We love baptisms, or at least I do! I love the joy, the families, the special outfits, the fun pictures, the pretty napkins, the beautiful quilts, the crafted faith chests. And let’s not forget the cuteness of babies! Babies who squirm as we sprinkle cool water on their warm heads while being held in the safety of mom or dad’s arms. It’s a sacred and joyous day! It’s a day that as families we plan for, grandparents and sponsors fly in, sometimes a party is held and it makes a nice page in our children’s baby book. Now, we know that it’s so much more than that as well. Baptism is a common thread that weaves directly from Jesus to us today. It’s a public proclamation that God names and claims us. Baptism is God’s action of love, grace and forgiveness towards us, the children of God. It’s also about the promises made by family and the community of God’s people to journey together and share with one another the tenets of our faith. It’s also a ritual that connects us to the ancient Christian church. We tell the story of faith from generation to generation. But, please excuse the pun, I wonder if we’ve watered down baptism. God uses this very destructive, untamable and unpredictable element of water, to declare that God’s activity is loose in the world through Jesus and through us. I wonder if by focusing on just the day we’ve diluted the wildness and the adventurous journey that baptism really is. I wonder if we really understand why Jesus’ baptism and our baptism matters.
The gospel writer of Mark, begins his entire witness of the ministry of Jesus Christ with the baptism of Jesus. Not with serene stories of an adorable baby, angels singing or special gifts from foreign visitors but with Jesus going to the wilderness, leaving behind the town in which he grew up. Jesus didn’t go to the temple or to a nice clean synagogue to begin ministry or even do much ministry at all. But, instead, he headed to the middle of nowhere, with a large motley crew of people from all walks of life, to a swiftly flowing river; a river that during the spring runoff can be volatile, a river that served as a border that divided people and cultures. For Mark, this river running through wilderness is where the story begins. Jesus at the Jordan, submersed completely under the water, holding his breath, being baptized by a rough and tumble looking guy (no pretty albs or stoles), trusting that John will pull him up from the destructive waters, emerging to the sky tearing open and the Holy Spirit of God dive bombing him like a kamikaze dove. Then the words of acceptance and inclusion booming “You are mine and I love you.”
This moment for the writer, is not about just this day but about the rest of Jesus’ life on earth, how Jesus’ baptismal day shaped all of the rest of his days and how it reveals the promise for everyone of eternal life to come. Jesus’ baptism is not about a pretty gown, a party or a certificate for Jesus’ scrapbook. This near drowning experience was the first day of a risky journey that began out in the middle of nowhere, progressed to a cross on a hill outside of the city, and then to a tomb that would be empty of death, yet full of life and hope. It seems that risk and God’s love go hand in hand.
Each and every episode of Jesus’ ministry in Mark, flows from this one. Jesus washes people with healing, love, forgiveness and grace. Jesus tears through the clouds of people’s lives with the words that they are God’s beloved children and God is pleased with them just the way they are. Jesus goes to the wild places of people’s lives and declares God’s loving activity in the midst of chaos, disease, hunger, poverty, loneliness, division and fear. Jesus’ baptism is not a once and only experience that is a nice story for family reunions, but his baptism is a launching point that set into motion his journey of now and forever revealing God in the world.
Jesus’ baptism mattered, not because God didn’t claim him before the water touched his head, because God did, Jesus’ baptism mattered, not because it made him part of a special club, because it didn’t, but Jesus’ baptism with wild water mattered because God wants us all in the flow of God’s radical, unpredictable, untamable and always risky love for us and to us. In baptism, the human and yet divine Jesus brings us all into the living water that floods out the world’s truth conditional, “if-then” clauses of acceptance and fills us God’s truth of unconditional acceptance of us no matter what.
Our baptism matters, not because it’s a marker of who’s in or who’s out, but because God launches us from the shore of the font, so that we flood the world with love, mercy, and forgiveness everywhere we go so that all people will know that God splashes them too. God offers the world the freedom from drowning in the rigid “in or out” systems of the world: consumerism, elitism, divisions, and all of the ways that we separate ourselves from one another. Jesus’ baptism matters as it is God’s action that flows through Jesus to us in our baptism so that, every time we walk out the doors of this church or our homes, we are a flood of God’s love for all of creation. Our baptism into the revelation and flood of God’s love for the world, matters when we feed people through The Action Center or Denver Rescue Mission; our baptisms matter when we act with integrity at our jobs, at school or with coworkers; our baptisms matter when we speak out against injustice and hate for someone of a different race, social class, religion or sexual orientation; our baptism matters when we can stand in the complexity of solidarity with people who have been victims of injustice as well as the people who bravely live to protect others, keep peace and promote justice. Our baptism matters as it is a revelation of God connecting all people through common water to be one people of God.
Every day is our baptismal day. Every day God’s activity is loose in the world-through the love of Jesus Christ, the movement of the Holy Spirit and through each of us. Every day we participate with God in the journey into the wilderness and uncertainty with the words of being God’s beloved child ringing in our ears. Every day we risk to live out our story of faith, revealing to our neighbors what it means to be submersed in the waters of God’s promises of unconditional love and eternal life for us all. Everyday Jesus’ love, hope and mercy matters to the world and so does our participation with God. Every day we are all God’s beloved children. Thanks be to God.
*Another way that we talk about being God’s hands and feet in the world is to say that we reflect the light of Christ. We offer a candle to the newly baptized to remind them of this fact. We will now remember that our baptism matters as we reflect what God is already doing in the world, by lighting a candle and singing “This Little Light of Mine.”