Summary: A sermon for Baptism of the Lord Sunday.
Mario was a formerly homeless man who lived in a shelter, and ate dinner at a church every Wednesday evening.
He had lived on the streets of New York City for half of his life.
He spent his 60th birthday with friends at a church dinner.
A number of people at the dinner joked that Mario didn’t look 60 years old.
And so Mario reached into his coat pocket and pulled out his birth certificate, which proved that he was indeed 60 years old.
Then Mario said, “You want to see my baptism certificate?”
His baptism certificate showed that he had been baptized as a baby at an Episcopal Church on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Mario had carried his baptismal certificate around with him for all those years as he wandered the streets of Manhattan.
Why did he do that?
Why was that such an important document to him?
Many of us here were baptized as babies.
Others were baptized at 11 years old or in our teens or as adults.
Some of us may have never been baptized.
I don’t remember being baptized, but I do remember coming to church with my parents and two sisters for as long as I remember.
I have memories of some man, in the church we went to in Dayton, Ohio putting his fingers around my nose and then grinning as he said, “I stole your nose.”
I remember thinking this was really funny.
I remember when some kid threw up on a Sunday morning during worship.
It was orange and it splattered all over the floor in front of him.
I remember crawling all over my dad’s lap during a sermon.
I remember my mom crying in church because we had all been so ugly in the car ride over.
I remember my Sunday school teachers.
Some of them are friends now on Facebook.
I remember asking my dad what they did up front during Communion.
His answer: “We eat crackers and drink grape juice.”
My response: “Do the crackers have peanut butter on them?”
I remember church as a safe place; a happy place; a place we would be every Sunday morning no matter what—and many times during the week.
Some of my favorite people were members of the churches I grew up going to.
I learned so much from them.
I felt so loved by them.
It was one of the cornerstones of my life.
As a matter of fact, I can’t imagine life without it.
When my wife Clair was graduating from high school her mom stood up and thanked the church.
She thanked them for keeping their part of the baptismal covenant made at Clair’s baptism.
Clair tells me that it was an incredibly emotional experience for her.
You see, the baptismal covenant is a promise made between the parents having their child baptized and God.
It is also a covenant between the church, God, and the parents regarding the child.
It goes like this: “With God’s help we will so order our lives after the example of Christ, that this child, surrounded by steadfast love, may be established in the faith, and confirmed and strengthened in the way that leads to life eternal.”
In infant baptism, the parents of the child and the church take on the BIG responsibility of claiming the child’s faith for them—until the time comes when they will decide for themselves whether or not to accept that faith for themselves.
It’s like the parents and the church are saying: “Before you could eat we fed you.
Before you could walk we carried you.
Before you could dress yourself we dressed you.
Before you could believe for yourself we believed for you.”
In our Gospel Lesson for this morning John the Baptist has been busy baptizing people by the wagon-load.
And as he’s baptizing he says, in verse 11 of chapter 3: “I baptize you with water for repentance.
But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
Then, Jesus comes along and asks John to baptize Him!!!
And this really freaks John out.
“I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” he asks Jesus in amazement.
“Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’”
Why was Jesus baptized?
It’s not like He needed to repent of any sins.
And John, who knows he is not even worthy to carry Jesus’ sandals is asked to take a position of authority over Jesus, in a sense.
One answer to this question can be found in what happened when John did indeed agree to baptize Jesus: “heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him.