a sermon for the 1st Sunday after the Epiphany
When Jesus was baptized, God claimed him as his beloved son.
But Jesus also made a claim…a claim on the crowd gathered there.
During WWII, the US Military gave each soldier a set of “dog tags” for identification. They had the soldier’s name, serial number, blood type, and a letter that indicated his religion. But because of the atrocities being carried out by the Nazis agains the Jews, the military also allowed Jewish soldiers the option of marking their tags differently, in case they were captured. One soldier from New York City, a 19 year old private named Hal Baumgarten, not only declined to change his tags, but he took part in the D-day invasion wearing a big Star of David on his back. When he was asked why he wore the Star so conspicuously he said, “I knew what the Nazis were doing to the Jews over there, and I wanted them to know I was one of them – carrying an M1.
Today is the first Sunday after the Epiphany. “Epiphany” is a word that means “to appear,” “to reveal,” or “to make known.” This year, because Easter comes so early, our Epiphany season will be shorter than usual. Still, our scripture readings will be full of stories about how Jesus became known among the people as he performs miracles, heals sick people, and proclaims salvation for the poor and oppressed. Through these acts, God was revealed to the world through Jesus Christ
The First Sunday after the Epiphany is always the Baptism of Our Lord, a time when we hear the story about how God is revealed through Jesus’ baptism. This story appears in each of the four Gospels of the bible and each one emphasizes a different aspect of the story. In the Gospel of Mark, it is the very first thing we learn about Jesus, emphasizing the fact that Jesus’ baptism was the impetus of his ministry. When Matthew tells it, we learn that John the Baptist was reluctant to even perform the baptism because he felt unworthy. The Gospel of John emphasizes the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Today, in Luke’s version, we hear a lot of the same themes. We heard about the Holy Spirit, descending like a dove, empowering Jesus to perform his ministry. And we heard the voice of God the Father adopting him and saying, “you are my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.” But in today’s reading, we also hear about something else. Luke begins his story about Jesus’ baptism by saying,
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened…
“Now when all the people were baptized…” Luke points out that Jesus was baptized in the presence of a crowd of people.
Of all the things I am privileged to do as your priest, performing a baptism is probably the most sacred. It is by our baptisms that we become adopted as sons and daughters of God, by our baptisms that the power of the Holy Spirit is breathed into our lungs, by our baptisms that we are joined in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And that, as they say, is a very big deal. But as important as it for the individual, it is also vitally important to us as members of the Church, the body of Christ in the world. Because of all the things Jesus said to us when he was here on earth, the last thing he told us to do was to go and to baptize.
The Church is a community that goes out and baptizes. And Jesus was baptized as part of that community – it was not a private event. It wasn’t just him, alone on a mountain somewhere, or along a pond by himself. It was in public, in the presence of those to whom he would minister, along with all the sinners and tax collectors and farmers and laborers that made up his community. He was baptized among those who would later condemn him, the ones he came to save.
A couple of weeks ago, the Inquirer’s class was discussing how we do baptisms here at St. Simon & St. Jude. And one of folks around the table commented on how much she appreciated the presence and support of the entire community gathered around the font, praying and supporting the person who was being baptized. Indeed, when I talk to folks who are considering baptism, either for themselves or for their children, I point out the fact in our baptismal rite, the entire congregation is asked to promise to do everything in their power to support those who are being baptized in their life in Christ.
Supporting one another in Christ is more than just an idle promise; it’s a vow that we take very seriously. It means that there is no such thing as an individual Christian. By our baptisms, we are not only linked to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are also linked to the lives of all those in the Christian community around us. It means that we are never baptized into a single denomination – we are not baptized as Episcopalians, or Methodists, or Lutherans, or Catholics, or Baptists. We are baptized as Christians, as followers of Jesus, once and for all for the forgiveness of our sins and for the promise of eternal life with God. It means that wherever we go, whatever we do, we are forever marked as a child of God, the same as Jesus and the same as every other baptized person, saint and sinner alike.
Into the crowd of people, Jesus came to be baptized. God claimed him as his son, the beloved, who was to bring about the kingdom of God on earth. And in a crowd of people we are also baptized. And Jesus makes a claim on us. It was his way of saying, “these are my people, the ones I am called to love and serve.”
Our baptisms are not some private badge of honor – they are very public statements that we are children of God and followers of Jesus Christ. By them, God has laid claim on all of us, and we have laid claim on one another through our vows continue as Christ taught us – in fellowship and prayer, in proclaiming the good news of God through our words and actions, by loving our neighbors, and by striving for peace and justice for every human being.
Thanks be to God!