It is time for baptism of Jesus, a well-worn text from the Revised Common Lectionary. This year its Matthew 3:143-17. Many leaders take this opportunity to hold a renewal of baptism. The timing is fitting in the secular calendar, New Year, New Start, Baptism Renewal. After the re-realization of who Christ is and that Jesus has come down to earth with Christmas, we are given an opportunity to recommit to God.
I want to talk about the particularity of baptism (and communion) in the Bible. In my Presbyterian tradition these are the only two sacraments that we have. I am convinced that the reason why these two are sacraments, and things like anointing the sick with oil or even marriage are not, are because Jesus promises particular presence within baptism (and communion).
God is always present. But this omnipresence is nebulous at best. When my super-practical minded 8 year old asks me how you know God is here, there and everywhere, I have trouble pinpointing presence in a way that he understands. We talk about worship, and God talking to your heart.
However, next time, I think i will point out when God promises to be particularly present to us. Because Jesus gives us more immediate and understandable access points than what we had previously been able to grasp. After all, before this we thought we had to climb mountains in order to feel physically close to God–not because God wasn’t on earth–but we humans need more tangible understandings of presence.
Jesus gets baptized, and God is particularly there, and names Jesus as his son. his beloved, and states uncategorically that he is well pleased. Meaning not only that Jesus is good, but also his decision to be baptized was a sound one. The sacraments are things Jesus participated in, taught, and ones which called God’s particular presence to. Point and Case, Jesus’s Dad showed up for the baptism. It’s a great example of baptism to be a time for the church family to show up, as well as being an embodiment of what baptism does–claiming the child as God’s own, beloved, whom God is well pleased (Mr. Rogers I like you just the way you are is called to mind).
Our uniqueness is not denied in baptism, but affirmed. We are unique and yet each in the image of God. Our uniqueness calls people into relationship with us. This is why Jesus is baptized by John, because Jesus is demonstrating that he will not be a King who will Lord over everybody else. He will, instead, be a King who serves, as is noted in Isaiah 42:1-9 he will undertake all the hard things first, and he will be with us from the beginning to the end. This is especially poignant when we know that John the Baptist, who was born before his cousin Jesus, who was teaching, preaching, and baptizing before his cousin Jesus, and he will die a martyr before Jesus in terms of physical actual time.
Somehow this baptism causes a transcendence that promises that Jesus will be with John in death, and that Jesus death will somehow redeem John the Baptist’s even thought he timeline is skewed.
Why do I believe this? Because Jesus is baptized by John, not the other way around. This moment is transformative for all those who came before Jesus, as well as all those who came afterwards.
Image from http://www.Pbs.org
When we practice baptism, or renew our baptism, we are practicing God’s presence in such a way that transforms the space and companions us with the entire Christian community. We are recognizing ourselves and each other as members of God’s beloved family. And this is a practice we could do well to remember every week as well as every January.
image from More Light Presbyterians
Let us know, are you renewing baptism? Or looking more at Isaiah or the Psalm? Let us know where you are this week.
Katy Stenta is a solo pastor at a tiny church that is bigger on the inside in Albany, NY for over eight years and blogs at email@example.com She is also the co-founder of the fledgling TrailPraisers inclusive Worship. When she is not dreaming up projects and ideas, some of which creep into the church, she plays with her three boys-boys or goes and visits her husband at the library, while he works, to read.
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