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Matthew 3: 13-17

"Remembering Our Baptism"

Let’s take a deep breath and open our hearts, mind, soul and spirit to receive the message that God has for us this morning. Let’s focus our thoughts on the mystic presence of the Holy One. Let us pray: Lord God, Lord Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit, please let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all of our hearts, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our Strength, our Rock and our Redeemer. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Baptism signifies —1. A confession of faith in Christ; 2. A cleansing or washing of the soul from sin; and 3. A death to sin and a new life in righteousness. In times of personal spiritual renewal or spiritual re-awakening, we say, “Remember your baptism!” For many of us here today, that seems like an impossible request. Remember our baptism? The memory I have of my baptism, is one of me not being able to remember if I’d ever been baptized. So, I took it upon myself to be baptized in a river, in Applegate, Oregon, when I was about 30 years old, by the Rev. John Courson. This baptism I remember, but what about you? We can use the word “remember” in at least a twofold sense. We can “remember” in the sense of calling to mind a past event like, “Remember the opening of Disney World, or remember the last election,” but we can also mean “remember” in the sense of waking up, calling to mind something that is true, like, “Now remember what we are to do in case of a tornado,” or, “Remember that preaching is one of my spiritual gifts.” So, I think that’s what the church means when it tells us to remember our baptism and be thankful. Martin Luther said that there is no greater comfort to the Christian, in times of testing and difficulty, than to remember our baptism and be thankful. Why? Well, one reason is that baptism is a sign that the Christian life isn’t dependent upon what we do, but rather on what God has done for us, in Jesus Christ. Remember that in the story of the baptism of Jesus, Jesus shows up on the banks of the Jordan River as a receiver of John’s baptism. It’s the first time in the gospel that we have seen Jesus in action, and he is not really in action, not preaching or healing or travelling, but just receiving. John the Baptist, who was a cousin of Jesus, seems to know who Jesus really is, but is troubled by Jesus coming to him for baptism.

Jesus says that he does this to “fulfill all righteousness.” What is “righteousness”? In this instance, righteousness means to submit to the will of God, to align and prepare oneself for what are God’s intentions. And remember, that’s what happened in your baptism. It was a public sign, just as the baptism of Jesus was a public sign, of an intention to submit His life and yours to God’s desires and intentions for your life. Remember, the life you live is not your own. Your life has, in a spiritual way, been commandeered by the God who gave you life. Remember, God not only wants to give you life, but also wants to save you and give you meaning and purpose in your life; a sense of direction, and a part to play in the grand design of God’s work in the world, and even in the universe. One reason why we worship each week is because it’s so easy in our lives to forget what matters, to lose sight of who we really are and are meant to be. Theologian Karl Barth once said, “Remember your baptism and be thankful!” The church teaches that baptism is something God does to us rather than a ritual that is done by us. Baptism is a gift of God that is given to us; and as recipients of baptism, we are in the passive position of being reminded of how we stand with God throughout our lives.

Through the prophet, Isaiah, God speaks to us about the coming of the One who will be "the servant, my chosen," and also the one who will bring forth "new things." So, when Jesus appears at the Jordan River where He came from Galilee to be baptized by John, we see immediately that John already knows, at least at this point in the scriptural narrative, who Jesus is. In the Greek, the word for the verb, "to baptize" is "baptizo," meaning "to dip," or to "wash oneself.” We know that John knows who Jesus is, because "John tried to prevent him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" And Jesus answered John and said, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented."

So, we have this picture of John the Baptist at the Jordan River, baptizing those who have come out to the river to maybe see, hear, or experience the words and hear the message that John is speaking to anyone who will listen. And sometimes the message is so intense that it is scary. Picture John speaking to the Pharisees and Sadducees: In Matthew 3:7-12, just prior to the arrival of Jesus in today's scripture, we read, "But when he, John, saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? (What a way to start a sermon!) "Therefore, bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that God from these stones is able to raise up children to Abraham.” John continues: "The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore, every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. He says, "As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. "His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." Pretty heavy stuff: amen?

So, at the point where John finishes his denunciation of the Pharisees and Sadducees is when Jesus enters the picture and asks John to baptize Him. This moment of baptism marked the beginning of the Messianic ministry of Jesus, so to "fulfill all righteousness," meant John's obedience in following the will of God to consecrate and sanctify Jesus, indicating through his witness that Jesus was the Christ, and had God's approval.

In today's scripture, we have a picture of John the Baptist at the Jordan River. For John, it's another day at the river: baptizing, washing people, and prophesizing about being ready for the coming of the Messiah. Water immersion was a cleansing ritual, similar to baptism, that Jews sometimes went through prior to going into the temple, indicting their preparation for the coming of the Messiah. Then Jesus appears and John baptizes him, and the heavens are opened and the Spirit of God descends on Jesus, and we hear these marvelous words from God the Father, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."

God breaks the silence, and speaks into the moment when Jesus, God and His voice, and the spirit of God come together to consecrate and bless the moment of the baptism of Jesus. So: Do you remember your baptism? Jesus certainly would! Baptism and communion are the two sacraments that we Disciples of Christ recognize and practice. Do you remember the moment that God was revealed to you and you had your first God moment, the moment when you knew that you claimed and believed in Jesus Christ as your Savior, that same moment when you knew in your heart that God had claimed you? Like the moment of Jesus coming out of the Jordan after being baptized, we remember that moment of revelation when we took Jesus for our Savior, and knew in our heart of hearts, that nothing would ever be the same again.

Like Jesus, at the moment of revelation in us, we feel and know that the veil that has kept God out of our lives has suddenly, in the twinkling of an eye, been pulled back to reveal God rushing into us, claiming us as His. We are His, and nothing will ever change that. It is a true God moment: not a psychological, sociological, or even a secular anthropological moment. No! It is a God-Spirit-moment, because it is both a miracle and an opportunity to give thanks to God for the blessings we receive! Out of the sinful, human lives that we live, God-consciousness, in the spiritual presence of the Holy Spirit, is there through it all to remind us of God's forgiving and everlasting love of each one of us. Baptism opens the door for each of us to be consecrated, sanctified and indwelled by the Holy Spirit.

Our experience today of picturing the baptism of Jesus Christ translates for us into a moment of renewal, and even revelation, for each one of us. Jesus is baptized, and God's Spirit descends on Him like a dove. There is the moment of God speaking through the fabric of space-time and saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." We are practically eavesdroppers on an inside conversation between the Father, Son,

and Holy Spirit. Jesus is baptized by John, and then comes out of the water a sanctified man, ready for His ministry, and when that happens, the heavens open up and the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus, and God says how delighted He is in his Son. So, please, remember your baptism. Jesus undergoes the same experience of baptism that each of us have. Jesus doesn’t ask us to do anything that He wouldn’t do Himself. In fact, He said, “greater things than this will you do!” We know that God is present in the moment of our baptisms, even as He was with His own Son, and that moment, for us, always opens the door to eternity itself. God is here, and God is gracious, loving, forgiving and with us and in us, forever and ever. Thank you, Lord, for your unspeakable love!! Amen. Let us pray.

Jan Ekstedt MDiv.

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