Baptism of the Lord
Since leaving the pulpit three years ago to be a full time homemaker, our family has had more opportunity to worship with diverse strands of the Christian church and witness the baptisms of family, friends and strangers. Immersion, sprinkling, hot tubs, porcelain shells, flowing gowns, bathing suits, candles, vows, handshakes, testimonies, processions, and creeds. There is no standard form in which baptism is celebrated, and just below the surface a great deal of history about how we have fought and killed one another over the rite.
When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. (NIV)
It strikes me that Jesus isn’t alone. There are others there being baptized, and there is someone there to baptize Jesus. If anyone was qualified to baptize themselves and leave the whole messy religious system behind, it was Jesus. But that’s not what happened. Jesus isn’t a religious lone ranger.
In my 100,000+ population resource-based city where the average age hovers at thirty, church participation is incomprehensible to most and repugnant to many. Spirituality is defined as a personal matter. While in pastoral ministry, even the few parents who called asking about baptism for their children were puzzled and sometimes indignant that we asked them to join us in worship. In essence they wanted to baptize themselves. Even we in the church after an encounter with the apathy, idolatry or sin of the church and her people, may wonder about going it alone.
But then we watch as Jesus comes to be baptized to join, not abandon, the people of God. John thinks the Messiah will be untouchable; so important that John wouldn’t untie his sandals. But far from being separate, Jesus joins in life with us. Now in our time, we who come to be baptized humbly accept that God has joined us to one another. We participate together in the new thing God is doing.
At the baptism of Jesus, heaven is ripped open and God speaks, “You are my son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Perhaps some of our interdenominational ferocity over baptism highlights how central baptism is for our identity, and no less so for Jesus. Only two of the four gospels give us birth narratives, yet all four include the day God the Son wades into the Jordan river. God the Holy Spirit descends. God the Father speaks.
As Christians our baptism joins us to Christ. We share in being named and claimed by God. This isn’t primarily to fill our need to feel accepted and loved, though it certainly does that. When we forget our baptism, we forget who and whose we are. The world insists that we belong to ourselves, our employer, our family, our children’s school or sports team, or the government of our country. As Christians we reject all these claims of ownership; we belong to God. It is about God’s purposes, and through our baptism we no longer live for ourselves, we now live to, for and with God.
In Luke’s narrative, it is the very next chapter that tells of an attempt on Jesus’ life as he lives his Sonship, and we begin to glimpse how dangerous baptism is to the status quo. How does an employer manipulate employees to do their bidding if it contradicts the employees first allegiance to a God who requires truth, faithfulness and Sabbath rest? How does a family that relies upon guilt and shame to control its people retaliate if one of the members begins answering to a higher authority – living their acceptance and belonging that is no longer dependent on the approval of their family? How do education or recreation compete for the attention and affection of a people who already know their purpose and source of love? How does the marketplace get people to buy more and more if those people do not measure their value by the size of their house or make of their car; if those people follow a master who orders those who have 2 coats to give away one to their neighbour in need. How does a government ignite patriotism that will make citizens willing to die for its nationalistic causes when those citizen seek to fulfill the will of God whether or not it aligns with the will of the nation?
In baptism we discover we are adventurers following a crucified leader in searching to love the world. We begin to live dangerously – beloved and purpose filled – obedient to the God whom we serve.