What is Baptism all About?
Despite our Province of Ontario going into yet another lock down, I have reason for much excitement this morning. This morning we are celebrating God’s greatest gift to us: adoption. An adoption that reconciles us to relationship with God. We heard in John’s Gospel last week that this adoption was planned for us by God right at the beginning when he created all things. God sent his Son, Jesus, the Word, into the world both to do the reconciling through his life, death and resurrection, and to communicate to us what it means to be in relationship with God in terms of how we relate to other people.
If we look at Jesus’s own life and the lives of his followers, we learn that the relationship we are adopted into and then called to live out in the world isn’t actually always easy, or smooth, or certain. Despite that, for thousands of years, witnessing the lives of Jesus’s followers, and seeking meaning and purpose, wholeness and understanding, people have sought out and then opened themselves up to God. And that’s what excites me: initiating a new person into the Christian faith.
In a time and place, January 2022, Toronto Ontario, gray skies and frigid cold have set in, where again people will be locked down isolated from family and friends, learning and working, this is my sprig, my vine of hope: remembering that even in these circumstances God has not abandoned us. We are born anew in him, a fact, a truth we celebrate this day of his baptism. Today, we are invited to recommit to nurturing ourselves and the members of this community and our surrounding community in seeking, learning, and asking for Jesus to watch us, protect us, comfort and provide for us, to challenge and lead us, so that we might give the gift of our lives back to God and to the community he has provided for our nurture in the faith.
What exactly is this life into which we were baptized? Well it begins with our Gospel reading this morning. When Jesus is baptized, the fullness of God is revealed: And just as [Jesus] was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the [Holy] Spirit descending like a dove on him. And [the Father’s] voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." The life into which we are baptized then, is God’s own life; the fullness of who God is, revealed by Jesus right here in his own baptism. The very act through which Jesus then joins us by his Spirit to God our Father.
But being baptized into God’s life, or reconciled to God is not merely an individual thing. We are baptized into God’s people. So we are grafted together with Jews and other Church members to receive God’s grace, and then to take up our own Cross to act in faithful witness to this one who has released us from the state of sin all human beings fell into through Adam and Eve. How so?
You see we are joined to Jesus’s coming out of the water at baptism. That coming out of the water foreshadows his rising from the grave, from the dead, where he had gone to release us, prisoners in hell, from death which sin brings about. And so we anticipate and revel in the reality that we are also joined to Jesus’s rising from the dead, from the waters of baptism. This of course was prefigured by God flooding the earth for its evil, yet also providing the Ark as a Cross of salvation to Noah and his descendants, the people of God into whom we are grafted in baptism. We are joined to Jesus’s rising shown to us in Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery and death in Egypt, through the Red Sea, and of course in Jonah’s coming up from having been swallowed up by the whale.
So we are joined in Jesus, through Jesus’s life, to all God’s people who are released from slavery to sin; the fear that a fallen, sinful world creates; the death in which it would otherwise end. We are freed from this so that we might be joined with him by and in his love, a perfect love that casts out the fears we inevitably face, knowing we are secured in God’s own. We are set free so that we might live out the love God poured out on us before he even created us in caring for one another, neighbor and enemy alike.
In Jesus’s rising from the grave, we know that his rising from the waters of baptism, gives life to all those who come off that Ark, all those who travel through literal and figurative slavery to their past lives, all those who struggle to make sense of a world turned upside down by this global pandemic we face, and who struggle with loneliness, logistics, life’s meaning, the loss of those we love, our own mortality and purpose. All of us are here at one point in our lives: having had to face into the stark reality of suffering and death, of social chaos and fear, of the end of the lives of those we love, of the threat to safety, of the isolation of frailty and disease. So this morning we are called to remember our adoption, our security in Christ. For God has claimed us even before we were born.
And so when these things come up for us as they inevitably will, we will discover, when we turn to God, that we are not left empty handed and alone to figure it out, or to determine how to move forward. For the one who rises from death and is baptized takes us with him into his baptism, into his resurrection, into his life, and so to his Father where we are met by the Spirit’s descent upon us and by our Father’s words: in my Son you are beloved, with you I am well pleased. We are signed with the Cross and marked as God’s own; called to live in obedience as Christ did and held accountable for our words and our actions as they stand in His light.
This calling, presses us back into the community into which we’ve been baptized, the Church, as it examines its history with God in the Scriptures. We are called to recount that to have been baptized is not a free pass to do as we please; it is the freedom to do that for which we were created: to love God and our neighbor. It is the freedom not to respond to people with indifference borne out of fear & frustration; but to listen and come alongside.
It is the freedom to seek relationship even where it scares or hurts, so that we can lean into God’s desire for reconciliation. It is the freedom not to hate, even those with whom we vehemently disagree. For to hate is to cave into fear rather than to live the difficult and costly life of grace. In baptism we have been received into life with God not to secure us from life’s inevitable challenges and sufferings; but to enable us to bear those things with one another with hope and so in love. AMEN