Baptism of Our Lord – January 13, 2019

Rev. Lyle McKenzie – Lutheran Church of the Cross of Victoria 
Isaiah 43:1-7, Psalm 29, Acts 8:14-17, Luke 3:15-17, 21-22    

All the people were baptized, and Jesus also was baptized. That’s the way the Gospel reads. It’s that simple, that connected.

We’re celebrating Baptism today.

So, we’re celebrating Baptism. We put it on the sign. I smiled seeing and thinking about it, wondering if anyone would come hoping to be baptized! Anyone? And what will/would we do if you did? Wouldn’t that be great!

We’re celebrating Baptism. And I want everyone to know that this is not to exclude anyone who may not be baptized. We celebrate this sacrament, meaning free gift of tangible grace of God’s giving. It is celebration and invitation open to all. And like John we’re pointing to the power of Jesus to baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, washing, refining, winnowing the chaff from us to yield the fruit of the grain. The best of who God calls us to be, anointed, filled with the Spirit, beloved and so pleasing to God, just as the voice from heaven proclaims Jesus to be.

We’re celebrating Baptism!

And note all the baptismal imagery in the words of Isaiah. Although the historical context is about the redemption and restoration of Israel from destruction and exile, with surrounding nations given and marked for ransom, and the displaced and dispersed daughters and sons of God coming home, the words are also timeless in their blessing, like the blessings of Baptism:

“God who created you, God who formed you…

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;

I have called you by name, you are mine.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;

and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;

when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the

flame shall not consume you.

For I am the Lord your God, the holy one of Israel, your Saviour.

Because you are precious in my sight, and honoured,

and I love you.

Do not fear for I am with you.

Bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth” – asylum seekers from Central and South America, a daughter from Saudi Arabia, refugees from Syria, Burundi, Eritrea; “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

          What great words of blessing, like blessings of Baptism.

And so we celebrate Baptism, and words of blessing for all.

          We celebrate with the people of Samaria. The reading from Acts has an intriguing surrounding context with a magician named Simon Magus who has the people spellbound. But even more the people are affected by the preaching and acts of healing by Philip. And the people of Samaria are baptized, and even Simon the magician! is baptized. And hearing of it, Peter and John come to pray that they receive the Holy Spirit.

It is difficult to say what the words that follow mean: (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus) because Luke and Acts have different portrayals of baptism and the giving of the Holy Spirit. At times the Spirit is given immediately in Baptism, sometimes, like in this case, the Spirit is not given until the laying on of hands and prayer of the Apostles. The reasons may include simply acknowledging different experiences, recognizing the authority of the Apostles and the Jerusalem Church in the spread of the Gospel, and a unity in the power of the Spirit.

          Most importantly, the people of Samaria, Samaritans! – remember the parable of the good Samaritan, or the one leper who returned to thank Jesus who was a Samaritan, these people who are outsiders to the Jewish/Christian community, are being baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit. The story that follows is Philip meeting an Ethiopian eunuch on the road, reading from Isaiah and asking to understand it. And hearing the good news, asks, “here is water, what is to prevent me from being baptized?” What a great question for any person in every time!!! And Phillip baptizes him. People on the margins, outsiders, Samaritans, eunuchs, transgender and queer people, those who are poor, who can’t afford church, those who are estranged, struggling, isolated, that they and we and everyone be offered and welcomed to receive the gift of Baptism!

           We celebrate Baptism today, for everyone!

          And we’re celebrating Jesus’ Baptism, with us all!

I love Luke’s telling of the story, saying simply, “when all the people were baptized, and Jesus also was baptized…” As I said at the beginning, it is that simple and that connected.

Jesus baptized like any one else. Seeking the comfort and strength, the challenge and transformation that Baptism offers and signals. Like the words from Isaiah, “Do not fear, I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine. …You are precious in my sight, and honoured and I love you.”

– Jesus, completely human, joining completely in human life, in Baptism, that the waters not overwhelm, and fires not burn.

– Jesus, the Holy Spirit descending upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice from heaven proclaiming, “you are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” Jesus, God’s anointed, beloved, and well pleasing, God’s divine offspring, completely God, completely present with all humanity, opening the heavens to the blessing of God’s Holy Spirit for all.

          This is what we celebrate in Jesus’ Baptism today!

Jesus, completely human, completely of God, and the Holy Spirit of God/Jesus given, with, present, let loose in this world and our and other’s lives in all the Spirit’s power. Like Psalm 29 to the weather gods and the one God, and the power of God’s voice/Spirit/wind, like the storms that struck the Islands over Christmas, that kind of power to transform everything. That’s the powerful hope that we need in the face of so much that is flawed and failing, overwhelming and despairing, God’s power to change this world and us. Like the Wetsueten hereditary chiefs and the RCMP reaching an agreement to stand down together, and what that step together might hold for the future. We pray for the powerful Spirit of true reconciliation to brood over it all.

          And the Spirit’s voice, still and small that calls each by name, claiming, affirming that we are all children of God, beloved, precious, honoured, like at the Kitchen Board meeting on Wednesday reading cards from  participants, thanking the Kitchen community, in the words of one card, for not only feeding their body with good food, but feeding their spirit with love and community and belonging. Yes, that’s the Spirit!

          That’s God’s/Jesus’ Spirit that we celebrate in Baptism, at work with power and promise in this world, and our lives.

Brian McLaren, in his 2016 book, The Great Spiritual Migration, writes of how the Christian church is seeking a better way to be Christian. He offers a “Charter for a Just and Generous Christianity.” It includes: a deep thirst for a more authentic, honest and sustaining spiritual life; a compelling hunger to do justice, to show compassion and walk humbly with God; a powerful desire to understand and engage with the critical problems of our world; a profound need for space to grapple honestly with our questions of theology and practise; an impatient readiness to move beyond narratives of decline to narratives of hope and empowerment; and a growing loneliness for a sense of shared identity and belonging that transcend institutional affiliation.  And he concludes with these words:

          In faith and hope, we raise our sails to be filled with the wind of the Spirit, so a just and generous Christian faith will thrive as never before in our world, to the glory of God and for the joyful freedom of all God’s creatures. Let it be so. In all our relations. Amen.