Isaiah 43:1-7 Psalm 29 Acts 8:12-17 Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
In February I will begin a teaching series which I have titled, A Walk through the Prayer Book. In it, we will briefly explore the history of our Prayer Book and all that it contains. Part of what we will discuss is the church year. Last Sunday we celebrated the “the Feast of the Epiphany,” which always falls on the 6th of January. The fact that it fell on a Sunday AND the fact that Easter falls so late this year means that we will celebrate all nine weeks of Epiphany this year. In most years the season is shortened so that we can observe the 40 days of Lent prior to Easter.
As I will say in in the Sunday School series, Epiphany is one of the two seasons that varies in length because the date of Easter varies each year. There are two constants, however. The first Sunday after Epiphany is always the Sunday we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord. And, the last Sunday of Epiphany is always Transfiguration Sunday.
Each of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, & Luke) tells the story of Jesus being baptized by John in the Jordan River a bit differently. But in each of these Gospels, we are told that people are coming to John and receiving the baptism of repentance. In each he says he is baptizing with water, but the one coming after him will baptize with the Spirit – and in this gospel says with the Spirit and fire.
After Jesus is baptized, Luke tells us “the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.” Then, a voice comes from heaven, saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” The baptism of Jesus marks the beginning of his ministry. Prior to this, he has been with his parents in Galilee, no doubt working alongside his father. But this is when Jesus begins the work he has been called to do.
We don’t often think of Jesus as having answered God’s called to serve, we talk instead of him being born to serve – both can be true. If we start with the premise that we are all born in the image of God, then we are all born to love and serve our community, to serve one another. This is our call from God, that we should love one another. We do, however, have choices to make at every turn in life – and it is easy to take the wrong path.
When Jesus hears of John the Baptism preaching and baptizing at the Jordan River, he answers God’s call and goes to the river where he receives the Holy Spirit and receives God’s blessing, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Luke’s telling makes it personal, In Matthew, God says, “This is my Son . . .” In Matthew, the voice is speaking to the crowd, but here God is speaking directly to Jesus.
I still remember my father telling me he was proud of me. I was an adult with children of my own and hearing my father say that to me, meant something to me. It meant that he saw in me the person he knew I could be – I was living up to my potential. My father valued love and compassion over accomplishments, so hearing him say that encouraged me to continue to focus my attention on doing what helped others.
When I hear Luke’s account where God says to Jesus, “with you I am well pleased,” it helps me to identify with Jesus as a human being. When we speak of Jesus and being part of the Trinity, it can make it difficult to identity with his humanity, with the fact that he experienced life as we experience it.
In Acts, there are people in Samaria who have accepted the “word of God,” which means they heard and believed the good news of Jesus, but they did not feel Christ’s presence in their lives, for, we are told, “the Spirit had not come upon them; they had only been baptized in the name of Lord Jesus.”
When Peter and John lay hands upon them, they receive the Holy Spirit. Many of us may believe, but have trouble feelings Christ’s presence. We may experience it from time to time, but we are human and periodically lose our way. We focus on ourselves and what we want for ourselves. The baptism of repentance is not enough. It is not enough to be feel bad about what we are doing and to want to do better. We need help to change. It the baptism that John tells us we will receive from Christ, being baptize with the Spirit and with fire, that is capable of transforming our lives. The Spirit of God helps us DO better, BE better. We might still lose our way from time to time, but with God’s help we can turn ourselves around and love God and one another. We can answer God’s call.
This account of the baptism of our Lord is of a pivotal moment in the story of his life and teachings, his death and resurrection. Many of us have experience pivotal moments in our faith journeys, moments we can remember when we need to find strength to continue on, or when we have strayed from the path of love, and need to turn our focus back to the liberating power of the love of Jesus Christ. We, too, are beloved. We, too, are called to share the abundance of God’s love for all of humanity.
Let us pray.
Loving God, help us, we pray, to do you will, to love and care for others and to walk the path that leads us to true life in you. Help us to follow the path of your Son, the Beloved, that our lives might lead others to experience the depth of your love. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.