The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, "I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. 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 into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." -Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
So we begin this part of the New Year by turning to and being reminded of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, and the stage is set, and each of the Gospels have an account of Jesus baptism and they vary somewhat, but those words that Jan, read at the beginning of the reading this morning in chapter 3, verse 15 of got Luke's gospel, it says, as the people were filled with expectation and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah. John began to answer their questions.
Now, imagine that scene, people who have come out to see this off-kilter, bizarre guy who came wandering out of the wilderness proclaiming a message, calling people to repentance and offering them a baptism, his words, his message, maybe it's just the novel to your curiosity about who and what he was... But people came nonetheless, and there was a buzz, there was a stir, there was an energy in that time and along the shore of that river as people were coming and waiting and expectation fill them, waiting to see what was going on.
Well, when our reading plays a trick on us, because we're here to talk about the baptism of Jesus and the excitement is building, the energy is there, and then we jump down to Verse 21, it says, Now, when all the people had been baptized, and when Jesus said I'd also been baptized. Well, wait a minute, did we blink... How do we go from everybody being excited to after the fact... It didn't say when Jesus was baptized. It we says after he had been baptized. We just missed everything. What happened? What was this baptism? What did it look like? The church gets so caught up in how baptism is administered, that there are debates and arguments about it, is it appropriate to have water to sprinkle it or pour it? Do you need to be fully immersed? And if so, is one time enough or three times, in some traditions, they believe that it needs to be living water, which means that the water is flowing and moving. So in some churches, they actually have elaborate fountain systems, so that the water is coming down cascading, others, they believe that no living water means you have to be out in the river or creek.
In some traditions, they would even suggest that the colder the water is, the better because you need to shock the bad out of people... We don't know necessarily what Jesus' baptism looked like. Did John sprinkle it? Did he pour it? Did he dunk Jesus? If you've ever traveled to Israel, you... Hopefully, you had an opportunity to see the Jordan River. I did, and I have to say, it was rather underwhelming, it didn't look much different than any creek that we have here in Indiana, you could mostly see the bottom of it, but it wasn't all that clear.
You think of sparkly, shimmer and water, and let me say the Jordan River was not that. In fact, there were some fish that looked like carp swimming around on the far side of the river from the place that we visited, there was a pasture with some mules and donkeys, and other livestock walking around. It looked like any old Indiana River or creek. And yet, at that place, something happened.
What words did John say? Did he use the liturgy out of our Methodist hymnal? No, maybe it was Lutheran. What words did John say? How did this baptism take place? Apparently, Luke didn't seem to think that the baptism itself was that important, because all we know is it happened. And the thing is, this sacrament that we've observed in practice as a church is a wonderful one, it's a beautiful one. It's one that I love administering and admittedly, we don't have that many. I've been able to participate in a number of them throughout my ministry, some of them more memorable and meaningful to me than others, the very first baptism that I participated in was... Well, I was still in seminary, I wasn't even a licensed local pastor yet, so I couldn't officially preside over it myself, so I had to have my mentor who was a Methodist pastor in another church, come and be the one to actually bless the water. But this was a young man who was in our youth group who had not grown up in a Christian home, who had started coming to our little church because his math teacher went there and his best friend went there, and so he came to check it out. And somewhere along the way, God got a hold of him and said, I wanna be baptized.
I had grown up in Methodist churches and a font in the sanctuary was what I was used to. But this young man said, I wanna be immersed. I had no idea how to do that 'cause I'd never even really seen it done before, but we went to an above-ground swimming pool that a family in the church had, and it was a small congregation, and many of them were related. So a lot of the family came and gathered at that pool, and we got in the pool and we baptized that young man that day. I've had the opportunity to not be pastor, but rather to be dad at the baptism of our children. And so each of them was baptized by a friend or colleague of mine, who I'd invite to come and I'd step back and I'd be dad in that moment, and my friend would be the pastor who would say the blessing and administer the water. I was called to St. Vincent's Children's Hospital to the neonatal intensive care. A woman whose daughters attended, her older daughters attended my church, had gone into labor early and nearly lost her life and nearly lost the baby, and they were still unsure how things were gonna go for this little girl, and so I went in and garbed up in a gown and a mask and rubber gloves, and with the mother and father and the nurse, I had my hands inside that little incubator, I let that this little tiny, less than a pound girl was laying in and was able to baptize her... She's doing well. So he has some challenges.
