Today is the Baptism of the Lord: One of those very few passages of the Gospel (with the multiplication of the bread and the passion) that we find in each Gospel: Mark, Matthew, John and today’s version, Luke. So we know that it’s very important. Important when the Gospel was written/ to the early church: Eucharist, baptism and the cross.
But what is it that is really central?
I like Luke’s version because we have very few details so it’s more focused.
The only thing we know is, as Jesus was praying, recollecting the event of the baptism / the heavens opens up and he hears this voice: “You are my son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased”. And so, this is the center, you see.
If you open your BCP on p.304/305, you’ll find what we call the “Baptismal Covenant” – Our commitments or “What baptism is about”:
- To continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.
- To persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord.
- To proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.
- To seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves.
- To strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.
The first time I did a baptism the Rector had to explain to me that it was actually what the ministries of the church were about, I had never realized that before:
Worship, Christian education, Evangelism, Pastoral care and Outreach.
All of that is true and important yet, for Luke this is not the center. There is no baptismal covenant in the Gospel or better, there is only one: “You are my child, you are beloved, with you I am well pleased / I rejoice” or my favorite translation: “In you I put all my love”.
And this it you know. Before breaking the bread, or resisting evil, or proclaiming the word or striving for justice, we are called to live the life of the Beloved. Jesus was baptized with all other people, and so the message is for every one of us. Christmas’ season has just ended. God’s child came into the world and what we learn now is that we are called to be children too / to let ourselves be adopted by God: That’s what baptism is all about. Saying yes to God and letting God come into our lives. Letting ourselves be loved by God.
What does it mean? I don’t know but…my experience reading this beautiful poem of Isaiah is that it’s almost overwhelming to hear those words of love, almost embarrassing. How difficult to make it our own, to accept being loved this way by God. It is difficult to let ourselves loved by God because it is difficult to love ourselves / to accept ourselves. We have those voices inside putting us down. Yes, we all want to be loved, we often try very hard to be accepted but we feel in our hearts that we are not so lovable.
It could be the entire task of our Christian lives to accept to be loved. We hear a lot about being able to “love oneself” today, but being Christian is more about accepting to be loved because most of the time, we don’t like what we see in us and we’re afraid God or people would see it. Curtis/Eldredge: “Most people live with the subtle dread that one day they will be discovered for who they are and the world will be appalled”.
Henri J. M. Nouwen: “As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.” My dark side says, “I am no good, I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned”. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” It prevents us from living a life of love. Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”
Baptism is about connecting with our true identity. True identity is not sinners. God does not want us in spite of our sinfulness or because he loves sinners. God wants us because we are beautiful and desirable. Our true identity is our beauty and bounty. Sin is our inability to see who we truly are. But God sees who we truly are. Maybe when you know that if you love somebody not so lovable by other people. You love your child in prison, the parent who abandoned you, the spouse who cheats because you still see their true beauty, you see who they used to be or who they could become.
Michelangelo said: “The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.” God sees us as Michelangelo saw the marble. He sees the sculpture in the marble and so do we when we really love somebody. We see people as they are from and for all eternity: Beautiful, desirable and good. As were the “ordinary people” lining up on that day being baptized with Jesus. That’s when the heavens open and we let God come close to do God’s work inside of us.
And so God does the chiseling. The sacrament makes baptism very “domesticated”. But it’s more than pouring water on your head, it’s nearly drowning and being raised from the waters. What John says about baptism expands the sacrament from what we do at church to our whole life. Life as Christian is a baptism.
We are being created, becoming who we truly are. Isaiah: “I have created you” and God creates us as we cross the waters and the fire (Symbols of the baptism). It takes our whole life to be baptized, life is the actual baptism and God does the chiseling. Jesus calls his own passion, suffering and death “his baptism”. On the cross from Jesus of Nazareth, the rabbi, the prophet, the teacher, he is revealed as the Christ. Maybe it would help us through our trials to remember with Isaiah that God is with us and works on us. God is redeeming us / Giving a ransom for us / bringing us back from the pain and brokenness of the world. God will do something beautiful.
Being the beloved is experienced by Jesus in prayer: We need to be connected to the source of love. That’s what we do on Sunday. We plug our phones at night to have enough battery during the day / on Sunday we plug our hearts to the heart of God and get energy to go through the week. Water of baptism: God as the source of life and love. We are called to become the source too. From us can flow the love of God and the different ministries of the church: evangelism, pastoral care etc. “In you I have put all my love”: It means: We have the love of God inside of us. The love that created the world, the stars, the volcanoes , the seas! (Cf Psalm and all what the voice of God can do…)
What do we do with this love God poured inside of us?