Faith United Methodist Church
January 15, 2017
Baptism of Jesus Sunday
Rev. Kristabeth Atwood
Scripture: Matthew 3:13-17, Isaiah 42:1-9
Prayer of Illumination:
Voice of God, you are powerful enough to shake the wilderness, yet tender enough to bathe Jesus in your love at his baptism. Open us to your fresh possibilities. Tell us what you will bring about through the gift of your Spirit as you word falls upon us this day. Amen.
Sermon: The Grace of Acceptance
Our worship series for the next few weeks focuses on the question, “Who are you?” Who are you? There are many ways we can answer that question. I am a Christian, a wife, a daughter, a pastor, a step-mother, a friend, a writer, a swimmer, a dog-trainer, a neat freak, a worrier, a brunette, a Methodist….. Depending on the circumstances we might answer that question in any number of ways. But over the next few weeks we are going to try to drill down into that question ~ get beyond the surface ~ to discover, or re-discover, who we are at our core. Who God calls us to be.
And this morning our Scripture brings us to the topic of baptism. Martin Luther, the reformer of the 16th century whose name was carried by Martin Luther King Jr., was the one who set into motion the events that led to the Protestant Reformation. Luther went up against some pretty powerful people of his day as he pointed out what we saw as the hypocrisy of the church. Tradition has it that whenever he felt doubt or fear or tiredness creeping in he would remind himself of his identity by touching his forehead and saying, “I am baptized!”
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 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 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.” 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, “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, Isaiah described the one who would come to save Israel, not as a mighty king but as a humble servant.
And live as a servant, Jesus did. And after his death and resurrection Jesus commissioned his disciples to go into all the world baptizing in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. In doing so Jesus tells us that we are his brothers and sister and we share in both his servant-hood and his belovedness.
As our Seasons of the Spirit reminds us, “In Christ, we are those whom God calls beloved and with whom God is pleased.” When we present ourselves ~ or our parents present us ~ for baptism, we take our place in the family of God. Baptism is not a spiritual inoculation. It is a commitment to live in the way of Christ, even after the water has dried ~ especially after the water has dried. In the words of that great reformer, Martin Luther, “A truly Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism once begun and ever to be continued.”
Through our baptism our identity is intertwined with Christ’s identity. In baptism our identity is revealed and we receive the promise that we are God’s beloved children. We are assured that in the challenges and opportunities that unfold across our life, God is with us.
God does not have to accept us and call us beloved. Baptism is the sacrament of grace and acceptance into God’s own family. Baptism is not something that we earn or something we can buy. It is a true gift of grace given without any advance preparation needed and it is available to everyone. In our baptism God calls us beloved and gives us what we need to become who we are called to be. As United Methodists we affirm that baptism is something that only happens once in our life time, but it can happen at any point on our journey ~ as babies, as children or as adults.
If you are baptized, how often to you think of it? Once a day? Once a week? Once a month? I have to admit that I don’t think about my baptism as often as I probably should. Yet remembering our baptism can help give us strength and guidance as we move throughout our days. Just as Martin Luther remembered his baptism often as he battled despair, remembering our baptism can help us remember who and whose we are.
So, who are you? I can list all of those things I listed earlier, but does that really answer the question of who I am? I’m not sure. We all crave a sense of identity, but what if we looked at it in a little different way? How about you repeat after me! I am God’s child. I am deserving of love and respect. God will use me to change the world. That is a pretty amazing identity.