It Begins With Baptism

February 22, 2015

We use the three year cycle of lectionary readings at Gordon United – readings agreed on by the worldwide church to help us hear as much of the Bible as possible in the course of 3 years. In each year, we hear the story of Jesus’ baptism at least twice, sometimes three times. Why is it that the teams who compiled these readings thought this story was so important? I expect it has something to do with identity.
All three synoptic Gospels agree that it was at this moment in his life that Jesus heard God’s voice giving him his identity. In John’s Gospel it is John the Baptist who identifies Jesus as the Lamb of God and the one who carries God’s Spirit at the moment of baptism. According to Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus heard God’s voice calling him, “my Son, my Beloved”. In the moment of his baptism, Jesus hears – perhaps for the first time – his calling and his identity in God.
It is telling that that calling is immediately followed by a time of trial and testing. After moments of great joy and enlightenment in our faith, there are often times when our faith is shaken, beaten up, ridiculed, mocked, or weakened by our encounters with the world in which we live. It’s as if there is something in this world that does not want us to claim our identity as children of God. There is something that the Bible calls “principalities and powers” – systems that benefit from keeping us anxious, afraid, dependent on externalities, material things, or other relationships, rather than our fundamental relationship with the God who claims us. Sometimes those systems are personified in the Bible in the form of Satan – the adversary – all that tempts us to fall away from God and base our identity on money, or power, or fame, or success.
Jesus appears to have come through his 40 days of temptation and testing unscathed. It is on those 40 days that the 40 days of Lent are based. We too, spend 40 days facing the principalities and powers. We’re invited to look at the places in our lives that are shadowed, the ways we’ve gotten lost, the challenges that we’ve faced in our walk with God.
Becoming a Christian is easy, in some ways. Some of us became Christians when our parents chose to have us baptised and raised us in the faith. Some of us came to Christ as older children or adults, drawn by the person or message of Jesus. We may or may not have had to participate in some study to learn a bit more about being a disciple of Christ. When I was confirmed, I did an 8 week program to help me learn more about adult Christian faith. Nowadays many churches offer shorter programs, reading groups, online discussion, or weekend retreats to accomplish the same purpose. But all that is relatively easy, compared to the day to day choice to live according to the ways of God, rather than the ways of our society. There is much that calls us away from the path we accepted when we were baptised or confirmed. Everything from Sunday morning soccer practice to the latest consumer craze can tempt us toward neglect of the life of faith – even to make choices that are in direct opposition to the commitments we make at our baptisms! I wonder how many of us actually make our choices in life with direct reference to our faith? How do choose how we spend our money? Our time? How do we decide what books to read, movies to see, games to play? How do we choose our partners in life? Whom we vote for? What employment we will pursue? How do we choose where we will holiday and how we will travel? There is no aspect of life which our faith cannot touch. Because of this, there is no aspect of life in which I do not, sometimes, have to confess my shortcomings and depend on God’s grace to begin again.
Lent is a time when we pay more attention to these things than we might at other times. Christianity is a joyful faith, a positive journey, an uplifting life. It is also a life of high commitment. As “A New Creed” says: We are called to be the Church, to celebrate God’s presence, to love and serve others, to live with respect in creation, to seek justice and resist evil, to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen”.
After we discover our identity as daughters and sons of God, we will experience trials and tests of our faith. We will have to make decisions to recommit ourselves daily to following Jesus. We look at the story of the disciples, called from their normal way of life to follow Jesus wherever he went. They didn’t find it easy. Some of what he did and said didn’t make sense to them. When he commissioned them to go out and preach and heal in his name, their doubts threatened their success. When he was arrested and imprisoned, some of them betrayed him, abandoned him, hid out and looked after themselves. But his resurrection gave them new hope and new courage. They covered the known world, preaching the good news that we are beloved children of God, and that the principalities and powers do not have the last word.
From the Middle East to Europe, Africa, and even perhaps India, the first apostles shared the love of Jesus. They were cast out, ridiculed and ignored. They were faced with imprisonment, beatings, torture, exile and death. Yet they continued to preach and to build communities in his name: communities where women and men, slave and free, rich and poor, weak and strong gathered together to share and to serve. What they preached and how they lived was radical then; it can be radical again.
We have a rich tradition of high calling and high commitment: and it all comes back to our baptism – our identity as children of God. Remember your baptism, remember your high calling, and use this precious Lenten season to face the challenges of your faith, and recommit yourself again to the life of Christ. Amen.

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