Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
“Reflection on Baptism”

 “Reflection on Baptism”

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 ~ January 9, 2022 ~ The Reverend Dr. Dorothy A. Jeffery  

Today is the Baptism of Jesus Sunday, the first Sunday after Epiphany.  It seems quite a leap forward from the birth stories of the Christmas season - an infant,  now suddenly an adult.  Each year we hear a different Gospel version. This year the Baptism of Jesus version is from the Gospel of Luke.  

Luke transitions from many words about the preaching of John the Baptist to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.  The necessary hinge is Jesus’ baptism.  John the Baptist declares he prepares the way BUT is not the Messiah.  This is to put to rest the question so many were asking, “Are you, John, the messiah?”  In Luke it is “the people” who had great expectations and hope for a Messiah.  It is not the authorities who feared and were in opposition to a Messiah who could challenge their power.    

John the Baptist prophesies that the one who comes after him (Jesus) will baptize with the Holy Spirit and FIRE.  This will be a different baptism than the baptism of John which was for repentance of sin.   Luke does not describe the actual baptism of Jesus. Luke only describes the setting (Luke 3:21a NIV) “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too”.    

Luke is about how Jesus identifies himself (shows solidarity with) the poor. The “God with us” and title – Immanuel is in Matthew and Isaiah  not Luke who shows “God with us” in other ways. What we see is a rag tag collection of people from Jerusalem and environs – the poor and desolate, those with no hope and no obligations on their time.    

The rich and powerful leaders of the temple, the leaders of the government, if they had come out at all, were standing off at a far.  They thought they did not need to repent.  They had it all, and this proved in their eyes they were favoured by God.  No, the people that were standing in line to be baptized by John  knew their need and their sin.   

The thinking of the day (long standing  in one stream of the historical story of  God’s interaction with the world) was that  your status in the world defined your status in the eyes of God.  We hear it still today “You get what you deserve, if you are poor it is because of your own failings.  You are not worthy”.  Of course, this is only one stream of thinking in the Old Testament – there are many writings in the prophets that speak of God’s favour to the poor and vulnerable of the world.  

There is the story of Ruth you may have heard this fall in November.  There is the story of Job who cannot believe his fate is due to his own sin.  There are laws in Leviticus that speak of care of widows, orphans, and exiles.    

So, the image that Luke gives us is a line of poor, sick, vulnerable people shuffling along to receive what is offered … and in the midst of that line is Jesus – waiting his turn, showing solidarity with the poor, identifying with a nation and world of sinners. I think of the famous painting of Jesus in the bread line. What Jesus did was simply join the line with everyone who had been broken by the “wear and tear” of a selfish world.  Jesus claimed no glory.   Jesus does not set himself apart from others.  

It is often asked, did Jesus also feel the need to be cleansed? Almost the entire New Testament testifies to Jesus having no sin nor ever being alienated from God. Jesus effectively acknowledges that he was born into a world of systemic and tragic structural sin.  There are no innocent, no perfect, no unambiguous, no controllable, nor sinless choices in this world.   All choices, including those made by Jesus, are made into a system that infringes on our choices. 

We can see that Jesus lived in a “broken” world.  Nor did he make the choices in his life in a moral vacuum. Throughout the various gospel stories, Jesus made the best choices within the systemic injustice that surrounded him. In Luke, Jesus shows particular concern for the poor, and extends much of his caring and interaction to women, often marginalized or ignored in other gospel stories.  Luke includes 23 passages relating to women that are only found in Luke. As a church we all need to ask if the message that we send is that all are welcome (sinners and refugees, those who have lost their way); or is it (inadvertently) we welcome predominantly respectable, successful people who have the fiscal and spiritual resources to build up our church communities. 

In the Advent before Advent, Scott invited you into reflections about your church.  What vision did you see for Northwood?   

In Luke’s baptism of Jesus story, Jesus does not say a single word aloud.  However, after he is baptized he prays.  A private conversation with God.  Jesus does not undertake his public ministry of teaching and healing with only his own power and ability.  His strength comes from beyond him.  The Holy Spirit encourages him all the way, even when the way it is difficult.  

Prayer defines Jesus throughout the gospel of Luke. After a healing Jesus withdrew to pray [Luke 5:16]; before he choses the 12 apostles [6:12] he prays; after feeding the five thousand [9:18] he prays; prior to and during the transfiguration [9:28ff] he prays. Then there is when he teaches the disciples to pray [11:1]; at the time of his betrayal and arrest [22:41]; at his death on the cross [23:46] he prays.  

You can be sure that Luke wants us to know that prayer is the key aspect of following Jesus. For Jesus, his baptism was a hinge point or turning point in his life. In Jesus’ day most people did not live beyond thirty. Adult baptism was the norm.  

Today many baptisms occur when we are young (babes or children).  Baptism is a turning point in life whether we can recall it or not, whether or not it was accompanied with a big church or family celebration.  Baptism defines how we live out our lives.  Take a moment now to recall or reflect on how your baptism has defined your life.   

If you will permit me a bit of personal reflection – I was baptized as an infant. I never realized its significance until I became an adult.  However, it gave me confidence to know I live in a loving community and family. As I approached and entered adulthood, my status of baptism gave me security when I went to the big city to university. Many years later when I applied to seminary at VST the fact that I was a “cradle to … not yet grave (thank goodness) Christian seemed to carry considerable weight since I had no previous lay ministry experience and limited church leadership credentials.   

Identifying with sinners in the waters of baptism and setting his life in prayer with God are two important aspects of Jesus’ baptism. The third is that God confers identity on Jesus “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased”.   In this private speaking to Jesus, God gives identity (Sonship), establishes worth for Jesus and declares, “Love” to be the centre of God’s relationship with Jesus.  

Our very existence is not an accident of birth or biology.  It is the will and intention of God the creator, who offered that identity and affirmation to Jesus. We all share Jesus’ baptism, and we are all called by God, “My beloved”  As followers of Jesus, we too need to hear this affirmation from God and from each other. God has promised us a new way of being.  God gives us a healing place where we are given strength for our journey towards wholeness. Hearing this kind of affirmation from a parent or some other significant person in our lives strengthens our identity, our will, and our ability to act from a secure identity.  

This journey of wholeness, while a gift, also requires diligence.  It takes effort, hard work, and sometimes even a call to enter into dark places that we would rather avoid.  The Spirit of God, that is present in all of this, invites us into places of transformation, renewal, and peace. We are called to step away from the stresses of life, even for a moment, so that we may experience this peace, as a gift.  

There are many challenges in our communities and in the world.  We are tired, afraid, and overwhelmed.  We admit to, at times, feeling uninspired or shutdown as we consider our options.  

Despite this, supported, sustained and defined by prayer (our own and that of our community) and the state of being Beloved (by God), we experience our primary call - to be loving servants and followers of Christ in this real and difficult world. 

May it be so in your life and in mine.