Year C — The Baptism of the Lord

Commentary for January 13, 2013
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Click here for today’s readings

Isaiah 43:1-7
When something is “ours,” we tend to take particular care of it — something known as “pride of ownership.” 

We feel an attachment to things that we have purchased or that have personally been given to us; the feeling of care is particularly acute when it is something that we have made with our own hands. (Why else do I still have the useless plaster cast apple that I made for crafts during Vacation Bible School as a child?)

Isaiah informs us of the basis of the great care and protection of God, who will ensure our well-being through water, rivers, fire, and flame. God has created us, formed us. The definitive statement from the Holy One is, “You are mine.”

We all take care of our own — God does no less!

Psalm 29
The psalm reflects the power of the voice of God, which will be significant at the baptism of Jesus. When God’s voice is heard, things happen. Big, powerful, consequential things.

Remember when you were a kid and your heard your parent call you? You could tell by the sound of your mom or dad’s voice just how urgent the need for you to respond. Almost innately, kids can tell how much “liberty” they have in deciding whether to come when called or not.

Do we exercise the same liberty when deciding to respond to the voice of God?

Acts 8:14-17
This passage has always seemed a little quizzical to me; the believers up in Samaria weren’t quite “complete” due to their apparent ignorance of the presence of the Holy Spirit. 

Receiving “only” the baptism in the name of Jesus wasn’t necessarily inferior — after all, what is it that saves us? 

(Hmmm, come to think of it, we may have to have some further discussion on that. Probably will be a hot topic on this week’s Lectionary Lab Live podcast. See the link to the right!)

Whatever the theological disposition of the baptism question, we see that a little prayer and conversation got it all worked out for the Samaritans. Might do wonders for us, as well.

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
We are certainly wont to raise our hopes and expectations when we find ourselves in need of some good news.

Maybe the economy is really going to crank back up this year; I expect that our President and Congress will take positive action and accomplish real bipartisan cooperation. It sure would be nice if my congregation could see some numerical growth in the coming months; I anticipate that the pastor and church leaders will enact some bold new plans for producing new members.

Our expectations may be appropriate and rational, or they may not be. Certainly, as John did the best job he could do, there were those who placed Messiah-like expectations on him. “Not so fast, my friends,” the itinerant evangelist proclaimed. “I have my place, but I also know my place. The one you are looking for is going to do things very differently from me.”

As it turned out, the Messiah was right there among them, living as they lived and doing as they did. He even came to be baptized by John. Why? Well, there’s another healthy debate (see note above about joining us on Lec Lab Live this week.)

Suffice it to say that God spoke and made it known that God was well-pleased with the life of God’s Son. As we imitate Him, we seek that same pleasure and blessing of God.

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

S.I. McMillen, in his book “None of These Diseases,” tells the story of a young woman who was applying for admission to college.  She was very uncomfortable with the question, “Are you a leader?”  She knew that colleges were looking for leaders, but she felt that the only honest answer was “no;” so that is what she wrote and sent in the application, expecting to be rejected.
A week or so later she received this letter from the college:  Dear Applicant; A study of the application forms reveals that this year our college will have 1,452 new leaders.  We are accepting you because we feel it is imperative that they have at least one follower.
As the our Gospel lesson begins, John is very aware that the people are wondering if he is the leader, the messiah, the savior, the one sent from God.  He is also aware that they are unclear about what the coming of a messiah will mean, both for them and for the world.  So he proceeds to set them straight by telling them, “No, I am most definitely not the messiah.
He then proceeds to explain to them the difference between what he is doing and what the coming messiah will do.  “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat.” (Luke 3:16-17)
Gee, I think I like the sounds of baptism with water a lot better than baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire, especially an unquenchable fire.  John the Baptist has long been seen as a hard-hearted, straight-laced and razor-toed religious fanatic; but in this text he comes off as a real softy when compared to the messiah to come. What is he talking about here?

What is the difference between John the Baptist and Jesus?
John’s ministry and baptism were primarily about repentance and the washing away of one’s old life.  In the Coen brothers’ movie O Brother, Where Art Thou, there is a great scene where Delmar (no relation) gets baptized in the river.  Later in the car he is joyful as he exclaims, “I been redeemed.  The preacher said so.  All my sins and wrongdoings has been wiped away, including robbing that Piggly-Wiggly.”  “Uh, Delmar, I thought you said you was innocent of those charges.”  “Well, I lied, but I been forgiven of that too.”
John proclaims that while the messiah’s mission includes repentance and the removing of the old life (burnt way with fire rather than washed away with water) it also involves moving one’s life in a new direction under the influence and guidance of God’s Holy Spirit.  John says something like, “I have the job of calling you to turn from your old life and to start in a new direction.  The messiah has the power to change your life, to create in you a new heart, to lead you into the new kingdom of God’s future.”
Luke treats Jesus baptism in two short verses.  “. . . Jesus was also baptized and was praying, the heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Too often too many of us act as though we have been baptized with John’s baptism only, redeemed from the past, but not empowered for the future. We sometimes forget that as Christians we have also been baptized with the Holy Spirit. 
One of the basic definitions of Christian baptism is that it be done “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  The service for Holy Baptism in many traditions includes this or a similar line, “Name – you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.”
To be baptized by the Holy Spirit is to have the dove of God’s peace descend upon us as it did upon Jesus.  It is to be claimed, adopted, as one of God’s many beloved children.  To be baptized by the Holy Spirit is most especially to be empowered to be a follower of Jesus, to be an effective member of the priesthood of believers.
I once heard Desmond Tutu tell a story about his early days as a priest in South Africa.  He gave a Bible test to a group of young teen-age boys.  One of the questions was: “What did the voice from heaven say to Jesus after his baptism?”  Most of them got it right but one boy got it wrong in a very creative way.  He wrote, “The voice from heaven said ‘You are the Son of God; now act like it!’”
Sisters and brothers in Christ, you have been baptized.  You have been forgiven your sins; they have been burned away in the fire of God’s love.  You have been redeemed.  You have received the Holy Spirit.  You are a beloved child of God.  Dare I say it?  Go forth into the world and act like it!
Amen and amen.

One thought on “Year C — The Baptism of the Lord

  1. I think that Baptism is a religious ritual involving water and the person being baptized. It is a symbol of a person being accepted into the church of Christian believers. The rite is a common denominator in most Christian churches, but there are differences in beliefs on how and when baptisms should occur.

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