I am preaching at the celebration of a church being a United Methodist /United Reformed Church for 30 years.
The Baptism of Jesus
Why did it happen?
It nearly didn’t. At first John the Baptist refuses to baptize Jesus – he says ‘I should be baptized by you !’ But Jesus talks him into is “it is proper in this way for us to fulfill all righteousness”
The Contemporary English Version translates this as ’For now this is how it should be, because we must do all that God wants us to do’– in other words, Jesus says to John that this baptism is the right thing to do.
But at the risk of sounding like a toddler, I still want to ask - Why?.
Jesus says it is not just about him – it is about God the father. Seeking the right way, the right ministry, the right path – the path of submission to God the Father’s will & rule.
Jesus submits to baptism, and then God acts.. and speaks “this is my son, the beloved, in whom I am well pleased”
Jesus is baptized because it is not just about him – it is about the whole world. How Jesus carries out his ministry will affect everyone who comes after. Jesus has come to walk God the Father’s way – to bring the love of the Father to the people of the earth.
This is why this baptism is followed immediately – in the gospels of Matthew, Mark & Luke - by the temptation of Jesus. Chosen by God the Father, named as the chosen, setting out on ministry – immediately Jesus is faced by decisions about how to conduct that ministry, how to choose good over evil.
It is not just about him – it is about us. It is about you.
From the very early days of the church followers of Jesus has been baptized as a sign that we are one in Jesus – on the team, part of the movement of God’s kingdom.
We have surrounded the act of baptism with all sorts of theology – about God’s grace, when we baptize infants; about God’s church when we have made baptism the point of entry into the church; about God’s giving of himself in Jesus, when we have talked of descent into the waters of baptism as being a dying and rising again like Christ.
But perhaps the simplest understanding of baptism is that we do what Jesus did – we submit ourselves to the action of another person and we follow and copy our Lord as we are baptized as he was.
In one church I served as minister we had a church member who proudly brought us back a bottle of water from the Jordan when she had visited the Holy Land.
I used to love to add a splash of this water to the font for all our baptisms, and always pointed out to people that this water was from the same river in which Jesus was baptized.
I think it helped people to focus on a wider understanding of what we were doing at baptism: we are each baptized in the same water in which Jesus was baptized. But the scientist in me wants to point out that thanks to the water cycle of our planet it may be that the water coming out of our bath taps this morning was the actual water in which Jesus was baptized.
But whatever the water, there is something wonderful in thinking that we are truly following Jesus when we are baptized – it is a great gift to us that we can copy Jesus in this way.
But of course the whole of Jesus’ life, not just his baptism, is about being where we are, so that we might be what he is.
Baptism is just one sign of Jesus sharing our human life, setting an example for us, walking where we walk, so that we may give our lives to him in discipleship and in service.
Peter gives this whole picture in his sermon to Cornelius and the other non-Jews in the book of Acts.
The early followers of Jesus were Jewish, as Jesus was; men, as Jesus was; mostly workers with their hands, as Jesus was. The church had to work out whether those who were unlike Jesus is some ways, who were of a different race, or a different gender, or a different background, could still be followers of Jesus.
Peter has come to see that everyone can be accepted by God as one of God’s people – anyone who tries to honour God and do what is right in God’s sight. Everyone who believes in Jesus can receive forgiveness and new life. Anyone who accepts that Jesus is exactly who God the Father says he is at his baptism – the beloved, the chosen, the one in whom God the father delights, the one in whom we see all the grace and truth of God become a human being, like us – anyone who accepts al that is a child of God and can be a follower of Jesus Christ,
Baptism is one way of saying ‘yes’ to Jesus’ way of living – yes to healing and forgiveness and new life and truth and justice and grace. Yes to being one of God’s own in the world, to share this amazing gospel of love.
Baptism unites us with Christ and declares our intention to be God’s people. It also unites us with one another.
For 30 years now you have been united as one church, around one font for baptism, serving one Lord.
Every now and then I come across someone who wants to tell me that ecumenism is a thing of the past, or that it’s good to have diversity in our churches and we shouldn’t worry so much about seeking unity. But if we follow Christ in his baptism, we see there can only be one body of Christ, one people of God, one church: just as St Paul declares there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism.
You declare your oneness in Christ and with one another in this united church, for the sake of the town around you.
This morning I’d like to invite you to recommit yourself to following Jesus by using this water from the font. If you have been baptized, it can serve as a reminder of your baptism; if you have not yet been baptized, it can be a commitment to seek to follow Christ; if are only starting out on the way to follow Jesus, it can be a chance to receive a promise that you, too, are God’s beloved, in whom he is well pleased.
Come & share in the water – and be blessed - you can either make the sign of the cross on your forehead with the water, or simply dip your hand in the water.. as you prefer.
We’ll sing the hymn as you com forward if you wish – but if we still have people coming forward when we’ve finished I’d like the organist to keep playing, if you would…. And may God’s blessing be on us. Amen.