Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Baptism of the Lord, Year A
January 12, 2020
Lessons: Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29, Acts 10:34-43, Matthew 3:13-17
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people steward the gift of baptism, giving thanks for Jesus’ example and remembering always their own baptism and baptismal promises.
Key Scriptures: Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. Isaiah 42:1
And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:16-17
What more can one possibly say about Jesus’ baptism? I’ll admit this was my initial thought when I began preparing for this week’s lectionary reflection. For those who have preached and taught this story for years, it may seem as though all the important details have already been teased out. After all, there’s not a lot of detail and no plot twists to this lesson: Jesus shows up, tells John to baptize him despite John’s initial refusal, a dove descends and a voice from heaven acknowledges Jesus for who he is and expresses a contented pleasure with the Son of God’s action. Here ends the lesson. We know what happens next, but it’s not part of this Sunday’s lectionary; in fact, we won’t explore the next chapter of Matthew’s gospel until the first Sunday in Lent. Now what?
The wonderful thing about scripture is that it lives and breathes. It transcends time and space, always offering fresh insights and guidance for those who are willing to encounter and wrestle with it (or in this week’s case swim with it).
Baptism is the sacrament (or initiation rite) by which we are grafted into God’s family. Why not start by exploring your faith tradition’s baptismal practices, language, and promises? Whether you practice immersion, pouring, dipping, or sprinkling, the earthly element that “carries” the language of this sacrament is water. We are baptized in the name of the Triune God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In baptism we die to our sinful and selfish nature; our false self is drowned so that the beloved child of God we are created to be can rise. For Lutherans and folks of many other faith traditions, it is God’s action, not our own, that signs, seals, and delivers one from the power of death and by whom the gift of the Holy Spirit is given. Even for those who practice believer’s baptism, God is still the actor and author of this means of grace. You might prayerfully ponder these questions:
- What are your memories of your own baptism? If you were an infant, what stories have others have recounted to you, what images and artifacts remain (pictures, certificate, candle, shell, garment, towel, etc.)? Do you celebrate your baptismal day each year?
- What is the congregation’s understanding of baptism? Might a brief refresher course be in order? Does your congregation place an emphasis on remembering one’s baptism both daily and on the baptismal anniversary?
If you choose to place the emphasis on Jesus’ baptism, don’t forget the importance of Jesus showing up as the Son of God, fully human and fully divine. He follows the good order of John’s ministry and insists on having John baptize him. As Martin Luther preached in his Epiphany sermon in 1534:
“The Son, who is without sin, allows himself to be baptized for our example and our comfort. He does something here that is not required of him, whereas we do nothing that is not required of us. More, we do what is evil. How will we ever get to the point of doing something not required? Christ is holier even than baptism, yet still allows himself to be baptized. Thereby he institutes baptism.”
No need to hit your homiletical ball into theological weeds. Keep it simple and clear. For the full text of Luther’s sermon, click here.
Finally, it might be helpful to focus on water, for without water there is no lasting life on this earth. Christ, in his baptism, shows us what is fitting and proper, sort of a Jesus H2O, if you will. After all, human beings are about 66% water, and 70% of the human brain is water. We can live for about a month without food but will survive only about a week without water. Water is powerful, possessing the ability to dissolve more substances than any other liquid, including sulfuric acid. (Click here for more water facts.) And yet, we take this ordinary everyday element quite for granted and are often wasteful with it. Let us not take baptism for granted. We as people of faith should walk wet in this world, or as Fr. Richard Rohr often reminds us, we live in a “Christ-soaked world.” Blessings on your faithful and creative preaching and teaching!
Make this a day for waterworks. Sing baptism hymns. Talk about water. Invite congregants to remember and celebrate their baptism. Share facts about water and how central it is to life on this earth and how baptism is central to the Christian faith. Celebrate the good and proper order that Jesus instituted by being baptized. Please also be sensitive in your language and liturgy to those who are still seeking and may not have yet experienced the sacrament of baptism.
Have a celebration of baptism with your youth today. Make sure that you know baptismal dates. Invite them to bring in a photo from their baptism if they have one. Remind them that just as God proclaimed Jesus “the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” they too are beloved children of God.
This week’s focus verse is Matthew 3:16 – And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.
Spend some time today with the children talking about the symbols often associated baptism (shell, three drops of water, dove, a candle, a special baptismal garment or towel, anointing oil). Let them touch, smell, and feel the items. If you have a baptism scheduled for this day, let the children help you prepare for it and reserve a front row seat for them to be part of the celebration. If you are able, give them a small dove (like the small sheets of fabric stick-on doves) as a reminder that God’s Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove, and that same Spirit is given to all of us on the occasion of our baptism. Finish with a simple echo prayer and blessing. Perhaps even anoint the children’s foreheads with oil as a reminder that they are God’s beloved.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
This week Jesus shows us what is right and proper when he goes to John for baptism. Spend some time this week remembering and giving thanks for your own baptism. How are you stewarding this gift every day?
Stewardship at Home
If you have young children at home, remind them every time you turn on water to remember their baptism. If you have photos from their baptism, be sure to pull them out and talk about what you remember of that special day. Consider also instituting a “water tax” this week. Every time you use water, put some change in a jar. At the end of the week, count the money and donate it to a water charity. Enjoy documentary films? Check out this list of ten films about water.
Images: Dmitry Kichenko; Sharron Blezard; and Waiting for the Word, Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!
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