Summary: The Blessings in Baptism
January 13, 2019
Baptism of Our Lord
Rev. Mary Erickson
A Wet Promise
Friends, may grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and Christ Jesus our Lord.
“O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.”
So many stories in human history involve the crossing of waters.
• Israel was enslaved in Egypt. When they cast off their bondage, the Red Sea blocked their way to freedom. God caused the waters to part and they walked through on dry land.
• After they’d journeyed through the wilderness, they encountered the Jordan River. Again, the waters parted, and Israel passed through into the Promised Land.
• If you’re the descendent of European immigrants to North America, like me, then your forebears made a journey over the Atlantic Ocean to reach our shores here.
• African slaves made that same ocean journey but under the dire conditions on a slave ship. And for those slaves who escaped into freedom, their trek required them to pass through the waters of the Ohio River in order to reach The North. Spirituals will commemorate that crossing: “Deep River, my home lies over Jordan.”
• Eau Claire has a sizeable number of Hmong immigrants. They have a unique textile art called paj ntaub, or Story Cloth. The intricate embroidery pieces depict a story. The primary story they display relates the account of how they escaped the dangerous situation in Laos to enter refugee camps in Thailand. That journey demanded they cross the Mekong River, something they typically did at night. The story cloths depict people fording the broad river with bullets whizzing over their heads.
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.” Isaiah voiced that promise to Israel while they were exiled in Babylon. God was calling them home. Their years in exile were coming to an end. They would bid farewell to the waters of Babylon. Their tears of sorrow would turn into tears of joy. Soon their footsteps would lead them to the banks of the Jordan River. And like their forebears before them, they would cross those waters into the Promised Land.
On this first Sunday in Epiphany, we remember Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River. It marks the beginning of his ministry.
John was baptizing people in the Jordan River. It’s a spot of tremendous significance, and it wouldn’t have been lost on anyone who took notice of John’s activities. This was the location where Israel entered into the fulfillment of God’s promise. Twice before Israel had entered these waters, first from Egypt and then from Babylon. And now John was causing quite a stir with his baptism.
People were wondering if perhaps John was the Messiah they’d waited on for so long. John makes it clear that they ain’t seen nothing yet! If they think John is something, just wait! Someone else is about to emerge. And this person will be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.
As John is baptizing others, Jesus arrives to be baptized as well. Luke doesn’t shed many details on the story. He’s very minimalist in what he writes. But what he does share gets right to the heart of the story. As Jesus emerges from the waters, the Holy Spirit emerges in the likeness of a dove and descends on him. And then the voice of God speaks from heaven. “You are my Son.”
This baptism launches Jesus’ Spirit-filled mission. What begins as an unassuming baptism in the river ends with power and affirmation.
Today we recognize all those who have been baptized here at Hope over the past year. And just a bit later in our service, little Lucy will enter those baptismal waters.
Baptism is a tremendous gift. Within this sacrament is the promise that we have been claimed by God. We belong to God. It’s a promise for a lifetime.
For most of us here today, we received this tremendous promise when we were like Lucy, babes in arms. We likely don’t remember the event. We have mementos from the day: a grainy black and white photo (if you’re of my vintage) and a certificate stuffed in a drawer affirming that the act took place.
We might not remember our own baptism, but we’ve witnessed hundreds. And every time we see one, it takes us back, back to the same waters where we were claimed. And somehow, we get wet all over again. God’s promise bathes over us.
Baptism is a promise for a lifetime. It never ceases. The steadfast love of God is ours and will not let us go!
Isaiah’s words resonate with the promise of baptism: