It is so appropriate that we are holding our annual meeting on this feast day: It is in baptism that Jesus both joins us and leads us into what we call “the Christian life.” The relationship between Jesus’ baptism and ours, between his being baptized in the River Jordan and our becoming church, is a many faceted gem. This morning I’ve teamed up with the second century priest and theologian Hippolytus. I came across his Epiphany sermon at Morning Prayer this past Wednesday. We’ll hear from Hippolytus for a minute or two, and then I’m going to talk briefly about our 21st century baptismal lives.
That Jesus should come and be baptized by John is surely cause for amazement. To think of the…unfathomable fountainhead that gives life to all people being immersed in the shallow waters of this transient world! The One who fills all creation, leaving no place devoid of his presence, who is … hidden from the sight of human beings, came to be baptized... And behold, the heavens opened and a voice said: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” The God of love begets love, and spiritual light generates light inaccessible….
…The Source of immortality sent their immortal Son and Word into the world; he came to us to cleanse us with water and the Spirit. To give us a new birth that would make our bodies and souls immortal, he breathed into us the spirit of life and armed us with incorruptibility. Now if we …become divine after rebirth in baptism through water and the Holy Spirit, we shall also be coheirs with Christ …This is the water that is linked to the Spirit, the water that irrigates Paradise, makes the earth fertile, gives growth to plants, and brings forth living creatures. In short, this is the water by which we receive new birth and life, the water in which even Christ was baptized, the water into which the Holy Spirit descended as a dove. Those who go down into these waters of rebirth with faith renounce the devil and pledge themselves to Christ. They repudiate the enemy and confess that Christ is God, throw off their servitude, and are raised to filial status. They come up from baptism resplendent as the sun, radiant in purity, but above all, they come as a child of God and a coheir with Christ.
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It’s a good thing we’re all going to be sprinkled with that baptismal water in a few minutes.
Once we have renounced the devil and pledged ourselves to Christ, then what? Once we have come up from baptism resplendent as the sun, a radiant child of God and coheir with Christ, then what? In the same way that baptism confers authority upon Jesus, baptism confers authority upon us. We, too, are God’s beloved, with whom God is well pleased. With our authority and our belovedness comes a new way of living in the world:
• We continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship. We take seriously our commitment to gather for scripture, bread, prayer, and for each other. At our annual meeting we’ll have an opportunity to make particular commitments to show up for one another. I hope that each of you will give and receive this gift.
• When we become estranged from God and from others, as we inevitably do, we promise to repent and return. We strive to tell ourselves the truth about our behavior, and to hear it from others. We pray to resist and renounce the temptation to be so right and so unified with others who are right that we vilify whole swaths of humanity, whole political parties or whole nations.
• We promise to be Jesus’ hands and feet in the world, to share Good News in word and deed. This can be as simple as welcoming someone to church, being the person they remember when they leave and think “I was afraid to walk through the doors of that church, but they welcomed me.” We need to take care not to confuse real evangelism—saving souls—with church welcome. But there is an overlap, when we express the love of God through hospitality and courage.
• We promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors and asking ourselves over and over again: “who is my neighbor? How can I love them and serve Christ in them today?” Again, come to the annual meeting to hear about a particular way to ask these questions.
• We live our Christian lives in the world striving for justice and peace, and respecting the dignity of every human being. Our baptismal covenant binds us not only to respect the dignity of every human being, but to protect one another’s dignity, to come alongside the vulnerable in the same way that Jesus comes alongside us in the waters of baptism. I’m talking about protecting children in cages on our southern border and protecting Iranian-Americans at our northern border. I’m also talking about protecting the dignity of people with whom we may disagree about politics or economic justice or food production. Our justice work is not the work ofjudgment, but the work of love.
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God makes a covenant with us in baptism. Through the grace of baptism, we become a sign of God’s love for the world. I have given you as a covenant, Isaiah writes to God’s people, have given you as a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out from the prison those who sit in darkness. And so God gives us. God gives us as a light to the world, for a purpose that surely extends beyond these walls, perhaps even beyond the matters we take up later today at our annual meeting.
We are Jesus’ siblings, God’s children, coheirs, in Christ, of the Kingdom of God. The promises we make at baptism are the way we steward the kingdom that has been left to us. Let’s do it with all the love and grace that is our inheritance.