In the name of the one, holy and living God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifying Spirit. Amen.
It is a curious question that has stumped many over the ages: Why was Jesus baptized?
If Jesus was without sin, and John’s baptism was about repentance, why in the world was Jesus baptized by John?
John himself tried to stop Jesus, protesting: “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
But, Jesus answers: “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”
Perhaps Jesus was baptized because as God became human to live and die as one of us, Jesus was baptized as we are.
It is certainly clear from today’s gospel passage from Matthew that Jesus’ baptism announces God’s favor and establishes Jesus’ identity. Jesus’ baptism serves as the commissioning for his public ministry.
It is interesting that as Jesus comes up out of the water, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending upon him. We have no idea if anyone else saw the heavens open up or the Spirit descend, but Matthew tells us that Jesus certainly did!
I imagine that the voice from heaven was audible to more than just Jesus,
but we don’t know that for sure. To Jesus, the voice from heaven clearly claimed him as Son, the Beloved, with whom God was well pleased.
So, in his baptism, whether for repentance or not, Jesus clearly knew his identity as God’s Son — God’s beloved.
In just a few moments we will baptize one of God’s own — God’s beloved,
Frances Elizabeth, and in her baptism we will recall our own.
We will remember that through the waters of baptism we were washed clean of our sins and have been reborn into eternal life with God.
We will remember that we, too, have been commissioned to live by Word and example the Good News of God in Christ, loving our neighbors as ourselves, respecting the dignity of every human being, working for justice and reconciliation in this broken and sinful world.
After Frances emerges from the waters of baptism, she will be sealed with the oil of Chrism with these words:
Frances Elizabeth, you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism
and marked as Christ’s own forever.
Frances Elizabeth…marked as Christ’s own forever.
She is named and claimed by God as God’s own child.
We are named and claimed by God as God’s very own.
Take a moment, whether you actually remember your baptism or not, and hear God saying to you:
you are my son/my daughter,
with you I am well pleased.
You have been marked as Christ’s own forever.
Do we live our lives as if this were truly our identity/our reality?
We have been created in the image of God, and with us God is well pleased.
If we truly live out of the belief in our own giftedness and goodness, would we need to be jealous of anyone else? or to compete for a higher place? Would we need to stockpile our gifts as if we might run out, being fearful of giving away ourselves?
Or, might we instead be able to revel in the fact that we are all differently gifted, bringing us into closer communion with one another and the Body of Christ?!
Immediately following the story of Jesus’ baptism in the Gospel of Matthew, we are told that the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted.
We are not so very different, are we?!
We are daily tempted to boast of our own power and glory.
But our identity in baptism is as children — servants — of God who use our God-giftedness in the service of the Kingdom of Grace, humility and forgiveness.
These words that we hear: “this is my daughter/my son with whom I am well pleased” are words of empowering Grace if we will but hear them.
We are enough as we are, which is not to say that we do not make mistakes or engage in sinful behavior.
But, please hear this: There is a difference between guilt and shame.
We are appropriately guilty for sinful behavior…things we do that bring harm to others, to creation, to ourselves. For these we repent and seek forgiveness.
Shame is when we do not feel worthy in our being.
Many of us feel shame; we feel unworthy in our being… unworthy of God’s love or anyone else’s love.
But I think our Scriptures tell us a different story.
We — you and I — are created in God’s image.
God formed us and knit us together in our mother’s womb,
God created us and calls us by name,
and with us God is well pleased – in our very being.
In baptism, as a sign of our identity, we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.
When we are baptized, we become members of the Church, a community in which we continue to be formed and loved and challenged and forgiven and healed.
Jesus was born, lived, died and was raised from the dead to demonstrate in Word and deed how so very deep is God’s love for us.
And this love for us we remember every time we gather for Eucharist.
The first thing we see when we walk into this building is the font, reminding us of our baptism, reminding us of God’s claim on our identity and our lives.
The confession of sin is another time that we recall our baptism. Through the waters of baptism, we are buried with Christ, we are forgiven our sins, and we are raised to new life.
At the Eucharist, we share the Body and Blood of Christ, bearing the life of Christ within us, just as we promised to do in our baptismal covenant.
At the dismissal we are sent out into the world to live out our covenant, to seek and serve Christ in all persons.
And, as we exit the building we brush pass the font, dipping a finger into the holy waters, making the sign of the cross over our bodies.
God claims us,
God loves us,
God forgives us,
God offers us eternal life.
And for this let us say: Thanks be to God!