January 9, 2022
Every year the church recognizes the Sunday after Epiphany as the Baptism of Jesus. And every gospel writer includes their own account of Jesus' baptism. We are in lectionary cycle C and so we read Luke's account. I am struck by the contrast between Luke's and Mark's accounts. Mark began his gospel whole right here, John baptizing Jesus. Luke, as we have just seen through Advent and Christmas, gives us much more background into the life of Jesus. By the time Luke gets to the baptism, he has told us about Zechariah and Elizabeth and the conception of John, of Mary's annunciation and then her visit to Elizabeth. He's told us of the journey to Bethlehem and the birth in a stable, the angels and shepherds greeting the new born king. And in the only account of the child Jesus, he wrote of Jesus being lost in Jerusalem at age twelve.
I've titled today's sermon connections. I want to take the many connections in these accounts and bring them forward into the present day and how we are connected by our baptisms to each other, to Jesus and to the whole church past and present. I typed that out and realize, that is a big proposition! And I probably can't do all of that in a single sermon, but let's see what we can connect this morning.
And I'll start with our Old Testament reading from Isaiah-- another author we've been reading a lot during the Christmas season. “But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” God called Israel as a chosen people, God had a special connection with the offspring of Abraham and Jacob. Through Israel came the promised redeemer. And so many Old Testament promises are fulfilled in that redeemer; Jesus. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
We claim these promises for ourselves here, 2500 years later because of the connection we have through Jesus; through the Holy Spirit. We are claimed, the Lord knows us by name! Isaiah talked about water and rivers. Water is an important symbol in the life of the church from creation to today. Water was used in judgment in the time of Noah. The people passed through the Red sea to safety in the time of Moses. The Syrian Naaman was healed in the waters of the Jordan. And now John is baptizing people in those same waters of the Jordan River. And we continue using the waters of baptism to welcome children into the family of God. John's baptism was called a baptism of repentance because John was calling the people to change their ways; to repent of their sinful ways and live a life worthy of their calling by God. But I think an important line is this, “when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized...” It reminds us that Jesus was baptized along with all the other people. This was to emphasize his connection to humankind. For Jesus, as for us, baptism was not a private affair. He was baptized along with his fellow Israelites. When we are baptized, it is always in community. In our Book of Order, the denominations constitution if you will, baptism is explained, “Baptism is the sign and seal of our incorporation into Jesus Christ. In his own baptism, Jesus identified himself with sinners—yet God claimed him as a beloved Son, and sent the Holy Spirit to anoint him for service. Baptism is the bond of unity in Jesus Christ. When we are baptized, we are made one with Christ, with one another, and with the Church of every time and place. In Christ, barriers of race, status, and gender are overcome.” Baptism holds many meanings, but today I wanted to emphasize how we are connected in the waters of baptism to Jesus, one another and the whole Church.
My current times of private readings have affirmed this theme. Ruth Townsend shared a book of Tom's that I just finished. It is titled simply Paul. It looks into the life and teachings of Paul, much as we did in our Tuesday bible study on Acts. It said this, “Paul...regarded the individual churches which he helped to establish... never as groups of people entirely dependent on themselves, but always as members of the one body of Christ. He made that connection a reality... in relation to each other they were member of one body.”1
And in preparation for today's service I read this from 1 Corinthians 12: “12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free...27Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
And in this week's Christian Century, Ismael Ruiz-Millan wrote of Luke's account and the connection made that day, “Jesus ...wants to seal and affirm the beginning of this messianic community with the assurance of the same spirit that affirmed him-- the Holy Spirit. Jesus continues doing that today.”2 And through that Holy Spirit, we are connected in community to Jesus. Jesus was not baptized for the forgiveness of his sins, he was baptized to demonstrate his connection to us, to you and me.
And this connection is pertinent as we ordain and install church officers today. Every ordination connects us to the generations of faithful who have come before. There is an unbroken connection of ordinations from the ordination of the first deacons by the apostles to today. Many of you have already been ordained. And today, when we ordain Kennedy into the office of Deacon and install our officers, recall your own ordinations and installations. The promises made, faith affirmed, the Spirit sought in the laying on of hands; a succession of one generation to the next going back to the time of Christ. We are part of a community of faithful servants from generations past, connected to fellow believers worldwide today, connected in a special way to the membership here in this church. When you were baptized and when you were ordained, the congregation gathered-- the community of faith-- promised to pray for you. Connected by prayer, by service, by denominational ties, by fellowship in our congregation. Even our annual meeting reminds us that for 152 years, this church has met and brought God's word to the people. We remain connected to that great cloud of witnesses.
So our message today, from Luke and John and Paul, live in the connection and fellowship we have in Jesus Christ. Let the Holy Spirit confirm your faith and lead you in the ways of God. And when you hear the call of the Lord, respond “Here I am, lord, send me.” We are sent to show love, justice, grace and mercy in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Hymn: Here I Am Lord 525
1Paul by Martin Dibelius and Werner Georg Kumel; pg 155-56
2Ismael Ruiz-Millan in Christian Century Dec. 29, 2021 pg 20