Baptism: A Gift & Invitation

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The Baptism of our Lord

January 8, 2012

Mark 1:4-11

Peder Stenslie

Today’s Gospel lesson describes the baptism of Jesus in the waters of the Jordan River. It is a very brief, but dramatic passage.

Jesus went into the water. As he was coming up again, the barrier between our world and the infinite realm of God opened up. Through this opening, the Spirit of God – like a descending dove – came and settled on Jesus. The voice of God then announced: “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

In this way – through the waters and mystery of baptism – the ministry of Jesus Christ was set in motion. The Kingdom of God went on the move to fulfill the promise given by the Angel Gabriel: “He will save his people.”

That baptism of Jesus, however, does more than just mark the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. It also stands as a preview and model of our own baptism. We learn about our own baptism when we hear the story. The same elements are there.

There is the element of water… a symbol of both death and new life. Then there is the movement of the Holy Spirit, laying claim to the one baptized. There is the word of God, declaring the one baptized as a beloved member of God’s family. And finally, there is a new beginning… a new way of being in the world that bears the mark of the Kingdom of God.

These same elements are all a part of our baptism. In baptism, our old life… our destructive human nature that clings to selfishness and sin… is put to death. At the same moment… in the same act… we are given new life in Christ… we are born again.

Baptism is one way that God reaches into his world to heal and save his people. Through baptism, God delivers both a gift and an invitation.

The gift is this: God makes you a part of his family. He forgives you; he frees you from your sins and from all powers that would try to separate you from him. He claims you as his forever and gives you new life. That is why we say in the baptismal service: “You belong to Christ.” And “Child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the Cross of Christ forever.”

God does all of this simply because he loves you. He doesn’t wait for you to earn it, or deserve it. He gives it as a gift because you are his beloved child.

Along with the gift comes an invitation. The invitation we receive in baptism is this: As we emerge from the waters of baptism, God calls us forward to live our lives out of that gift. We are invited to discover and embrace the fullness of what it means to be a child of God.

We are invited to let the treasures of the Kingdom of God grow deeply in our lives and to share their fruit with one another as God’s people. The treasures of God’s Kingdom… such things as faithfulness, love, mercy, generosity, patience, gratitude… they are those things that make living wonderful and hopeful.

We, however, can easily overlook the value of the invitation. It’s often hard for us to understand how precious and valuable it is until after we have taken it into our lives. (And even then, we can often overlook it.) That is a deep human weakness. We often have our own ideas about the life we want… the life that will make us happy and whole. But these ideas never bring us the happiness or wholeness we think they will.

The invitation of baptism and the life and unexpected joy it draws us to works kind of like this…. When he was 11 years old, my son, Kristian cried when he was told that we were going to have him take guitar lessons. He didn’t want to take lessons. He didn’t want to practice. He didn’t want to learn how to play guitar. He had his own ideas about how he wanted to spend his time, and lessons and practice were certainly not a part of them.

He didn’t want to do it; but he went along with it, and after a few years of lessons and many hours of practice, his guitar playing now brings him (and many others) great joy. I’m sure today it would be very difficult for him to imagine what it would be like to live without this gift in his life.

There were many who helped him along the way. There were wonderful people who got him started, teaching him how to play. There were all those who encouraged him with praise and appreciation. Others pushed him along with demands and expectations.

And then there was a critical ingredient found in Kristian himself. Though he was sure that he didn’t want to learn guitar, Kristian trusted in the love that called him to that path. He let himself be pulled along to a destination he never would have chosen on his own. He went to his lessons. He practiced. He gave it his best. And he paid attention to how that wonderful gift unfolded in his life. In time, he gladly claimed it as his own.

Of course, the point of this illustration is not about guitar playing. We can’t all be guitar players. But we are all called to new life in Christ. We are all called to discover and live what it means to be a child of God. That’s an incredible invitation!

But sometimes it’s difficult for us to see the true value of the invitation. Perhaps we have our eyes on other things. Or maybe it’s just hard for us to appreciate the value of what we don’t understand. When that’s the case, we need to move forward… we need to answer the invitation… on trust. God calls on us to trust him… the one who created the heavens and the earth and the one who has declared us his beloved child.

He can see what we cannot see. He knows what we do not know. He understands what we need to make our lives happy and whole. And he is determined to give it to us.

The season of Epiphany opens with Christ’s baptism, which marks the beginning of his ministry of love and reconciliation. The baptism of Christ also establishes the model for our own baptism. Through it, we are given the gift of full membership in God’s family and we are invited to follow Christ to new life as children of God.

And so, we keep our eyes are on Christ during this season of Epiphany. In the Sundays to come, Jesus will call his disciples. He will heal those in trouble. He will preach and teach about God’s Kingdom. And with our eyes on him, we will learn who Christ is, what the Kingdom of God is like, and what it means to be a child of God. We will prepare ourselves to follow Christ to the new life he has called us to.

Amen.

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