1/10/2016 Baptism of Our Lord The text: is Luke 3:15-17, 21-22.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Several years ago, a relatively unknown basketball team from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock defeated the heavily favored Notre Dame team in the NCAA basketball tournament. After that stunning victory, reporters crowded around coach Mike Newell for his analysis of the upset victory. He answered simply, yet significantly, “Your only limitation is your imagination.”
Our lives are often fenced in by our low expectations. This is true not only of what we expect of ourselves. It is true also of what we expect to happen in our world. Our vision of God’s work is limited too. It is limited to what we expect from a God who often appears distant and hidden from our sight.
A generation of Jews living about twenty centuries ago did not expect to see the wonders and mystery of God in the flesh, any more than many of us. Their nation had not had a powerful prophetic witness for about four hundred years. Their knowledge of the glory of God was almost entirely historical, based upon how God had revealed himself to his people in the past. But, God chose to enter their lives in an unexpected way – through his Son, Jesus Christ. Through Jesus, God chose to reveal himself in a new way and to invite the people to participate in a new ministry. This was a new day…a new era…a new start. This new age for all people began to take shape, not in a stable, but in the waters of the Jordan River.
Now, Jesus was around 30 years old when he sought out his cousin John who was baptizing people in the River Jordan. The baptism which John was performing was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. That baptism focused on what the people shouldn’t do, based upon the Law of Moses, and the old covenant or testament with God. But, Jesus was in the world to usher in a new era, a new covenant or testament with his people. So, as God’s messenger in that closed world, John not only baptized people who were expecting nothing new from their God but he also raised a prophetic voice and he warned the very same people that one was coming after him who would baptize, not just with water, but with fire and spirit. So beware! God was about to do the unexpected and what he was going to do was fulfill the law and the prophets in Jesus.
This new beginning, this rebirth and new relationship began as Jesus, who had not sinned, walked into the water of the River Jordan as the first act of his ministry for us. It was in the midst of the waters of the Jordan that God revealed himself. God proclaimed pleasure with his son and sent forth the holy and life giving spirit which rested upon him. This is the same spirit that Jesus shares with all of us. He shares it with us as we are washed in the waters of our baptism and begin our ministry as people of God.
Our baptism is an important event in our lives as people of God. But, it would not be what it is if it were not for the baptism of Jesus. Jesus’ baptism is so important for us and our relationship with God that it is one of the few events recorded in all four gospels. Each gospel writer records the event differently – much in the same way each of us who have witnessed a baptism at our font would recall different details. Perhaps our remembrance of the event would be centered on our participation as a sponsor or parent or congregational rep, or as the one being baptized. Perhaps what we would remember would be the reaction of a baby as the water touched the forehead, or maybe we would recall the dazzling face of the a child being paraded through the congregation and introduced as a new member, or perhaps, our remembrance would be centered on the significance of our own baptism. What we would remember would be special to us, much in the same way that what Luke recalls about Jesus’ baptism is special.
Luke’s picture of the baptism focuses on the meaning of the event for the life and ministry of Jesus and the church. This means that the familiar setting of the Jordan River is not apparent; John the Baptist’s part in the proceedings is limited to a preliminary announcement; and the event itself is noted only in a subordinate clause. Instead of providing us with fine details, Luke invites us to focus our attention on a dove and on the images of spirit and fire.
To Luke, these are the most important details to remember – the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus, and John’s prophetic speech. For, in these things we find the themes of anointment and designation for ministry. In them, we find the Christ. In them we find the unexpected grace of God and through them we see the working of God in our lives.
In Jesus, the Old Testament washing for repentance is transformed into a gift of God. It becomes a means by which we are anointed with Holy Spirit and sent into the world for ministry. This means that ministry, my friends, is not just my job, my vocation – it is yours too. It is something we share as members of God’s family, washed in the same waters of baptism.
Because of what Jesus did for us in the River Jordan, we no longer need to focus on what we should not do. Instead, we focus on what we can do and what we are as children of God. Together, sharing the gifts which God has given us through the Holy Spirit, we form a powerful image of God’s presence in the world. Our only limitation on how we can serve others in Christ’s name is our collective imagination.
Yes, it’s hard work to break out of the mold of the past – to embrace a new relationship, a new beginning, a fresh start. But in Jesus, God chose to usher in a new era and a new day for us who need his grace. God chose to transform our lives with water and with spirit and fire.
Anointed with water and molded by the Holy Spirit, may God expand our imagination as he works us into his image of faith-filled people, empowered for ministry. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.