Summary: A sermon for baptism of the Lord Sunday; a reminder that our baptism is our commissioning to ministry, the beginning of a life lived fully in service to Christ our Lord.
As you all are mostly aware, I believe, I was a member of the school band all through Junior High, High School, and college. I also played basketball a couple of years for my Junior High team, but I ultimately had to choose between basketball and band because I didn’t have time to do both. In any case, when I moved up to the high school my sophomore year, I was really excited because as a part of the high school band, I could earn “letters” each year for my participation. So, for Christmas that year, I got the stylish letterman’s jacket with my name stitched on the back. I, of course, began to wear it immediately, even though I hadn’t lettered in anything yet. But I couldn’t wait until the end of the year and the band banquet where I would receive my first high school letters. And sure enough, as my sophomore year came to a close, the band had it’s annual Spring Banquet, and I received a glorious little plastic bag with a maroon and gray “O-R” inside, along with a patch with a lyre on it, representing band. I was so excited I could hardly stand it. Over the summer, my jacket went to the local sports shop where my parents had purchased it so that the letters could be stitched on. And I proudly wore it the next Fall as soon as there was a hint of cold in the air. Every year after that, I would add another bar to my letters, representing another year of participation with band, and every fall and winter I would wear my jacket proudly around the school.
But do you know what happened to that jacket as soon as I graduated from high school? As you can probably guess, it went to the dry cleaners for a cleaning, and it has been hanging in the cleaners bag in the back of various closets ever since. Because, of course, it’s not “cool” to wear your high school letter jacket in college; not cool at all! And so, what was once a proud symbol for me no longer really had any meaning or significance. What was once something I was looking forward to achieving was now just a relic of the past; relevant no more.
Interestingly, this often the way we view baptism, too. Parents bring their newborns one Sunday to “get them done,” and then they are never seen again. Or a youth goes through confirmation, makes a public profession of faith and is baptized after a lengthy period of study, only to drop out of the church’s memory only a few months later. Or an adult comes to church looking to get his life turned around. He feels Christ tugging at his heart strings, directing him to a better life, and so he is baptized. This is what he has been searching for all along; this is all he needs. But then, after the baptism, he wonders, “What now?” Sound familiar?
It’s really no wonder baptism often seems more like an ending than a beginning. It follows a profession of faith; something that God has been working in us perhaps for a very long time. It is our human sign of God’s work of salvation in our lives. And so once we are saved, we think “what next?” But one of the most important things we can learn from Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River is that this is not an ending, but a beginning!
If you all recall, when we gathered here a week ago, we were talking about the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus. With the exception of Jesus in the Temple at age 12, the Bible doesn’t tell us a whole lot about Jesus in the years between his birth and his baptism. So we pick up this morning with the next significant story in Jesus’ life, but now he is an adult. We can presume that in the intervening years, Jesus began studying carpentry under his father, Joseph, as soon as he was old enough to wield a hammer with some semblance of control. And then, as he grew and learned, he probably worked right alongside his father day after day. But on this day, Jesus has put down his hammer. And, Matthew tells us, he has made his way to the banks of the Jordan, where he finds his cousin, John, baptizing people. This is the beginning of the story of the rest of Jesus’ life; the most important story in all of history, and it begins with a baptism.
Did you hear that? Jesus’ baptism is the beginning; it’s the beginning of his ministry! This isn’t the sign of accomplishments past like a letter on a jacket; this is the start of something new! It was true for Jesus, and it is true for each of us, too! After Jesus was baptized, the Spirit of God descended like a dove and rested on him, and then a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son. I love him. I am delighted in him.” After his baptism, Jesus heads out into the desert for forty days to figure out what it means to be God’s son. In fact, Jesus spends all the days and years that follow that afternoon in the Jordan discovering the meaning of his baptism. Jesus gives everything—his dreams, his actions, even his life. Jesus gives all of himself to God’s people as he takes his place among the hurting. Baptism was Jesus’ commissioning to ministry.