First Sunday after Epiphany, The Baptism of our Lord: January 12, 2014. Sermon by The Very Rev. Canon Patrick P. Augustine, D.Min. D.D., Rector at Christ Episcopal Church, La Crosse, Wisconsin


Isaiah 42:1-9, Psalm 29, Acts 10: 34-43, Matthew 3: 13-17
This Sunday is known as the Baptism of our Lord. The celebration of the baptism of the Lord is traditionally a time to contemplate both Jesus’ baptism and our own. We know from the gospel story that John had become a pretty successful evangelist. He insisted on godly living for those who lived ungodly lives. Free as a bird, John thundered his message throughout Judea. Sinners from all over came to their senses, washed away their pasts, and committed to a new God centered future. Among such revival and success of his ministry, Jesus of Nazareth appears on the shores of river Jordan.
A question has troubled many: Why did Jesus need this baptism? Jesus was sinless; He needed no baptism of repentance. Watch, there is an enactment of salvation happening for humankind. In baptism Jesus is associating himself with us sinners and is placing himself among the guilty—not for his own salvation but for ours—not because he feared the wrath of God to come, but to save us from it. Jesus’ baptism means his incarnation is humanity’s salvation. In other words, this was to save humanity from the waters of destruction, as when God led Israel through the Red Sea into the Promised Land.
And next in this story, we see and hear the beauty of the moment as told by Matthew:
“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.” (Matthew 3: 16-17).
Matthew is telling this story in quite solemn language. It is a moment of awe and wonder of the presence of the Holy God. In the biblical roots “seeing heavens opened” does not mean that Jesus saw a little door ajar miles up in the sky. “Heavens” in the Bible often means God’s dimension behind ordinary reality. It’s as though an invisible curtain, right in front of us, was suddenly pulled back, so that instead of the trees and flowers and buildings, or in Jesus’ case the river, the sandy desert and the crowds, we are standing in the presence of a different reality altogether.
This is a moment of epiphany that the person standing before John and the crowd is radically different from all those who have gathered by the banks of the river Jordon. He is the beloved Son of God, whose relationship with the Father is altogether right and pleasing. Jesus identified as “beloved Son” is the attestation of the prophesy of the royal messianic psalm 2 (2: 2, 7, 10), in which the king is enthroned over against the “rulers of the earth. Yet the triumphal tone of this Davidic tradition is qualified by the simultaneous allusion to the suffering Servant of Isaiah:
My chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him” (Isaiah 42: 1).
We are being reminded to listen attentively to his message. The baptism of Jesus establishes his identity. He is baptized to manifest both to heaven and to earth that he, Jesus the Christ, is the means by which God will accomplish his will and work on earth. The attestation of his divinity, belovedness and authority is being declared by the living God, Father to the Son. At that moment the glorious company of Cherubim and Seraphim, prophets, martyrs and the whole of creation in heaven and under heaven witnessed the most powerful attestation by the Majesty of heavens. Heavens thundered with the most glorious chorus:
This is my Son, the Beloved; with whom I am well pleased (Matthew 3: 17).
Holy Baptism is the sacrament by which God adopts us as his children and makes us members of Christ’s Body, in the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God (Book of Common Prayer p.858).
Luther called baptism “the daily garment which the Christian is to wear all the time,” That is, the pattern of our Christian life comes from the continuous arc of baptism—being brought low, washed and then raised up. Every day is a new experience of that cycle: recognizing our sin, remembering that we were baptized as children of God and then being invigorated by the assurance of forgiveness. This invigoration comes to us when we meet with the risen Christ in our own personal life. It is a moment like the “contact of two chemical substances.” In the waters of Baptism the Holy Spirit is the invigorating agent of transformation to charge and energize us to live His holy covenant:
a. “To resist evil, repent and return to the Lord.” To hear God’s call to us that “We are the beloved children of God.” We are given a new identity.
b. “To proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. To seek and serve Christ in all persons. To strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”
What an awesome but weighty charter given to us at our baptism! It is Jesus who entrusts us with such charge. To fulfill this, Jesus promises to equip and empower us with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Our own baptism is the moment of affirmation and empowerment.
In our world today there are millions who need to be redeemed from the culture of terrorism, injustice, hatred, poverty, disease and racial prejudices. The gospel has the power to transform lives and change the circumstances of those living in dire darkness and hopelessness. The Gospel of Jesus is an agent of hope and healing for all who come to know Jesus Christ. The call to discipleship is no ordinary invitation. It is an urgent, uncompromising invitation to “break with business as usual.” It is our invitation. The kingdom has dawned, and it is our call to direct the traffic to Jesus as John did! We are called to bring into his fellowship those who come to him in faith, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Materials used and quoted from:
Peter Gomes, Sermons Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living, HarperSanFrancisco, 1998
Michael Wilcock and John R. Stott, The Message of Luke, Inter-Varsity Press, 1979
John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts, Inter Varsity Press,1990
Dianna Butler Bass, Christianity for the Rest of Us, 2006
Tom Wright, Mark for Everyone, 2001
R. Kent Hughes, Mark, Vol. One. 1989
Lamar Williamson, Jr. Interpretation, 1983
David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, Un Christian, 2007
Ched Myers, Binding The Strong Man, Orbis Books 2008
Synthesis, Epiphany 1-Year B, 1997

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