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At a time when we so desperately want to be able to do something—anything, really—to make the world better, the baptism of Christ reminds us that sometimes the best thing to do, sometimes the only thing to do, is to turn toward God with our whole hearts.
In a culture that is forever telling us how to be better people and, in the process, making us aware of how far we fall short and creating new anxieties around everything from the things that we buy to the clutter in our homes, the baptism of Christ tells us that God delights in us.
When we think that saving the world from a long list of injustices and catastrophes is all up to us, the baptism of Christ encourages us to trust that God is at work in the world and to listen for God’s singular call on our lives.
And just when we get so tired and discouraged that we’ve started to wonder whether our little lives make any difference at all, Jesus shows up. Jesus stands beside us and gets down in the muck and mud right along with us, reminding us that we are not alone, demonstrating that we are precious, revealing not only who he is but also how precious we are.
The baptism of Christ is like the firefighter who leaves the paradise of California, travels halfway ‘round the world, and walks willingly into thick smoke and unimaginable heat to help save the people and wildlife of Australia from raging fire. Australians line up at the airport to welcome him, and weep with the realization that someone cares so much about them.
The baptism of Christ is like Jews from Amherst traveling to the U.S.-Mexico border to stand with and serve the thousands of refugees living in limbo, unsafe in their own countries and unwelcome in ours. Their presence says, “We see you. We care about you. We stand with you.”
Just as the birth of Jesus shows us how far God will go to love us, just as the Word become flesh reveals how good and holy flesh is, the baptism of Christ reveals that the Light no darkness can overcome is right here beside us, walking with us, showing us a new way. The baptism of Christ is an act of both solidarity with, and sanctification of, all of humanity. In claiming the fullness of his humanity, Jesus received the proclamation of his divinity.
The baptism of Christ says not only that we are in this together, but that with God’s love and by God’s Spirit, we will be one together, in God, and that together we will do a new thing. It suggests that we, too, are called to lay down our privilege and stand beside one another, that we, too, are precious in God’s sight and that we, too, are created to be a light to the nations, to bring forth justice, and to liberate the oppressed.
At the same time, the baptism of Christ reminds us that what’s most important is not what we do but whose we are.
In remembering Christ’s baptism, we are also invited to remember our own. Baptism is an act of submission and obedience—to God’s purpose and God’s power. Baptism is also an act of resistance. In baptism we renounce all forces of evil. In baptism we resist the lies that tell us we are different from or better than others. In baptism we embrace the promise that nothing can separate us from God’s love. We have been baptized into the life and death of Christ and, like him, clothed with the power of the Spirit and raised to new life in God.
As Jesus’ identity and purpose were revealed through his baptism, so may ours be. Just as we recall Jesus’ baptism to see again who he is, we remember our own baptism to see more clearly, to be reminded who and whose we are, and to what great works of love and mercy we are called. Just as Jesus’ baptism inaugurated his ministry of radical love and self-giving, we remember that our own baptisms commission and empower us to live our own ministries of healing, teaching, renewal, reconciliation, liberation, resisting the darkness, and shining the light.
We have some water here this morning—water from the tap of First Church Amherst mingled with a little water from the River Jordan.
Our closing hymn will invite you to come to the feast of love and the water of life. After you receive Communion you may come here—not to a river and not to the font (this is not a baptism)—but to this bowl of water and light and Spirit.
If you have never been baptized, I hope you will consider how baptism could bless you, the church, and the world. Perhaps you could begin the journey today toward making that public commitment, letting all the world see that you belong to God.
I invite all of you to come to the water for a blessing, to remember who and whose you are, to renew your promises to God and to Christ’s church, to re-claim your identity as God’s beloved, to know that with you God is well pleased, and to take full hold of the abundant life God wants for you.
Come, as Jesus did. Come individually to discover the fullness of yourself together with God and with others. Be blessed and beloved, as Jesus was. Come just as you are to renew your promise to follow Jesus.