At the conclusion you will be invited to dip your hand in the font and make the sign of the cross on your forehead ~ an act of remembering and thanksgiving between you and God.  If you have not been baptized you are welcome to come forward and do the same, as a sign of the commitment you will make at your baptism on some future day.  In taking these moments to reflect on the sacrament of baptism we affirm that we have been blessed ~ we are beloved ~ and we have been called to be a blessing ~ servants of God.  Amen.