Baptism is so meaningful and so significant, it is one of those milestone moments often in people's lives, and so for Luke to downplay it seems to pull at us and say, Well, why... We wanna know what Jesus' baptism was like, but the truth of it is many of us in this tradition or others that were baptized as infants, wanna know what our baptism was like as well, we don't have the memory of the water. We don't have the memory of who was there or what was said, but I think that Luke actually points us to what's really important with baptism. Now, while the community gathered is important, while coming forward before the assembled body and hearing the pastor say the words and the parents make the promises in the congregation, respond and affirm that we will lift up and support this child or this individual in their growth as a Christian. Luke points us to the fact that God's presence in those moments.
He's really the most important thing. Part of the reason why in the Methodist Church that we do baptize infants is that it's not what I do as a pastor, it's not what we do as a congregation, it's not even what the person being baptized does as an individual that makes that baptism meaningful. Its that God shows up, that God is here and present in those times, that we don't have to earn God's love, we don't have to be worthy of His favor, we don't need to go down a checklist of accomplishments and things for God to say, You're good enough to now be a part of my family.
We just have to show up, we have to come forward, or as a child, be brought forward in placed before God, and God like that crazy as a parent at a little league game or that dance mom, whose child is up there at that first recital... When the heavens opened that day when Jesus was baptized, God spoke for Jesus' benefit, but God spoke for the benefit of everybody else. When Jesus had been baptized and was praying to God, and that proud parent's voice said, That's my boy. Or, that's my girl. I love her, I love him. I am so pleased. And he hadn't done anything but show up. There are many people in this world who grow up and spend a lifetime trying to please somebody who may never even notice, that critical parent that's always in the back of your head, that you just want them to be proud of you, that nagging voice that says that you're not good enough. And we believe it. So we work harder. We try harder. We do more. We try to accomplish and amass and say, Look at me, I've succeeded, I've arrived. Look at my house, look at my job. Look at my family. Look at whatever it is. And we wanna ask, are you proud of me now?
But that's living our life according to the standards of this world, this world expects us, particularly this American culture, expects us to be self-made and self-sufficient, there were the sum total of all of our choices and all of our accomplishments, and even then, it leaves people wanting, but much like that baptism of Jesus through these waters, God has already declared that you are His, that you're a part of his family, that you are beloved, and God is well pleased with you. Now friends, that should relieve any burden on our part to achieve and succeed. We don't have to hit a certain threshold. Because God has already said, I love you, I am pleased with you. He's declared to each of us that we are special and we are his... So when we venture forth into this world in life and in ministry and living out this calling to be a child of God, it's not so much about the outcome, it's not so much about the success, success is good. We wanna be faith. Well, we wanna be effective in the things that we do, but more importantly, God wants to show up to be a part of the family and to try, because sometimes...
Now, sometimes we'll fall short, sometimes we're gonna make mistakes, we'll stumble and fall, but that guy who spoke at the baptism of Jesus continues into your life, that you are his... That you are loved, and He is pleased with you. May we be a people who embrace that love, who live into that love, who don't worry about all of those voices that tell us that we have to be better, try harder, do more, accomplish because God is already well pleased with us as a people with whom God is well pleased. You are on the receiving end of a love, that's beyond... Any love that this world has ever seen? A love beyond measure. And friends, we live in a world where there are a lot of people who have not heard that message, we live in a world where there are a lot of people who are struggling day-to-day to try and be good enough to be loved by somebody. By anybody, it might be that quiet kid that you see in the neighborhood, who's always by themself, that coworker that struggles to make eye contact in a conversation. The neighbor that doesn't come out of the house much to the person that has a smile on face and they want you to think, everything's okay, but you have a sense that maybe it's not.
There are people all around us who need to know about this love that we have experienced. It's not up to us to go and declare that they are ours and that we love them and that we're proud of them, but it is up to us to know that God is calling us to help share a little bit of love that we know the love that we've experienced, the love that was so freely given that we had to do nothing to earn it or deserve it, that's the love that this world needs to hear. We talk about all of the polarization and conflict and back and forth and bickering about what's right and what's wrong, and what's up and down, and what's true and what's not, but at the end of the day, the truth that we need to be a part of sharing is that there is a God whose love never ends, that there is a God that when we show up, declares that, yes, you are my child, I love you and I am proud of who you are.
May we be a people who then live into that love and do our best to live up to that love and take that love and spread it around. We're all worried about things spreading right now since we're keeping our distance and wearing our mask, but friends, there are some things that need to be spread. And above all, may it be the love of the God who has declared that we are His, and He is pleased with us.