First Sunday after the Epiphany: The Baptism of our Lord
Year A, RCL
It takes merely ten verses from the book of Acts to summarize the entire Gospel. Everything you need to know for your salvation is laid out here starting with baptism. The baptism we receive is the same baptism John gave to the people. A baptism with water. A baptism of repentance. And a baptism of new life. Baptism is powerful, even Jesus seems to have been changed by his baptism; for after he was baptized, Jesus begins his ministry to the people.
We know what Jesus’ ministry was. We have 27 books in the New Testament that tell us people’s personal experience with Jesus; their experience of his birth, their experience of his baptism, their experiences of Jesus’ interactions with others and even their experience of his death. But their experience of Jesus didn’t stop there. They had more. They experienced Jesus through his resurrection much as we do today. Death could not constrain Jesus any more than we are constrained by death through Jesus.
The Gospel message is simple. Be baptized. Preach peace. Tell others that Jesus Christ is Lord of all. Spread this message. Tell others of the good and healing that Jesus has done. About him being put to death and rising again. Peter, as quoted in the books of Acts, says we are witnesses to all this; all that he has done.
Intellectually we understand that through our baptisms, through the grace of God and the forgiveness of our sins, we are made heirs as children of God and have the same inheritance that Jesus received; everlasting life. Yet we are asked…actually, Peter says we are commanded, to act on this faith by preaching and testifying to the good news, the Gospel message.
Through our baptism, we are transformed. By our acceptance of our faith we are called to be more, do more, or at least to live life differently than the people around us. I don’t need to reiterate what these are. I’ve preached on them, you have read about them. And as a Christian, you have some knowledge by now as to what I am speaking about.
But today is about Baptism. The first of the two great sacraments; sacraments that all of Christendom uphold. And today we celebrate Jesus’ baptism and I wonder if we have ever considered why Jesus was baptized? Why does Jesus say it is proper for John to baptize him “in this way?” Jesus is sinless. He has no need for repentance. Yet he stands in line to be baptized like the rest of us.
Jesus receives baptism as an example for us. By submitting himself, as he does in a similar way at the foot washing, Jesus gives us an example of what we are to do. In baptism, Jesus is publicly committing himself to the will of God. Committed to be the agent of God’s salvation. This is why denominations who baptize infants also expect confirmation to be the mature affirmation of one's commitment to God; their commitment to be agents of God’s salvation. When was the last time you thought of yourself as an agent of God’s salvation?
There are more evangelical traditions that see themselves in this way, and they see the Bible as the training manual on how to do this work. There are people at the extreme. They tend to be very pushy about their faith, asking people if they have been saved; and ready to pull out their manual of salvation at any given moment. This is not the typical MO of Episcopalians. Maybe we are the secret agents of God’s salvation; or undercover agents. Maybe some of us have even taken it to the other extreme and become clandestine black-ops agents of God and no one but ourselves know the mission we are on? Heck, maybe we don’t even know the mission we are on.
Paul, from the Book of Acts, says that through our baptism, through our confirmation, we are commanded to preach to the people and to testify. This doesn’t sound like something we can do in absolute secrecy; an operation that only you and God know about. No, we are commanded to talk to others to let others know of our mission. The gospel is clearly not a black-ops operation.
Some of us were recruited to the agency I’ll call Christianity as young adults. Some of us were recruited before we could walk or talk, but most of you, somewhere in your life, were asked to be God’s agent. Each of you were made uniquely and likewise, the work God has given you to do will be a bit different from your neighbor. Yet each of us has the same perfect example of Jesus Christ leading us to do this work. And when we commit ourselves or recommit ourselves to this work there is a voice from heaven, one that you may or may not hear, that says to you, this is my child, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.