Water + Call = Miracle Grow
Grace United Methodist Church
January 9, 2010
Matthew 3: 13-17 (NIV)
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Endings and beginnings. We think about them a lot at the start of each New Year. With this passage of time, we mark all that has happened in the last twelve months, and we anticipate what the coming year will hold. As Ken and I prepared for activities with my family on New Year’s Eve day, Ken commented to me, “This is the last day of the year in which we got married!” And later that same morning, without any knowledge of Ken’s earlier statement, my sister said, “This is the last day of Bryce’s birth year!” Whether intentionally or unintentionally, we make note of significant endings and beginnings, and this happens especially at the turn of each year. I have some friends, and perhaps some of you do this as well, who pull out a journal at the end of each year and write about all that has happened that year. And then they write about their hopes for the coming year. Then the next year, they pull that journal out again and compare all that has happened with their hopes for that year. It seems like a really neat idea to me, and it is certainly a way to mark the many endings and beginnings in our lives.
To be sure, we have a lot of milestones in our lives. Points where we mark the ending of one thing or the beginning of another, or perhaps a single event that does both, like a graduation. It’s interesting to think of baptism in this context of endings and beginnings. As we reflect back on our own baptisms, or perhaps anticipate our baptism in the future, we might see it in different ways. Perhaps some of us see it as an ending, the end of a life lived without knowing of the full claim of God’s love and grace. Maybe others of us see it as the beginning, the start of a special relationship between ourselves and God. There may be others of us to see it as both. It’s easy to look at baptism and simply rank it among the other milestones of our lives; the end of one thing or the beginning of another. But baptism is much more than a graduation or a new job, it holds significance far beyond the common milestones of our lives. And to understand the full significance of our baptisms, it is helpful to look at Jesus’ baptism.
Naturally, we might wonder why it is that Jesus even had a baptism. John’s question of Jesus is probably one that many of us have. “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Earlier in Matthew’s gospel, John the Baptist very plainly says that he offers a baptism of repentance for this forgiveness of sins. And yet, Jesus comes to the banks of the Jordan River to be baptized by John. Here is Jesus, the Messiah, the very son of God himself. Though fully human, he is also fully divine; pure, and holy, and without sin. Why would Jesus need to be baptized by John? It’s easy to understand John’s reluctance to immerse Jesus’ sacred head in the same muddy water with which he has baptized the unruly mob of sinners that now stand on the banks. But Jesus persists. “It is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness,” he tells John. Then, Matthew tells us, John consents.
Apparently, John understood why Jesus needed to be baptized. But if you are like me, it seems as if Jesus’ statement is about as clear as mud. That is, until Jesus emerges from the water. At which point, Matthew tells us, the heavens open, a dove descends and a voice declares, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” With this claim from God, suddenly the purpose of Jesus’ baptism is clear. The righteousness of which Jesus speaks is not a position or standing that he is seeking before God; not at all. Jesus’ baptism is about discipleship. In his baptism, Jesus is showing his submission and obedience to God the Father. Jesus’ baptism is about all those people standing on the banks of the Jordan River. And it’s about all of us too. Jesus came for all of us. And the one who is now being baptized by human hands, with a clear call to repentance ringing in the background, is also the one who will usher in God’s kingdom and bring the good news of forgiveness to those same human hands. Jesus’ baptism is not about him, it’s about us! And it wasn’t just his baptism, Jesus’ whole ministry is about his consistent service to God the Father and to those for whom he is bringing the gospel. It is only proper that his baptism would mark not an ending, but a transformation, and the beginning of his ministry.
And baptism is a beginning for us as well. It’s easy to look at baptism as an arrival point; to think that we have been washed of our sins and are now clean and scot free, with our reserved seat waiting for us in heaven. But this is not what baptism is about, and Jesus’ baptism helps us understand that! In baptism, we are claimed, and we are incorporated into Christ’s body, and we become a very part of his work! Jesus comes to fulfill God’s plans, not ours! And if we learn to listen carefully to what Jesus says, and watch carefully what he does, then we will find that our deepest longings, the hunger beneath the surface of excitement—will be richly met! And those of us, who in repentance and faith follow Jesus through baptism and along the road he prepares for us, will find — in unimagined glory – that the same voice that speaks to Jesus from heaven speaks to us as well!
In our baptisms, like Jesus, we are claimed by God, and we are called to a higher purpose. As we learn to put aside our own plans and submit to Christ’s plans, we will be given times of vision, glimpses of God’s greater reality! And at the center of all this, we will find our loving Father, affirming us as his children and equipping us with the Holy Spirit so that our lives can be swept clean and made ready for use.
God loves us and God claims us and affirms us, and our baptisms are the sign of that truth. But sadly, there are other signs of truths that are not so wonderful, and they abound. It happens all the time; in families, businesses, all over. Too many children grow up in our world who have never had a parent say to them (either in words, in looks, or in hugs), “You are my dear child,” let alone, “I’m pleased with you.” Often it’s the exact opposite; bosses cry out in angry voices, there is bitter rejection, the slamming of doors. Perhaps this has been your experience or the experience of someone you know or love. But the whole Christian Gospel could be summed up in this point: When the Living God looks at us, God sees us, not as we are in ourselves, but as we are in Jesus Christ! It sometimes seems nearly impossible to believe, especially to those of us who have never had this kind of support from our earthly families or our colleagues or peers, but it’s true! God looks at you; God looks at me, and says, “You are my dear, dear child; I’m delighted with you!” Think about that! God says that not only at your baptism, but every single day of our lives!
Baptism is something that God does for us—it is not something we can possibly do for ourselves nor earn! That’s why we only baptize persons once, because God gets it right the first time! Can we live into believing that? If so, our lives will be filled with the Holy Spirit and with fire! Without the affirming Words from God, all we often hear, in our mind’s ear, is doors being slammed. “You’re not good enough! You are stupid! You are ugly! You are unlovable!” But God never sees us this way. And that is the greatest news in the entire universe!
When that water pours over our head in our baptism, we know and feel in a very tangible way the love of God that is poured out on us from the very beginning of our lives. When that water washes over our hairs, we sense in a very real way the claim of God on our lives; a claim which not only brings us acceptance and assurance, but a claim which incorporates us into the body of Christ, and makes us fellow servants alongside our Lord. In our baptism is rooted our identity as Christians. We enter the water as one thing, and we emerge as something entirely different. And as we step out of the waters of our baptism, we have to do as Jesus did. We have to walk into the world and start ministering. This is how we grow, and it is also how God’s kingdom grows!
All around us in this world are people who long to be loved. They long to belong to something great and powerful. They hope to be freed of their past mistakes. Jesus’ baptism proclaims that there is a place for such people, that there is love for all people. And our baptism unites us with all others who have followed Jesus through the waters of baptism and proclaims that together we are now the ones to share this good news!
God has planted within each of us a seed. He put it there the very moment he began creating us. It is the very seed of God’s grace and love, and it is planted within all of us freely and without any expectations of return. But that seed will never grow beyond a tiny sapling if we do not water it with the water of baptism, and remember that with our baptism comes a call to share with others the message of God’s love and grace. Jesus didn’t have to be baptized, but he did it for us. And if we see our baptism as a simple assurance of our own salvation, then we are forgetting what baptism is about. Because of our baptism, we have to be out doing ministry as Jesus did, serving others above ourselves. And calling everyone to the living waters, where God’s love will take root and begin to grow!