January Sermon 2020 – Baptism

Second Sunday of January 2020

The First Sunday After the Epiphany, Baptism of our Lord

Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Matthew 3:13-17

Theme: Gratitude as a Tool for Right Relationships

Today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew is one that the early church struggled with. There were questions and debates over why if Jesus were without sin did he need to be baptized and why was he baptized by John. These questions point to a deep need by the founders of our faith to understand our relationships. The Gospel of Matthew is deeply invested in this theme of right relationship, which is often translated as righteousness. Not to get too far down the early church rabbit hole, but it is a really important question for all of us today, what does it mean to be in right relationship with one another and with God?

The text appears to give us two answers to what it might mean to be in right relationship. The first answer is found in the relationship between John the Baptizer and Jesus. Perhaps what Jesus was doing by being baptized by John was about being in right relationship with the community. John has quite a following but was always clear that one greater than himself would be coming after him. When Jesus arrives, participating in the ritual of Baptism would be a way to enter into right relationship with John and his community. By being baptized like all of those gathered around John would have been, Jesus validates their experience and community. He joins them in relationship built on that shared experience and values.

The other message about right relationship perhaps is one about gratitude. John often gets credit for baptizing Jesus, but we cannot forget that John was the voice crying out in the wilderness for all of us to get prepared for the coming of Christ. John lays the foundation, and eventually his life, for the movement that would become the early church. It would make sense that when Jesus shows up to be baptized, he is there as a way of thanking John for his support and work. Sometimes, we say thank you through our actions and not necessarily through our words. Jesus does not, according to the text, thank John, but his presence acknowledges the good work that John is doing. If we want to be in right relationships with others, gratitude is really important. We say thank you not only through our words but by our actions.

Through baptism we are all called to strive for right relationship with one another in this community of faith. We are called to show up and give thanks and support each other, yet we live in a world where people are often much quicker to criticize, wound and abandon. Today, as we remember not only the baptism of our Lord, may we also remember the relationship between John and Jesus and use it as a way to reflect on our relationships with one another. Who in our life has supported us, laid foundations for us to stand on or simply shown up when we needed them most? When have we done that for others? In what ways can we work on being in right relationship with God and others that we may have failed in previously? How can our congregation be a sign of right relationship, love and gratitude, to our community? Perhaps it all begins by showing up and saying thank you. How different would our world be if we stopped to thank people simply for their presence along our journey. What if we thanked the coffee shop people, the mail delivery folks, the clerk at the store? What would that do to change our relationships with our neighbors? What would happen if we approached the world with the aim of gratitude and right relationship? I wonder if it would end with God sharing the same words as it was at the baptism: I am well pleased.

Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash