Weekly Seeds: Baptized
Sunday, January 9, 2022
The Baptism of Christ
First Sunday after Epiphany Year C
Spirit of the Living God, descend upon us like a dove. Let us hear your voice, your love, your pleasure in us. Amen.
Luke 3:15–17, 21–22
15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
All readings for this Sunday:
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
1. Have you been baptized?
2. Do you remember your baptism?
3. If not, have you been told the story of your baptism?
4. What does it mean to be baptized?
5. What makes baptism a sacred act?
By Cheryl Lindsay
Grace is a gift. Whether we receive it from God or from one another, grace enables us to live in community and right relationship despite our shortcomings, mistakes, and failures. Grace enables reconciliation and restoration. Grace welcomes us back to the tables and invites our return to the circle. Grace reminds us that none of us walks this journey perfectly and affirms our humanity beyond our performance. Grace calls us beloved and worthy and included.
Grace wasn’t initiated with the coming of Jesus into the world; it was fulfilled by Jesus coming into the world. Grace isn’t contingent upon baptism. The thief crucified alongside Jesus didn’t need to receive baptism to be redeemed. The witness of the Old Testament demonstrates through the law, the history, and the prophets that the Holy One has always been a God of grace.
In Jesus, grace is embodied, lives among us, and enters the water.
Luke transitions from the ministry of John the Baptist to the public introduction of Jesus by highlighting the differences in the baptism the two will offer. John the Baptist understands his purpose is to prepare the way for Jesus and participate in the introduction of Jesus. John attracted crowds and followers. People believed in his message, and he led many into a new way of being. But, John did not lose his way or forget that his assignment was to point to the One whose coming would make the difference. He looked like he might be the Messiah; the resemblance prompted those who were “filled with expectation” to recognize Christ in him.
In seminary, I heard many times that the role of Christian leaders is to follow Jesus so closely that even when people start to follow us as individuals, they will find themselves following Jesus. John didn’t know who he was directing people toward in the initial days of his ministry, but in this passage, he finds out. Both John and the other witnesses that day hear the confirmation from above that this man named Jesus is the Beloved Child of God sent into the world.
First, John has to assure them that he is not who they have been seeking. At the same time, he imparts more knowledge so that the people will be equipped to recognize the Chosen One:
John’s baptism is a ritual and preparation for an experience through Jesus with the Holy Spirit. John’s baptism looks forward; Jesus’ baptism is a provision of the Spirit (v.17). John’s baptism is a physical act, but its function is to point toward something other.Joseph Evans
John doesn’t diminish his credibility through his denial of an elevated position; he amplifies it. Everyone becomes baptized, and this occurs after John has expressed that the baptism he offers is inferior to the one that the Messiah will bring. Yet, the people don’t wait for the greater baptism, they enter into the baptized life now in expectation.
We find out that Jesus had been in the crowd. Luke doesn’t provide details about this. All of a sudden Jesus has been baptized too. Unlike Mark, who opens his gospel account with the baptism of Jesus, Luke doesn’t share Jesus’ geographic journey. Both accounts are relatively sparse on the surrounding details of the interaction between Jesus and John the Baptist. Matthew’s narrative contains a similar brevity. John, the Gospel writer, provides an expansive verbal announcement and recounting of the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist that emphasizes the divinity of Christ.
The emphasis in this passage is on baptism, the believer, and the Holy Spirit at work:
The expectation of a dual baptism pictures contrasting outcomes that await the repentant (Spirit, an image of restoration and salvation) and the unrepentant (fire, an image of judgment and destruction). The ensuing narrative develops the profile of a people divided in response to the message of prophet and Messiah, beginning already with Herod Antipas (vv. 19–20), as well as in their resulting destinies. John’s oracle regarding baptism with Spirit and fire finds dramatic fulfillment with the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost, where the Spirit appears in tongues “as of fire” (Acts 2:3–4). Later reminders of John’s promise, however, speak of the Holy Spirit, but not fire (Acts 1:5; cf. 11:16; 19:1–7). Spirit becomes the dominant motif in the narrated fulfillment of the prophecy, and fire simply one feature of the Spirit’s tangible manifestation. In the present context, however, with the accumulating images of Spirit and fire, then grain and chaff, John is highlighting the division in Israel to be effected by the ministry of the coming one.John T. Carroll
Division and separation do not tend to be themes emphasized in baptism. We are far more likely to consider belonging, joining, and rebirth. Luke’s account invites us to consider baptism as a creative act. In the first creation narrative, we see the Creator bring all things into being through a process of deliberative and progressive separation or distinguishing. This creation does not institute a dualistic value hierarchy; all of creation is deemed good. Light and darkness are distinct but neither is deficient or subordinate to the other.
We remember from the first creation narrative that it begins with darkness over the waters and the wind of God sweeping over those waters. The wind serves as a metaphor for the Spirit of God. In Luke’s account, Jesus is positioned as the new adam–the inaugural human being–ushering a new era of divine-human relationship embodied completely and fully within Jesus’ self.
Anthropology informs us that the first human beings emerged from the water. Our passage shows the Human One emerging from the waters of baptism, signifying the advent of a new creation. Unlike the first creation accounts, the Creator does not start from scratch. Unlike after the Flood, the Sovereign One doesn’t start over. Jesus enters into a world in progress. The Word makes a home among the people already living there.
Jesus enters a world of expectation and questions, anticipation and doubts, hope and skepticism. He apparently went unnoticed in this crowd of disciples of John the Baptist until his own baptism took place and the Trinity showed up to reveal his identity to the masses who suspected that John might be the Messiah. It’s certainly an understandable suspicion. John was following the way of Jesus before fully knowing the identity of Jesus. And, those who followed John found themselves in an incredible encounter with the Chosen One.
It’s an incarnational moment. In fact, every moment of Jesus’ life was incarnational. Every moment was an act of creation and re-creation. Unlike Adam and Eve or Noah and Noah’s wife, Jesus was not charged with being fruitful and multiplying. After all, the world already had a significant population. God’s covenants with Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar had been fulfilled. No, Jesus wasn’t charged with populating the world, rather, his purpose was to fill the kindom.
In a reversal of the strategy employed with Noah during the Flood, redemption is not offered selectively. The invitation is open to any and all to enter the waters, to live the baptized life, and to participate in the kindom. Baptism transcends church membership; it signifies a people that can be renewed. It proclaims a world worthy of redemption and restoration. It points to a Creator completely committed to creation.
Jesus enters a world with people in it; he also entered waters that had hosted the baptism of countless before him. He doesn’t go first; he goes last. He enters into John’s baptism even though he had no need for repentance or cleansing. He validates John’s message but Jesus also transcends it. John proclaims his unworthiness in comparison to Jesus, but Jesus declares his worth through action. John says he isn’t worthy to tie Jesus’ sandals so Jesus allows John to baptize him instead. John downplays the baptism he offers to the crowd but Jesus participates in their mass baptism as one among them…not above them. He doesn’t turn around after his own baptism and offer to rebaptize those that John had just baptized. Again, Jesus proves he does not come for his own sake or to be exalted. Jesus comes to make grace emerge visible and embodied.
Jesus entered into their baptismal waters, and Jesus gets into our waters. Jesus meets us in the storms of our lives and speaks to the waters. The Holy One breathed our air and brought a fresh wind and new life for us. Baptism isn’t necessary for grace to emerge or individual salvation, but baptism is life-giving for the Christian community.
I don’t remember my own baptism; I was two weeks old. But, I do remember the baptism of a man whose name I no longer recall. He was a short-term visitor to the congregation as he was receiving care at a nearby hospital. He started to attend Sunday morning services and indicated that he would like to be baptized. The day of his baptism, I didn’t baptize him but I called him down to the front of the sanctuary to meet the senior pastor. As he walked the length of the aisle (he liked to sit in the back), I remember his face seemed to glow, his smile was wide, and he lifted his arms up in a sign of victory as if his favorite team had scored the winning touchdown with seconds to spare. He rejoiced his way to the water. His voice rang out as he repeated the baptismal promises, and the congregation joined with him in celebration. in commitment, and in renewal.
John T. Carroll states that, “Luke portrays Jesus’ baptism as an encounter in which only two characters have a role to play: Jesus (in solidarity with “all the people” who are responding to the call to turn to God) and God.” I disagree. The crowds came with expectation and curiosity about the identity of the Messiah. They are still there when Jesus is baptized. Their expectations are exceeded by the revelation of the true Messiah who humbles himself among them in waters that they can still feel on their own skin. The Triune shows up in the Sovereign’s voice and the Spirit’s presence as a dove. Grace emerges, becomes flesh, walks among them, enters the water, and is baptized.
Voices of People of African Descent:
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
The writer of Baruch 5:1, an apocryphal book of Scripture, tells us, “Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.” For the Hebrew people, wearing sackcloth, known as a “garment of affliction,” was a sign of mourning and grief. That phrase—“garment of your sorrow and affliction”—echoed through my head as I was writing my first book on spiritual narratives written by people who were enslaved. I came across a reference to burlap grain bags that forever changed the way I thought about a garment of affliction. Enslaved children were extremely vulnerable to disease and death due to both malnourishment and lack of clothing. This was true even in the warmth of the deepest parts of the South. To have an article of clothing—any clothing—was a relative luxury for babies and small children, who could not “earn” the cost of their upkeep. One writer describes the deprivation of his childhood in slavery and the incredible sacrifices his family made to feed, clothe, and shelter him: The enslaved children on the plantation where he was born were given burlap grain bags (literally, sackcloth) as Christmas presents to serve as clothing. People would make them into crude unisex dresses and shirts for toddlers and younger children. The writer describes the feeling of the heavy, rough material, which literally rubbed his skin raw. The discomfort was so intense that he preferred to be naked, despite his age and his sense of modesty. In the autobiography he later published, this formerly enslaved man describes a sacrificial act by his older brother. For weeks, his brother wore the burlap grain bag as a shirt, using his skin and his very body as a softening agent. The elder sibling endured the pain of breaking in the raw and rough material, and only then did he pass on the softened garment to his younger sibling. The writer, who later became a Christian minister and prominent abolitionist, describes his older brother’s wearing of the sackcloth as the greatest sacrifice he has ever known. The pain of his “garment of affliction” had been eased by someone willing to sacrifice his own comfort out of a sense of love.
From Yolanda Pierce, In My Grandmother’s House
For further reflection:
“So I followed that preacher man down to the river
And now I’m changed
And now I’m stronger
There must’ve been something in the water”
“In baptism, we die. In baptism, we are invited to renounce and resist the evils of the world, to love our neighbors as ourselves, to respect the dignity of every human being. In baptism, we give our bodies and all that we do to God’s struggle for justice and peace for all people.” — Kelly Ryan
“This baptism that Jesus called us to is fundamentally a call for allegiance. It is fundamentally a decisive commitment of our lives to God, who is of supreme sovereignty and majestic might.” — Samuel Chuin Ming Oo
A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at https://www.ucc.org/what-we-believe/worship/sermon-seeds/.
The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Sermon Seeds Writer and Editor (firstname.lastname@example.org), is a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.
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