I speak in the name of God;
Creator, Redeemer and Giver of Life and Love. Amen.
Earlier, we prayed together these words of the Collect – you might wish to return to the pew bulletin to take a look at the words for yourself, as I emphasise some words and phrases in particular;
at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan
you proclaimed him your beloved Son,
and anointed him with the Holy Spirit:
grant that all who are baptised into his name
may keep the covenant they have made,
and boldly confess him as Lord and Saviour;
This morning I will explore with you, using our Isaiah and Gospel readings, just what our Collect could mean for us.
What might it mean for Jesus, and ourselves, to be God’s “beloved”? If we are indeed “called”, then what does that look like? This morning I will encourage us all to consider that “keeping our baptismal covenant” can also be explained as “living into our Baptism”. And the best way to do just that, is to offer who we are, just as we are, right here, right now.
I, for one, do not remember my own baptism! I was a tiny baby with grown adults making promises on my behalf. However, the baptisms of our two daughters were both powerful and formative moments in my own journey of faith. As new and early parents, bringing our children forward, asking God’s blessing to be theirs, publicly affirming the promises of our own faith with the prayer that our daughters will choose the same … their whole baptism services were carefully planned and organised. I have them here! This sacrament of welcome into the living community of faith is as much a gift of God’s love for parents, Godparents and others as it is for the Baptised. A love made real for us through the acknowledgement that we come to God just as we are, from exactly where we are, and welcomed within our denominations.
I say ‘denominations’ because Richard and I have navigated our Anglican and Roman Catholic traditions, with priests from both at each baptism, one child baptised at the Anglican Theological College of St Francis, and the other baptised at the Catholic Seminary at Banyo. I wonder if you can pick which child was baptised ‘what’? It matters not! Because our children, like their parents before them, have been uniquely called, and uniquely loved … to become their true selves as Children of God. They, along with all baptised, are blessed and called to live into their baptism. Being part of a ‘Church’ is to help us all explore just who we are as one-off expressions of what it means to be human.
Today our lectionary takes us to the Baptism of Jesus, remembered each year this first Sunday following Epiphany, and this year is it the Gospel of Luke’s turn. But in partnership with this Gospel reading is the Old Testament’s book of Isaiah. The words of the Prophet are summoned earlier in Luke, just a few verses before today’s reading. It is John the Baptist who recalls the words,
“As it is written in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, ‘prepare the way of the Lord, make the paths straight, every hill and mountain shall be levelled off, the rough paths made smooth and the winding paths straight. All people will see God’s salvation’ ”.
John is preparing his listeners, but also his own followers, to be ready for the one who is to come, the Messiah.
It is no accident that the lectionary gives us the Isaiah reading today in partnership with the Gospel recount of Jesus’ Baptism. In hearing it read, our ears are made ready to recognise the call of Christ in the Gospel, it opens our hearts to be ready for the message of what Jesus’ baptism means for Him and for ourselves. Reading Isaiah this morning places us into the blessed space where we are loved into our being, where we see the Godly gifts that are ours and we share in a truth that says to all who are called – in Isaiah 43:1 “Fear not, you are mine, I call you by name”, Isaiah 43:4 “you are precious, honoured, I love you” and in verse 7, “everyone who is called by name, I formed and made, I created for my glory”. Thus, our congregational ears are set, then, to hear the Gospel. But not just hear the literal words, but to live the message. Live the significance of the Baptism of Jesus and to know that as surely as God sets Jesus on His ministry, so too does God set each of us on our path, our own ministry. We are called to live the message as Jesus, too, was called to live.
So, having heard the Isaiah reading, we are ready to hear Luke’s account of Jesus’ Baptism by John. In this story, the Lucan author points out that it is not John, but rather the one to follow him, who will baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Perhaps this is a shout-out to the events at Pentecost where the Spirit is ‘seen’ through tongues of fire. We also hear of the Holy Spirit taking on the bodily form of a dove, perhaps to emphasise to listeners and witnesses alike that Jesus has truly been chosen, indeed the Holy Spirit physically was present and entered into him.
Jesus’ baptism is an Epiphany, a significant moment for Jesus himself. We imagine that most likely it took the form of a full immersion in the River Jordan, symbolising a full “scrubbing up” so Jesus is ready for the next step in his role. And just as Jesus grows into His own baptism, so we each day are called to grow and live into our own baptism. In this moment, it is made clear in Luke’s Gospel that it is when Jesus prays that the heavens are then opened and the Holy Spirit descended. It is in His moment of silent conversation with the loving Creator that God’s expectations come into reality. Jesus hears the Divine voice, calling Him into his identity and mission, Jesus gains affirmation and insight into this identity and worth, “You are my Son, my beloved. With You I am well-pleased”.
For all present, for those within ear-shot, Jesus is clearly identified as God’s Son – a title more powerful than Son of Abraham, a title that sets him above John the Baptist, again making it clear that John is not the Messiah.
There is no doubt as to the importance of the moment of the Baptism of Jesus. This is the moment where Jesus’ ministry kicks off. This is the moment where, for the crowds gathered, Jesus is lifted higher than John the Baptist, his cousin. But why should Jesus have been baptised? What purpose does his baptism have for us today?
It would seem fair enough to recognise that Jesus doesn’t require baptism (not in our liturgical and sacramental sense today), however, Jesus chooses to align himself with us. Even in this account, Jesus brings himself to His Father just as he is, starting with who he is. This very public baptism speaks to us today reminding us of the need for community – a faith community who will walk the journey and verbally and prayerfully support us.
It is the personhood of Christ, as Divine Son of God, who is also on a journey of faith discernment and discovery. Our work is to also discern the heavenly voice, calling us as beloved, naming us as God’s own, expressing delight in us – just as we are, right now.
We are each called and cherished by the same loving God we hear about through the Prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading; “He who created you, who formed you. Do not fear, I have redeemed you”. In a sense it is an invitation to relax, God loves us and we are called to come just as we are – no more, no less … and we are called to live into our baptism.
Our calling, our own vocation, rests in the recognition that we each carry in ourselves the mystery of God, an immense spiritual treasure. It is God who reaches out to us, through Baptism, through our faith journeys, through our sometimes messy responses to life and through our dark times. It is God who reaches out to us to draw us up, loving us back to life. Through the water of our Baptism, we are proclaimed as God’s own. We are anointed by the Spirit. Through our own Baptism – and as witnesses to the baptism of others, both young and old – we are invited to profess the faith and our confidence in Jesus our Saviour.
We are all uniquely called, uniquely loved. We are called to live into our baptism, just as Jesus lived into his. We can only come as we are, loved and broken, holy and grubby, determined yet wayward. Human.
What if we opened our ear to our God calling us, just as Jesus heard the voice of God at his Baptism? Just as Jesus’ ministry was affirmed and enlivened, just as Jesus gained clearer insight into his calling through his baptism and the words of God’s call, can we too feel this? Just as Jesus grew and lived into his Baptism, can we do the same?
God calls us, as who we are, from where we are …
What if those words became an embrace for our souls, what if we allowed God’s love to permeate our lives and we lived into our baptism …. ?
Hear it now:
You are my child; my daughter, my son.
I am delighted by you, in you.
Grow into my dream for you, who you are called to be and become.
Live into your Baptism.