Baptism of our Lord, 2017
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
Imagine what it would look like if we celebrated the baptism of Jesus more loudly than we celebrate Christmas. Instead of Christmas cards we would send out ‘remember that you are baptized cards’. Instead of decorating a tree we would decorate the font. Instead of eating sweets we would drink more water. And take more baths. Or at least learn to revere the water we use.
The prominence and importance of Jesus’ baptism is not usually reflected in the rhythms of our modern Christian traditions.
Yet all four gospels feature the baptism of Jesus. Told in much the same way. Unlike the birth narratives, which are told in only two of the gospels Luke and Matthew and told in very different ways in each of them.
Suggesting that Jesus’ baptism seems more critical to any telling of Jesus’ ministry than does the narrative of his birth.
What made the baptism of Jesus so important?
Over the centuries, Christian scholars have filled many pages arguing about just that question. Was Jesus in need of being washed of his sins? Of conversion? Did Jesus need to repent of something before he could get on with his ministry?
“Repent” was certainly the word John the baptizer used when calling people to baptism. Repent: Metanoia that is the word in Greek that is used here. Metanoia does not mean ‘feeling sorry for doing bad things.’ Or needing to say you are sorry. Or getting rid of a sin of some kind.
Metanoia, repent here means a turning around. Or a change that is so complete you become greater than you started out. Metanoia can be likened to metamorphous. What a caterpillar goes through to become a butterfly. What you were is something important and special but what you become is so different and new that you have to learn how to do things completely differently. You are able to do things completely differently.
What a different perspective this opens on a familiar Christian word. Rather than “Change your bad ways!” we now hear “Look! Look! God is inviting you to a new way of seeing!
Come into a completely different way of seeing and being so that you can now see how God sees!” This is no easy task, but the baptism of Jesus offers us some clues to how we might take steps to “repent.” To experience a metamorphous of being.
John, of course said: Jesus I won’t baptize you, You should be baptizing me. The scriptures say that John stopped Jesus. Prevented him...
We know that John and Jesus were learning more and more about their roles and their identity as messengers of God’s good news. John knew that Jesus was special and was above him; so
You remember, they were cousins. I know that we like to think of this as a very dignified event. However, I wonder if there wasn’t a little wrestling match, like cousins do, on the banks of the river as John kept trying to stop Jesus from going into the river.
John needed to know that a new thing was happening. His baptism for repentance was going to be transformed into something that would start a revolution. A new thing.
This water of baptism was going to go from being a Jewish ritual of cleansing into a mark of grace and a calling to full time, all the time, discipleship. Repentance for sin was no longer the focus. Now the focus would be on living day in and day out as a disciple of his cousin Jesus.
Remember what John said: Come for your baptism. Repent for the Kindom of Heaven is at hand.
Jesus transformed those words into: Be baptized for the Kindom of Heaven is now with us.
Jesus left the waters of baptism and walked out into the world declaring, the Kindom of Heaven is like: a woman who searches for a coin, a shepherd who searches for a lamb, a father who waits patiently for his son to come home, a judge who gives a woman justice reluctantly, a Savior who eats with sinners, touches the untouchable and declare the unclean holy.
Jesus walks from the waters of baptism, the heavens are ripped open and the kindom of God is on earth as it is in heaven.
Walking around. Showing us how to who we were created to be.
This week the confirmation students and I looked at the baptismal covenant service that we speak every time there is a baptism here.
I think it is so important for us to pay attention to baptisms. To be together in this holy time of surrounding the newly baptized as they begin their journey into Christian discipleship. AND as we reaffirm our own commitment to Christian discipleship.
In the United Methodist Church we do not take vows on behalf of the child. We simply reaffirm our own vows that we took at baptism and promise to walk alongside the baptized as they live in a way that will lead them to affirm the vows at their confirmation.
And the vows we take are some powerful words.
Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sins?
I was at a peace and justice session on the Doctrine of Discovery at Assisi Heights this week where we were amazed at how the church that lifts up these powerful vows can also be the institution that creates evil and injustice and wickedness.
We will be talking and discovering more about the Doctrine of Discovery during Lent this year. But just to say: it is an insidious mandate that has been used to force Native Americans from their land, enslave people around the world, and exploit the earth. And it was created by the Church.
These baptismal vows are powerful words. And we ignore them at our peril. Because these are the words that bring about the furtherance of the Kindom of God that Jesus opened for us in his life, death and resurrection.
Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sins. Embracing these words and acting on them in whatever way you can is what metanoia means. Embracing a counter cultural way of living that opens up the kindom of heaven here on earth.
This is what Jesus did. This is what the baptism of Jesus signified: he was embracing all that he could be and do to bring about the kindom of heaven here on earth. He was entering into the metanoia that he invites us all to.
And it got him crucified. Because that much love and grace and Godliness is too much for us to bear.
UNLESS! And here is the good news of the resurrection: Because we can’t kill love and grace and Godliness, we can begin to live into that much grace and love and Godliness.
And IF more and more and more and more people begin to live into that much love and grace and Godliness it will no longer be counter cultural it will become the norm.
Wouldn’t that be amazing?
If we took our baptism as seriously as Jesus took his, walked out of those waters and into the world renouncing the spiritual forces of wickedness:
Low self-esteem, anger that results in violence, peer pressure, poverty, racism, homophobia, shame, addiction
And rejecting the evil forces of this world:
Systems that create entrenched poverty, slavery, lack of health care, laws that bind rather than free, attitudes that declare some people more worthy than others.
If we did that right here where we live. Embracing our baptism and living the life we are saved to live. The live that Jesus lived. We could start to live into the kindom of heaven right here in Chatfield.
Now, we aren’t doing this by ourselves on our own strength or goodness. For we also speak these words in our baptismal covenant:
Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.
God gives us the freedom and power we need to be the person we are created to be. That is the most amazing grace filled truth of all times. We are not expected to work at it on our own strength. Just as the voice of God spoke to Jesus so the power of God works in us.
Whew! Because I could never do any of this on my own. But with the power of God’s Spirit in my life and in the life of this community, we can become those whose new normal is the kindom of heaven.
There is a wonderful poem penned by The Rev. Howard Thurman, an African American civil rights leader and pastor of one of the first interracial and interdenominational churches in America.
As we leave the season of Epiphany and walk again from the place of our baptism into the world, these words would be good to remember
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music from the heart.
To renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world and repent, change into that person you are created to be. All with the power and freedom of God and our collective witness as people of Chatfield UMC.
What will happen here this year because we take our baptismal covenant seriously? I can’t wait to see.