Baptism of our Lord Lectionary Reflection, Year C
January 10, 2016
John answered them all by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to until the thong of his sandals. 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 granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Luke 3:16-17
The world continues to spin and reel amid continuing violence, war, and discord; it seems to be the norm for our time and place. Social media outlets are having a heyday with responses and opinions and rants of all ilk. Some folks, however, are finding that lament is more of an appropriate response to our current situation. It’s also a biblical response. According to Nancy Lee, “Lament in the Hebrew Bible is an expression of sorrow, a description of distress, or a protest about injustice.” We as people of faith indeed have much to lament, not the least of which may include our own fear, ambivalence, or outright complicity with the powers of empire and consumer culture.
This Sunday we once again remember and celebrate the Baptism of our Lord. This day is traditionally a good one to allow children to take a loud and loose lead with Asperging – to play in the waters of the font, to fling droplets down the pews, and to “remember” their own baptism. It can be a nice and engaging way to approach the day, but I wonder…does it work so well this year? Is it the best stewardship of the message we bear to a hurting and broken world?
Maybe this is a good time to talk about baptism as an act of radical repentance, to dig into the context of what John’s baptism was all about, why Jesus’ baptism was and is so important, and what it means for us today. True, it’s a little tougher to paint that picture when we’re talking about gurgling, or perhaps wailing, infants bedecked in fancy clothing with nervous families milling about the font. Perhaps there will even be a baptism or two in the congregation on this day. How do you explain to those parents that in reality, they are standing in for and signing on their child for an alternative, countercultural life, a way of living and being that will likely put them at odds with what’s “normal,” and may even force them to make some difficult and risky choices? Can you disabuse these parents of the notion of baptism as “fire insurance,” or a social club church membership entry rite, or an act to please the grandparents? I hope so because there is so much more at stake.
In addition to lament, this Sunday reminds us of the need to repent. As a Lutheran I believe that I die daily to sin and am raised to new life. Even though I remember my baptism and celebrate each day the gift of unmerited grace that’s been given to me by a loving God, I am humbled by my inability to “be good” and manage my “righteousness” on my own. I’m a stinking sinner who’s been forgiven, and I dare not forget that. Confession and forgiveness should be as integral to a follower of Christ as breathing.
Finally, let’s make good use of a trinity of words, adding to lament and repent the call to “relent.” Not only do we need to relent from our individual and corporate sin and blindness, but we also need to relent from our assumptions and carefully cultivated prejudices and ingrained ways of doing and being church. Let’s read this week’s lessons afresh. Here the good news that Jesus is going to burn away all of our chaff, our useless and unnecessary fluff so that we can get down to the core of being Christ followers. Let’s listen to the words of Isaiah and feel God’s love, care, and provision for a chosen people who don’t always behave like they’re chosen, yet who are always dearly beloved. Can you hear God calling you back today, gathering you in so that you no longer have to fear or be an outcast? And finally, in the snippet of scripture from the Acts of the Apostles, let’s acknowledge that God is constantly calling us to be like Jesus in crossing boundaries and reclaiming the margins so that all have a place at the table.
Lament, repent, and relent: Let God be God and give thanks for the gift of baptism. Then be sent into the world to starting spreading a wonderful, grace-filled, counter-cultural word or two!
Consider the passage from Acts 8. The Samarians were despised by Jews, yet here Peter and John have been sent by the apostles at Jerusalem to lay hands on them. Boundaries were crossed and barriers shattered. What situations in our world today might call for similar action? How can the church respond? How can we bless others who come from different cultures, races, backgrounds, and geographical locations?
Well Pleased: Our gospel lesson today ends after Jesus is baptized and is praying. Heaven opens, the Holy Spirit descends in visible form like a bird, and a voice says “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” When our parents bring us to the font for baptism, or when we as older children or adults are baptized, God is also pleased as we begin a lifetime of following in Jesus’ footsteps. Tell children that following in Jesus’ footsteps won’t always be the easiest thing, but that we will never be alone because the Holy Spirit is with us every step of the way and hour of the day.
Give each child a sheet of paper with two “adult-size” footprints on it. At the top of the page print: I am a child of God. I follow in Jesus’ footsteps. Then have (or help) each child to trace his or her footprints within the two larger footprints. Be sensitive to any children who may not yet have been baptized. Be sure to include them and remind them that baptism can happen at any point in a person’s life and that God loves them dearly and has a plan for their life.
Photos: THX0477 , Akio Takemoto, and Divineinthedaily, Creative Commons. Thanks!