This is the message I shared with the people of St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The gospel reading is Matthew 3:13-17.
It has often been said, “You only get one chance to make a first impression.” How often do our initial opinions of a person come from our first encounter with them? Here in today’s gospel, we hear of Jesus’ first impression, which he made with a splash with all kinds of great things to follow.
Jesus’ first miracle may have occurred at his baptism. The miracle is not so much that he won the argument with John, but that Jesus humbled himself by allowing, or should we say demanding that John baptize him. In this way, Jesus was obedient to God and was in solidarity with all humankind.
This is how Jesus’ life was lived as well—he comes down with us all, on our level, identifying with our needs. His baptism foreshadows how his life will end—on a cross.
In Matthew’s gospel, we have Jesus’ first words in the New Testament. In his argument about John baptizing him, Jesus said, “Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness” (v. 15). “Let it be so” echoes Mary’s radical consent; her response to the news of her pregnancy. The phrase “in this way” suggests Jesus needed to step into this particular and peculiar moment, this time and space, to make a bodily declaration of his faith and trust in his Father’s faithfulness to the people throughout all generations.
Jesus’ baptism was his first adult act recorded in the New Testament. For us, Jesus went down to the murky, dirty Jordan River of repentance with all the sinners to be baptized. Let is be so HERE, Jesus said, in the Jordan River, laden with rich, sacred history. This is where the ancient Israelites entered the land of Canaan. This is where the prophet Elijah ended his ministry and his successor Elisha began his. In this one moment, this one-act, Jesus stepped into the whole story of God’s work on earth and allowed that story to resonate, deepen and find completion.
Jesus’ identity and ministry are made meaningful because of the community he forms, joins and grows with throughout his life on earth. His work becomes intertwined with that of humanity.
After Jesus’ baptism is when all the fireworks begin. The heavens opened! God’s Spirit comes down. And then, God speaks, not just for Jesus’ benefit, but for those who were witnessing this event. Can you imagine what this all must have been like?
God speaks and here too is an epiphany, a manifestation. He calls Jesus his Son, the Beloved. Then the Father expresses his pleasure in Jesus. Through this epiphany, Jesus fulfills all righteousness, becoming the servant of God who will bring justice and be a light to the nations as Isaiah prophesied.
What I find especially amazing and reassuring is that this all took place before Jesus ever did any miracles, healings, exorcisms and before the resurrection. This was long before Jesus accomplished anything worth praising…and yet, he is the Beloved Son because of who he is, not because of what he’s done or not done so far in life.
Jesus’ work was never separate from his identity as God’s beloved son. His work emanates from that identity and relationship with the Father. But it is fleshed out through his connection to the beloved community. We see this in the work of the disciples in which they had recognized their own humanity as a sign of baptism. Their work was rooted in baptism because each is called out by the voice of love, each is recognized as God’s beloved. This is how their work for the kingdom is possible (Mihee Kim-Kurt, Christiancentury.org).
Because Jesus united with us in baptism, we are united with him in his death and resurrection. All the barriers that separated us from God—sinfulness, mortality and death—are broken by Jesus’ obedience to his Father, through his humility to come down to us in the depths of our humanity. We are free!
Like Jesus, before we could ever do anything that could possibly be of note, that could please God, he calls us his beloved child. Aren’t we the same with our children? Babies can’t do much except drink and pee and poop, and don’t forget…cry…at least soon after birth. They can’t talk or walk…and yet they are our beloved and their every action (except maybe keeping us up all night) thrills us. And that’s how much God loves us before we can do a thing.
How should we respond to what Christ has done for us? We need to refocus our lives. When we are ill or hurt physically or emotionally, it’s easy to focus on what’s “wrong” with us. Baptism gives us a different lens through which to live our lives. It offers us a different vision and hope, apart from our current difficulties. We are a community formed by baptism. This is why we always introduce the newly baptized as the newest member of Christ’s body and of St. Timothy.
God claims us and gives the gifts of the Spirit regardless of our abilities or disabilities. Jesus welcomes the weakest and makes them a living sign of God’s reign in our midst (Gail Ramshaw, sundaysandseasons.com).
We cannot live without water. We see in the waters of baptism the matrix of our lives in Christ. The font is like the Jordan River, a river of water that leads us to the new land of promise.
We are living in a world where powerful forces swirl uncontrollably around us. There are forest fires in Australia, a potential war in Iraq, airplanes shot down leaving many mourners, political upheaval in our own country, as well as our personal struggles no one may know of. This can produce anxiety and fear of the future, of the unknown. I recently had a conversation with a woman about faith. All kinds of hard things have been happening in her church. She didn’t know how she could cope with life without faith in God. I echoed her sentiments. There’s no getting around the fact that life is hard and we just can’t make it on our own. Dear people of God, please know that you are completely known, completely loved and completely forgiven by a tender-hearted God who has “taken us by the hand and kept us” (Isaiah 4:6).
In our baptismal liturgy, we hear the words, “Child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.” That is you, beloved Child of God. God has claimed you, named you and called you as his own. [He feeds you with the bread of life]. Rejoice in that tremendous gift and listen, for you will hear these words, “You are my beloved daughter, my beloved son, with you I am well pleased!!” What more could we possibly want or need? (John Macholz, Midweek Musings, Upstate NY Synod ELCA).