Acts 10:34-43

Matt. 3:13-17

Web exclusive comic (because the bulletin was already run):

Children’s Time

Today we heard the story of Jesus’ baptism. Jesus came up from the water and a dove landed on him, which was God’s Spirit marking Jesus as God’s Son. Jesus went on to do some amazing things, and we started talking about how much more Godlike he was than we are. But John knew better. He’d been there. He baptized Jesus with a ritual no better than ours. And our baptism does the same thing – it marks us with the Holy Spirit to heal, forgive, love, and feed, just like Jesus did – like he does in us today.

Sermon

John knew nothing was special about Jesus’ baptism. He even wondered later if this really was the awaited Messiah. He had sensed that Jesus was The One. He wanted to be Jesus’ follower and receive his baptism, not vice versa, but God had other plans. God had something more in mind, so She had John baptize Jesus instead. But there was nothing special about that: John had baptized hundreds of people. John didn’t see the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus (no one but Jesus did), he only knew that his imperfect hands had immersed Jesus in the river.

John had laid Jesus down in water and lifted him back up. It felt all too human, as the mud squished between his toes and the sun glared on the water. John’s heart had leaped at Jesus’ arrival, but now his footing slipped under Jesus’ weight. Was this is all God was up to? Jesus’ baptism was as good as any, but John knew its human side. It doesn’t seem quite as holy when you know you did it.

It’s like your first time hosting Thanksgiving. Grandma’s turkey had become almost mythological, perfectly tender, with the moistest stuffing you can imagine. Now she’s passed torch to you. You’ve stuffed, and basted, and pulled the bird out of the oven at just the right time – or you’ve tried to. In fact, you’ve done pretty well, but you see it differently. You see every uneven slice of meat, you taste every lump in the gravy. Your family tells you honestly that it’s just as good as Grandma’s, but it’s not that way for for you, because you know you’re the one who did it.

John may have felt that way too. He tried to change Jesus’ mind about the baptism, but Jesus had something else in mind. “Let it be so for now,” he said. Let God put Jesus’ baptism in human hands. Let this human rite give rebirth to God’s Son. Let it be so, because that way our baptism is just like Jesus’. That way our baptism is just as unworthy of what we’re called to be. It doesn’t matter if you were dunked, sprinkled, or poured, God meant your baptism to be too small for the grace it transmits. Your baptism is just like Jesus’, a sign of mystery carried by hands that can’t quite hold it, a ritual that intentionally doesn’t measure up to its significance.

Just like Jesus, you received the Holy Spirit. Something of that Spirit warms your heart to see and be part of God’s good works, as it did even before your baptism. The Holy Spirit has called many people into this church (and it may call you today) as we commit to follow Christ with our lives. It has given some of us particular gifts of service, direction, discernment, or outreach, such as the deacons and elders who will be installed to office today. All of the church is called to carry on Christ’s ministry. Just like Christ himself, we’re given God’s Holy Spirit to do exactly that.

We claim that baptism again today. In a moment, we’ll join with the church in claiming a faith that compels us to serve, by reciting the Apostles’ Creed. This is an early creed, so it says relatively little about the details of healing, doing good works, and living the Good News, but those details belong there. That’s how we commit to Jesus’ life, sustained in that commitment by the Holy Spirit we share with Christ through baptism.

The same Holy Spirit – the same baptism – gives us the courage to surrender all of life to Christ in our neighbors, trusting that God will give it back to us. God will give us new life at the end of life, because our life has already passed through death and resurrection in the waters of baptism, just like Christ did. And God gives us new life every day, because the Holy Spirit descends on us as we arise again to serve others. It may not look like much, and praise God that it doesn’t. We don’t have to do anything special, just something loving. The God of love is with us in all our attempts to love, now and always. That’s a challenge, a promise, and a blessing forever. Thanks be to God.

Amen

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