Sunday, January 12, 2020

Baptized for God’s purposes

Isaiah 42:1-9; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 3:13-17


I was struck this week by how many times we hear God’s voice in the readings. God’s voice claims us and calls us to do God’s work.

… Isaiah hears God speak first about the suffering servant, who makes no complaint at the way he is treated. Christians read into this a description of Jesus, especially at his trial, his beating, and his crucifixion.


Isaiah then describes the way God’s people are called to be lights to the people, to minister to those who are blind and imprisoned in darkness. We hear some echoes of this passage in Jesus’ life and ministry to the poor and hungry and weeping people. We, too, are called to be light for people living in darkness.

… In the reading from Acts, we hear Peter speaking God’s words: Jesus is alive again after the leaders of Judaism killed him. The disciples are all now empowered to speak God’s words, to give voice to Jesus’ words and to share them with all who will listen. As today’s disciples, we are also called to give voice to Jesus’ words and give action to Jesus’ ministry.


… God’s voice is easy to identify in the Gospel reading. God’s voice is heard saying, “This is my son, the beloved. I am well pleased with him.” There is no admonition here for what our response should be, but we might assume we are at least called to believe what God says. And we are called to listen to what Jesus says, since God so obviously approves of him and what he is about to do.


It is not clear in this text from Matthew who is able to hear God’s voice. Is it just John the Baptist? Or do the people in the crowd also hear it? Certainly someone heard it, because we have the story about it.


Many people wonder why Jesus needed to be baptized. Even John the Baptist wonders about it. Jesus tells him that it is to “fulfill all righteousness”. Those who are obedient to God are considered to be righteous. This means that when Jesus shows up to be baptized by John, he is obeying God.


Jesus has been sent to be like us, to show us God’s heart. When he is baptized, he is telling the people that God approves of John’s baptism, even though the leaders don’t approve of it.

  … Jesus begins his ministry with baptism; so do we. Baptism has become an essential aspect of our lives as believers in Jesus. Jesus speaks to us through our baptism.

Through our baptism, we remember that we are forgiven – we receive God’s grace. The grace actually comes first – Jesus invites us to receive it. There is nothing we need to do to get it! We cannot earn grace. In response to the grace, we learn to follow Jesus in reaching out to others with that same grace.

Through our baptism, we die to our old sinful selves and rise to new life with God’s Spirit within us. It is hard to remember that baptism is first a death. We usually just pour a little water over the heads of those who are baptized. When baptism includes full immersion, it is easier to see the connection to death. While we are under water, we can’t breathe. The first breath we take when we come up out of the water is an inhaling of God’s Holy Spirit. Every breath we take for the rest of our lives is an expression of God’s presence within us. 

Through our baptism, we are united into one family of Jesus people. We have sisters and brothers all around the world. We have sisters and brothers of all colors and all abilities and all income levels. We have brothers and sisters who worship by saying the same prayers every week, and sisters and brothers who sing the same song for 20 minutes, and brothers and sisters who live in silence except for worship time. We are a diverse family, all followers of the same Jesus.  


Through our baptism, we embark on our lives of following Jesus into ministry among all of God’s people. God’s voice comes to us through scripture. God’s voice comes to us through the bread and wine which nourishes us each week. God’s voice comes to us through trained teachers and preachers, through our friends, and through intuition – though we need to be careful with the interpretation of our intuition.


God’s voice also comes to us when we notice that something is not what Jesus would want. For example, Jesus frequently spoke tenderly with the social outcasts of his time. He included the tax collectors and the foreigners and those with different religions during his ministry.


Who are some of the outcasts of our time? How would Jesus treat them? As baptized believers in Jesus and followers of his way of living, shouldn’t we welcome them as Jesus did?


People who are poor or homeless are outcasts. I wonder what God was telling us on Christmas Eve when half a dozen homeless folks showed up to worship among us. Thank you for welcoming them so warmly.

People with Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities are often bullied and disrespected. Jesus spoke with and healed people with demons and other disabilities.


The refugees at our southern border have fled extremely dangerous situations at home. They are seeking a new life, the opportunity to earn a living, and educational opportunities for their children. In fact, they are simply hoping their children have a chance to grow up.


All of these people, and other groups we tend to reject for one reason or another, are God’s children and our sisters and brothers. They are all members of our family and deserving of our respect and care.

When we are baptized, and whenever we remember our baptism by dipping our fingers in the waters of the font, we also remember the promises we made: to live among God’s people, to worship regularly, to care for others and the world God made, and to seek justice and mercy for all.


This week, I encourage you to reflect on the promises made at your baptism and your confirmation.  Listen for God’s voice as you encounter people this week. How will you/we be lights for people living in darkness?