Like many of my stories, this one is set in a hospital in West Texas, it was a day before I hit a snag in my ordination process, and a patient, not three years older than me at the time had suffered a serious decline; inexplicably, a mosquito bite led to the development of the West Nile virus, and before they knew it, she was paralyzed from the neck down. I was in the room, talking with her aunt as she slept. Our quiet whispers shared of the hope and prayers that were being prayed, when she woke up she tried mouthing words expressing a request as her aunt tried to read her lips; when that failed, the next attempt was to mouth letters to spell it out. It was a simple request, she wanted pudding; all she wanted was pudding, but by the time she got to the “n” in “want,” she was so frustrated and shook her head as a sign that she gave up: even the simple was too difficult. In that moment, the voice of her no-nonsense West Texas aunt said plainly and without room to argue, “Now baby, don’t get frustrated and give up.”
The next day, when I was praying in the church, wondering if I should continue the intense process that discernment for ordination can be, I looked up to the Te Deum window above the altar; I looked up with defeat, ready to stop the process and step out of the discernment and before my eyes could hit the stained glass version of Christ the Messiah, the voice of a no-nonsense West Texas aunt rang in my ears: “Now baby, don’t get frustrated and give up.” As my mind, with the aid of the Holy Spirit recalled her words, I knew that I couldn’t stop following who I was called to be.
In our gospel passage today, John has begun baptizing people and the people began to wonder if John himself might be the Messiah. Answering, John affirms his place in relation to Jesus, that he is unworthy even to untie the thong of his sandals. Jesus’ baptism, John responds is more than just water, it is a baptism of Holy Spirit and fire. Those left unaffected by Jesus’ message and the baptism he brings will meet the winnowing fork, and the chaff will be burned. Our lectionary then skips over some verses where John is imprisoned by Herod, and we suddenly find ourselves with all of the people having been baptized, including Jesus. As Jesus was praying, the heavens opened and a voice came down, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased,” affirming Jesus’ Messiah-hood and direct relation to God the Father.
As Luke recounts in our gospel passage today, after Jesus is baptized, the heavens open and God speaks directly to him, but we don’t all get that experience. Whether it’s the voice ringing in your head of a West Texas aunt or a gentle reminder of a meaningful object that helps you remember who you are and who you are called to be, if we pay attention, we can become aware of how we are continually drawn to God in our baptism; we can become of aware of the belovedness that Christ shares with us in his own baptism.
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord; today we take time to remember our own baptism and those who have gone before whose example we try to follow. Normally, we would reaffirm our Baptismal Vows on this day, but if you will recall, we did that last week as we welcomed Soren into the household of God when he got to experience the grace that God was already working in his young life. While not repeating those vows this day breaks with tradition, I think that it actually calls us to a very specific truth of our baptism.
We aren’t just baptized for the exciting moments, for the moments it’s easy to love God and our neighbor. We aren’t just baptized for the high holy days and for the beautiful services, we are baptized for the boring. We are baptized for the moments when no one is watching; we are baptized for the average days that herald nothing more special than the brilliant and awe-inspiring fact that God has created this beautiful world and us in it. We are baptized for moments in which we would like to give up; we are baptized for moments when even the simple is too difficult. We are baptized for the days when it is easy to forget who we are; we are baptized in the baptism of our Lord, and it is through that baptism that we are drawn continually toward God and toward each other.
In this baptism, we are called to see each person, event, and thing in the light of Christ; in this baptism we are changed and shaped. Baptism is many things, but it is never solely about saving our souls from the dangers of sin, though, it’s important to note that it is, at least in part, about that as well; baptism, at least in part, about sin. While it’s uncomfortable to talk about sin, a reminder on this day where we laud and celebrate baptism is a good time to remind that sin can such a heavy burden to bear and baptism, and our baptismal promises that we continually strive to live into, makes that burden light. Baptism is serious because it is about forgiveness of sins, but it is also serious because it’s not just about that. Because I think what we see here in Luke’s version of Jesus’ baptism, is that baptism at its utmost about grace and belovedness.
There are so many things in this world that can and do shape our identity. What sports team you follow and celebrate. What activities you love. How many people and animals live in your home can all shape your identity, but none should shape our identity more than the identity we take on when we are baptized. Our baptism shapes our identity because it helps us to remember to whom we belong.
In our Baptismal Covenant (BCP p. 304), we affirm our faith with a call and response version of the Apostles’ Creed, and then it’s followed with five baptismal promises:
Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent, and return to the Lord?
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
To each one, those who are being baptized and those who are reaffirming their own baptism, respond to each one not with “I do” or with “I already have” but with “I will, with God’s help.” This baptism is not a sign that we’ve got it all figured out, it is continual commitment; it is a continual choice to follow God’s calling found in our baptism. Each day we wake, we choose to what extent we will live into our baptismal covenant with God’s help.
So, on this day of the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, remember the promises that you made and remember the ways in which your baptism should change and shape you. Remember that we are baptized for the boring; remember that we are baptized for average days where nothing special is set to happen. Remember that in our baptism we share in Christ’s belovedness and that we are baptized for the times when the even the simple is too difficult. And most of all, remember that we do all that we are called to, but only with God’s help.
A sermon delivered to the people of Christ Episcopal Church, Bowling Green, KY on Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 on The First Sunday After the Epiphany for the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord on January 13, 2019.