January 8, 2023

  “With Thankful Remembrance”

(Matthew 3:13-17)

Acts 10:34-43

Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ–he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Matthew 3:13-17
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Our scripture lesson from the Gospel of Matthew this morning reveals that when Jesus discerned the time for his public ministry had come, he went down to the River Jordan to be baptized by John the Baptizer. Obedient Jews throughout the ages practiced rites of purification and ritual cleansing by immersing themselves in baths called Mikvahs as a part of their religious tradition. John’s baptism was something new and so much more. It extended this traditional Jewish ritual of purifying the body into a deeply meaningful act symbolizing the purification of the soul. John’s baptism represented the repentance of the one being baptized for the forgiveness of their sins, and their spiritual cleansing as a preparation for the coming of the promised Messiah, Christ Jesus.

When Jesus came to John to be baptized, John would have prevented him, saying “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” John knew that Jesus had no need to repent of any sin, and that he was the very one for whom baptism was a means of spiritual preparation. I suspect that being Jesus’ cousin, John would have both known and witnessed the special giftedness Jesus possessed. Perhaps he had been among the family caravan to the Passover feast in Jerusalem when they were twelve years old. He may have witnessed first-hand the commotion that occurred when Jesus was found missing from their company; and he may have also witnessed Jesus telling his parents they should not be concerned about him, for he was safe in his father’s house-the Temple. There, he astonished the Jewish teachers with his knowledge and understanding. Yes, John knew well of Jesus spiritual gifts. Jesus assured John by revealing to him that his baptism was a part of fulfilling righteousness, of his fulfilling the will of God for the manner of his entering into public ministry. Jesus had come down to the Jordan to dwell among the very people who were being prepared for him, and whom he had come to save. Therefore, John consented, and he baptized Jesus in the view of a public community that included Jewish Pharisee and Sadducee detractors, there in the River Jordan. The Holy Scriptures reveal to us that upon Jesus’ baptism, the heavens opened, and the Spirit of God descended like a dove upon him. A voice from heaven could be heard proclaiming “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” John’s baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River sealed the important fact that God’s plan of salvation was now coming to fruition in the person of God’s promised Jewish Messiah.

Just as being baptized by John in the River Jordan was a significant event in Jesus’ life and public ministry, Baptism is a significant event in the life of every Christian. Baptism is both a sacrament and a covenant. It is a covenant because it involves mutual promises. It is God’s word to us proclaiming our adoption into the family of God by God’s grace, and also our word to God vowing our ongoing faith and love. It is a sacrament revealing the fullness of God’s love and grace toward us because although our human vows are less than reliable, God’s promise to us is reliable and remains steadfast.

Baptism initiates us into the family of God. Since Baptism recognizes both God’s loving grace toward us and our need for this grace to free us from our human imperfections, the United Methodist Church allows for the baptism of infants and youth, as well as adults. Parents and sponsors pledge their nurture and support in preparing those who are yet unable to affirm their faith to make their confession of faith at a later time, in a Service of Confirmation. Adults and youth of age to speak on their own behalf make their renunciation of sin and confession of faith before a faith community at the time of their baptism. Because the Sacrament of Baptism assures believers of God’s ongoing and unconditional love and grace toward us, even when we may step away from God’s kingdom and God’s love, the formal act of baptism can occur only once in the life of the believer.

There are sometimes occasions in the course of a believer’s life, when they may feel a need or desire to return to their baptismal roots of faith. This can be done in a Service of Reaffirmation of Faith. In this service, water may be used for its symbolism in the reaffirmation of the Baptismal Covenant, as long as its manner of use cannot be interpreted as an actual act of baptism. Having been baptized as an infant at about six weeks old, I have found attending a service of reaffirmation of my baptismal covenant particularly meaningful during certain seasons of my life’s journey. That is why, as we begin this new year of 2023 C.E., I would like us to take this opportunity to not only celebrate the baptism of our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus, but also for us to remember and reaffirm our own baptismal covenant. So, as we begin this New Year, let us now enter into a time of prayerful reaffirmation of our faith and the renewal of our baptismal covenant.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, Baptism is an outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual working of God’s grace. Through baptism, we were incorporated by the Holy Spirit into God’s new creation and made to share in Christ’s royal priesthood. We are all one in Christ Jesus, for we were all baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus commanded in the Holy Scriptures. We have become members of the family of God in Christ.

So this day, I say to you, remember your baptism, reaffirm your vow of faith and faithfulness, and be thankful.

Blessing: May the Holy Spirit work within you, that having been born of water and the Spirit through God’s Holy Word, you may live as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. May the God of all grace, who has called us to eternal glory in Christ, establish you and strengthen you by the power of the Holy Spirit to go forth to live in grace and peace. This we ask and believe in the name of Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Let God’s people say Amen.