One of my favorite things remembered from 20 plus years ago as a young mother with a baby girl, was putting her in the kitchen sink for a bath. It was so much fun to put that squiggly, giggly little creature under the warm water faucet and watch her delight in the simplest of events. There is something about water and the ritual of bathing isn’t there? It is cleansing, comforting and refreshing all at the same time. We humans are approximately 70% water so it is the earthly element that is the closest to our very being and of course, we love it! Baptism has been around for a very longtime,
“But in first-century Judaism, baptism had a different meaning. In the book of Leviticus, God instructs Jews to cleanse themselves from ritual impurities, contracted through such acts as touching a corpse or a (person with leprosy.) Washing primarily fulfilled the legal requirements of ritual purity so that Jews could sacrifice at the Temple. Later, as "God-fearers" or "righteous" Gentiles expressed their desire to convert to Judaism, (Jewish) priests broadened the rite's meaning, and along with circumcision, performed baptism as a sign of the covenant given to Abraham.”
And so it was that Jesus, a devout Jew, came to ask John the Baptizer if he would perform Baptism on him, apparently feeling that it was the right and proper thing to do, even though John said it should be Jesus Baptizing him, not the other way around. No, no, no, Jesus disagreed saying, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” It was one of those times Jesus did things by the book. As we know, Jesus ministry on earth was filled with acts of rebellion and nonconformity, which is one of the reasons we love him so. He refused to go along with the status quo, which he felt had become corrupt and he urged others to follow him to simply serve God. And so, we good Protestants here try to do our part to work toward the betterment of our community for God, in Jesus’ name.
In a way, it all started in that moment between John and Jesus in the water. It was a seminal moment in the Jesus movement and not only because Jesus humbled himself to a sacred act performed on him by another. According to Historian Gerd Theissen, “as a rule, rites are age-old. They have been practiced since primal times. However, the (Sacrament of Baptism) came into being in the midst experienced as end-time” meaning the early Christians fervently believed that the end of the earth was imminent and Jesus’ emergence was going to usher it in. In that way, it was important for the early church to make the sacrament of Baptism especially important and separate from the repeated Jewish ritual washing performed as a cleanliness rite for Temple worshippers.
The scripture tells us that something miraculous happened that day which made all the difference, symbolizing the new significance of this particular Baptism. Just as Jesus was emerging from the water, God’s very self, in the form of a Dove appeared and came to sit on Jesus. Can you imagine that experience!? The entire sky opened up and God spoke to everybody witnessing the event claiming Jesus as his very own child, “the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Wow, what a rush! Talk about being anointed! Talk about feeling loved and welcome! It must have been an incredible moment. Can you imagine the excitement?
By contrast, the most exciting, unexplainable thing happening in my ordinary life right now, is when I walk into my little office at home, my printer gets turned on, all by itself. It spontaneously whirs and pings and it really doesn’t matter if I have my smartphone or computer with me. Just me walking nearby, my printer (whom I now call Harvey) springs into action. (But back to the scripture) Who, at the moment when the Holy Spirit lit upon Jesus, would ever have suspected that this man, loved and singled out by God, would be tortured and persecuted for his socially forward views? At that glorious, beatific moment, Jesus’ crucifixion was probably the furthest thing from peoples’ minds. It’s funny, yet sad that people can turn on a dime from praising someone to vilifying them, just like that! (snap) It’s a human character flaw that we all must pay attention to, so it doesn’t go unchecked.
Which reminds me of a meme on Instagram the other day, which read, “Those people who tried to bury you… didn’t know you were a seed.” That certainly does apply to the life and legacy of Jesus and maybe you can relate to it for your own life. Even though you may feel oppressed or as though you are being buried, you go be a seed that has been driven deep into the earth. Just lay dormant for a while and contemplate who you may truly be. Perhaps yourself, including your suffering, will sprout into something magnificent and life giving. Someone that inspires.
So, now and then people say to me something like “why do we Baptize people so much? Especially people who never come back to church after their special day of Baptism?” The answer lies within this very Bible passage. We are instructed to do so, whether or not those who come to be baptized here sit through the whole service or even if they come to be baptized privately outside of worship, because they have some kind of social anxiety. Why do we do it? This scriptural text makes that abundantly clear. It is our great privilege and honor as Christians to Baptize people with water, so that when they emerge from it, their lives may be touched by the presence of the Holy Spirit, just like what happened to Jesus. That’s the whole reason.
We, as a church exist to encourage people – young people, older people, babies, whomever, in their experience of the life-giving presence of the Holy Spirit, an expression of God. The Baptismal Font, the words used in the ritual are all just vehicles for that to happen and the water is the medium by which we administer it. Through the symbol of the cleansing power of water we are brought into a clearer view of God’s presence in our lives and the love that God has for us. Now, some faith traditions are big on the concept of repentance before Baptism and that’s fine if that is your thing.
However, the word in Greek for repent is metanoia which means to “go beyond the mind” or to “go into the larger mind.” Scholar Cynthia Bourgeault writes that this “‘high teaching' was Jesus’ central message: the Kingdom of Heaven means reaching beyond black-and-white dualities, into the larger heart and mind of God.” So, instead of thinking in terms of cleaning away sin and repentance of things done wrong or a life lived badly, we think more in terms of Baptism as a way to discover a larger God, a God filled with love for us and a God who welcomes us into a deeper understanding of that love, simply because we are God’s. In that light let me this morning ask you to close your eyes, take a couple of deep breaths and experience again the power of the Baptismal waters (go about spritzing water on people.) Experience the sense that God does truly love you, this moment now and forever. For, you are loved and you are God’s own child.