The Benefit of BaptismBaptism of Christ
This Sunday, referred to as Baptism of the Lord, is one of my favourites because we commemorate our own baptism when we were sealed with the name of Beloved and we mark our belonging to the family of faith.
In previous years, I have stood by the baptismal font, invited any who desired to remember their own baptism to come forward, place your hand or fingers under the water and to “Remember your baptism and be thankful.”
Of course, a majority of us likely have no memory of our baptism. Most of us were infants or small children when our parents brought us in our baptismal vestments and watched as the minister took us from the comfort of our parent’s arms, dipped his/her hand into the water and placed that hand over our head with water dripping down our forehead into our eyes.
As John Calvin once argued, “The benefit which we derive from the sacraments ought by no means to be restricted to the time when they are administered to us… The benefit of baptism lies open to the whole course of life, because the promise which is contained in it is perpetually in force.” How do we find that benefit? What does it mean to be a beloved member of the family of God?
Each of the four gospels includes a version of the baptism of Jesus that gives us an opportunity to examine how Jesus’ experience informs our own baptism.
John the Baptizer, forerunner of Jesus, emphasized repentance and was baptizing new believers. When Jesus asked to be baptized, John was taken aback, hesitant, and even resistant. He replied to Jesus, “I need to be baptized by you.” Jesus responded, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” In other words, I need to be baptized by you now in order to complete God’s plan that is already at work.
As Jesus was baptized, the heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove and a voice from heaven said, “You are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.” Jesus’ ministry was just beginning, and this was the ritual to clarify his mandate.
Two lessons I want us to see in this story: we are named in baptism by God as God’s beloved and we are forgiven and called to forgive others.
In our baptismal liturgy we say: In baptism God claims us,
and seals us to show that we belong to God.
God frees us from sin and death,
uniting us with Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection.
By water and the Holy Spirit,
we are made members of the church, the body of Christ,
and joined to Christ’s ministry of love, peace, and justice. What does it mean to be a beloved member of the family of God?
As John Calvin implied, the benefit of baptism is enacted every time we are open and present to one another, that is the significance of our baptism. Our gathering at coffee, the exchanges at the door, delivering copies of worship service and sermon to homebound; those are some of our ceremonies of remembrance. We are reminded that our baptism matters and our baptism has sealed us into this family of faith.
Consider when we share encouraging conversations with one another after worship, during coffee hour, and throughout the week in various ways. As the family of God, we can move beyond generalities like the weather and listen to stories that have meaning in our lives. We share stories about our background, our family dilemmas and celebrations. We share our prayer concerns and it is in the sharing of our life together that reminds us that we are the same family in God, we are mutual brothers and sisters who don’t need a set of criteria to say we come from the same church, we come from the same set of beliefs. In doing so, we are remembering God’s call and our responsibility for each other and by doing so are indeed, remembering our baptism.
Each week, several people hand deliver copies of the worship service, sermon and newsletters to homebound who are not able to access the service virtually. On a recent visit with Jack and Terri, I realized how much they miss attending worship. They have a hymnal and sing the hymns as they worship in their home. Jack knew about the fall building community event, the Christmas concert, and UVic recitals, and is concerned about the lack of an acting Clerk of Session. Their connection to St. Andrew’s is as strong as ever due to these visits by those who are the face/voice of our church. Magnify this exchange with 14 to 15 other homebound members who receive these weekly deliveries. Many of you make phone calls and visits that extend this care of our church family.
The same may be said of those whose health or family situation has limited their worship in person. Regularly we hear how virtual worship is vital to helping them maintain a vibrant faith. Our technology team responds to comments like the one made by a member worshipping by livestream on New Year’s Day who took the time to offer a “Happy New Year” on the chat function. The deeper meaning behind this greeting is that “I am here. I am worshipping also and you matter to me.”
There is a reality in blessing which I take baptism to be. Baptism acknowledges a sacredness and there is a power in that the experience of really knowing other persons happens when we listen to their stories in connection with your own life stories at the same time. We don’t have to be a minister to offer this blessing.
The ultimate offer of baptism is forgiveness. This is critical as we remember our baptism. Walter Brueggemann says that the baptized church is an engine of forgiveness in the world. Everywhere we see the complexity of families that keep score. We prefer to cling to old disagreements, old conflicts, and misunderstandings because we know how to manage that world. Being part of God’s beloved family means that not only are we forgiven but we have the responsibility of forgiving one another.
Our Isaiah scripture is the first servant song (there are four) that is the prophecy about the coming of the Messiah. God’s strong servant of justice is compassionate and gentle with the “bruised reeds” and “dimly burning wicks” – the broken and the weak.
When we open ourselves to the Spirit, we let God’s compassionate presence surround us. We can share from our own life that is bruised or just dimly burning. We can share our interests, express our deepest joys and concerns, and accept each other as we are, God’s beloved family.