Who remembers the day of your baptism? Anyone? Maybe a few of us were baptized as adults. Perhaps some of us have not been baptized. But, I imagine most of us were baptized as infants. In some ways, this is really too bad because we cannot remember what it felt like or what it meant in the moment to be baptized.
Please close your eyes and let’s begin to imagine the day of your baptism. (If you weren’t baptized imagine your ideal baptism as an infant.) Where were you baptized? Who was present? Parents? Grandparents? Godparents? Any older or twin siblings? Other family members? Now see yourself as the infant you once were, perhaps dressed in a baptismal gown. Pretty cute, huh? Feel yourself held by a parent, with the adoring eyes of your family encircling you. Feel their pride in you. Feel their love for you. Feel the warmth that is present in all who were lifting you up that day. Feel the kindness from the minister or priest who begins to pour water over or immerse you. Soak in the waters of all that love… let it drench every cell of your being.
Receive the gift of God’s love poured out for you through water – an elemental gift of earth. Receive the gift of God’s love poured out for you through your family’s hearts.
Receive the gift of God’s love poured out for you through the sacred words that carry God’s message to you, “You are my beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
Let these words echo within you… You are beloved. You are beloved. You may open your eyes when you are ready.
You are beloved. There is no more important message that any of us can receive. There is no more important message that any of us can give. You are beloved.
The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, celebrated on the Second Sunday of Epiphany, just as we begin a new calendar year, reveals an essential spiritual truth that can ground and anchor our journey into the year ahead, a year that is clearly filled with challenges. Through his baptism, Jesus has become one with us. There is no separation between us and God. Love is what unites us.
The people who have gone to see John in the wilderness are desperate – brutally poor and oppressed by Herod’s unjust regime. They are living on the edge, seeking hope and renewal. Mark makes a point – twice, in fact – to tell us that these people were confessing their sins. As difficult as the Roman rulers made their lives, John still directed them to look within. We know that he didn’t let the political leaders of his day off the hook. But he gave the people a way to be renewed within, despite their economic and political hardships. By joining in this most humble human activity, Jesus expresses his unity with these desperate people and with our human condition – in our weaknesses, our failings, even in our sins.
Whenever we share our struggles with God and with each other, that’s the place where unity and love can grow.
This is what Jesus was doing on the day of his baptism. He met people in their vulnerability and he was willing to risk his. The image of Giotto’s fresco, which was in the email I sent on yesterday, shows Jesus standing naked and alone as he is baptized – of course there were no videographers there to catch exactly what happened. But, I think Giotto and other artists who have painted this scene are onto something – the vulnerability of Jesus at his baptism.
In my years as a Hospice chaplain, something I witnessed again and again is that people realize what matters most at the end; we realize that love is the only thing that really matters… Who was there for you when you were going through a bad time? Who showed up when you were broken-hearted? Who brought you food when you lost your mother or lost your job? The people who matter most to us are the ones who are there for us when we are weak and vulnerable, when our humanity is exposed, people who are lovingly present to us through our greatest challenges. And that is what Jesus was demonstrating when he went out to the wilderness and was there with and for the people who were struggling.
In significant ways, this has been an awful week for our country. I propose (I could be wrong) that we have seen the consequences of what happens when someone who likely either never received or internalized the message of baptism – “You are beloved” – will do anything to prove that to himself, to prop himself up. Whether his failings (or others who behave like him) are psychological, moral, spiritual, cognitive, intellectual, emotional, relational, financial, political or all of the above, it seems that the person who is charged to lead us is unable to behave in a way that shows that he recognizes himself as beloved, unable to look within, to embrace weakness, to accept painful truths, or to empathize with others; someone who doesn’t seem to be self-giving or understand what it means to offer selfless love. Just the opposite. Because he does not seem to know what it means to love, but only uses the language of love to manipulate others, he stokes the fires of hatred and separation, of destruction and death.
Those who understand, you who understand and express what it means to be beloved of God are more needed than ever before to show another way: the way of love, the way of unity, the way of no separation.
Jesus shows us how to do this. Through his baptism, he reveals that he is both the Chosen One and our brother. Standing with all of humanity, in his humanity, Jesus becomes one with us. Through our baptism, we are acknowledged as one with him, bonded, united in love. His baptism and our baptism is the same.
In Mark’s Gospel, immediately after the report of Jesus’ baptism and temptation in the desert, his ministry is inaugurated. In an analogous way, our Baptism inaugurates our mission as Christians.
Coming at a crucial moment for us as a nation, the Celebration of the Baptism of the Lord reminds us that Jesus has come to give us a share in what he came to do, which is to heal and unite, to care and to love. Our baptism is the singular moment – the time when who we are, beloveds of God, and what we are called to do, to be God’s love in the world, are proclaimed to be the same thing. Our identity and our mission as Christians is one. Love.
Last Sunday, we reveled in the promise of a New Year that I encouraged you to see as a sacred pilgrimage. We were barely catching our breath when we received a collective “smack-down.” Even though the signs were pretty clear for those with eyes to see, what happened on Wednesday still comes as a shock. Our nation’s polarization, white-supremacism, and gun culture were on full display. The consequences of allowing lies and misinformation to go unchecked led to inevitable disrespect, destruction, and death.
In response to what we saw, the remembrance of Christ’s baptism gives us an opportunity to renew our baptismal commitment to be beacons of hope, (we can do that in many ways) whether it is in the care-giving we do for family and friends, the outreach we do in the community, or the difficult work of advocating for justice. At such a crucial moment for our nation’s future, for the future well-being of our children, grandchildren, and the planet, our baptism calls us out of love to be involved in the work for healing, for peace, for justice. What is one step in the week ahead that you can take to become even more committed to making the kind of changes we need to inaugurate healing, justice and peace for our country and the world? What’s one thing can you do?
How can we respond out of love? (Not out of anger, not out of fear, not out of hatred, not out of distress – although we may be feeling all of those things… Right? The last few days, I don’t know how you couldn’t triggered by what we saw and what we witnessed over the last few days. The challenge is not to respond from the trigger, not to react from the anger, not to react from that place in us where we want to fight, flee (escape), freeze… To not go there. But to go to the place of no separation. To stay present to what is happening. To stay present out of love to what is going on. Our first reaction may be fight, flight, or freeze – but as spiritual people we can go to a different place, we can tap within to the place of peace and love and we do so in community, we need each other if we are going to respond from love.
We have received so much through the baptism of Christ and through our own baptisms- God’s love poured out to us in baptism through our families and friends, through the sacred words of scripture, and through the life-giving and renewing beauty and power of nature. All those things that were present at Christ’s baptism. All those things present at our baptism can continue to renew and empower us. We are drenched by grace, endlessly renewed in Spirit. In our fragile world, we are needed as the visible evidence of the presence of Christ.
Christ, the One who is not separate from us calls us to be not separate from each other. Amen.