Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer (Psalm 19:14)
One of the (few) highlights for the Transformers franchise in recent years was 2018’s Bumblebee, a movie about a giant alien robot that turns into a VW Beetle and befriends a young woman named Charlie Watson. Their stories mirror each other beautifully: Bumblebee is far from home, separated from those he knows and loves, and to make matters worse he has lost both his voice and his memory. Charlie is estranged from her family following the death of her dad. She doesn’t really know who she is anymore and feels lost. Their paths cross, and together they go on a journey of discovering who they are meant to be. Girl meets alien robot. Tale as old as time.
Like Bumblebee and Charlie, we find Jesus today on a journey, as the time has come for him to become the person that he was always meant to be. And what is the initial public action in which Jesus participates when he takes his first steps into this larger world? It’s the rite of baptism. It’s the rite of belonging.
But we can’t help wondering why Jesus would need to participate in such a rite. Luckily, John the Baptizer wonders the same thing. Jesus’ response to him is: “We must fulfill all righteousness.” I’ve often wondered what he meant by this, and over time I’ve come to believe that at the core of Jesus’ desire to be baptized was the need to belong to the human family, that this is what he means by fulfilling all righteousness.
How could Jesus do what he did, be who he was meant to be, if he were not one of us?
How could we possibly look to him as not only our Savior but also our model for how to live faithfully in this world if he did not do what we do, including participate in our rituals?
It wasn’t that Jesus needed baptism to wash away his sins—we know that he was the sinless one—but he chose to be baptized to fully embrace his own humanity, to share in the human journey with us, to be part of our family. This is what baptism does. It brings us into the family of God and gives us a place of belonging.
Immediately after our text this weekend Jesus heads to the wilderness and a time of temptation and struggle. But today, coming onto the scene and asking for baptism, Jesus is announcing himself as the one promised by God through the prophet Isaiah long ago, when he spoke of a transforming Servant who would inaugurate a time of beauty, grace, healing, and justice. How does the word “Beloved” in this text convey a sense of who and whose we are, a sense of how God sees not only Jesus but each of us, too? Have you ever thought of baptism as conferring servanthood, of all things? Would we throw a party for such a gift, for becoming servants? But there’s another layer this, baptism doesn’t just bring us into the family, it commissions us for the lives that we were always meant to live.
In his own baptism Jesus is declared by the voice of God to be God’s “Son,” God’s “Beloved,” and in our own baptisms we are called children of God, we are called beloved, and like Jesus we are sent out into the world to do what God has called us to do: to be agents of God’s love and reconciliation in the world. Before Jesus can begin his public ministry, he goes through the rite of baptism, taking his place in the family of God, and the same is true for us. The waters of baptism not only make us brothers and sisters in this family, but like Jesus we whom the Holy Spirit has sealed and marked forever are called to go into the world, empowered by that same Spirit, to love and to serve. Those waters transformed Jesus from the simple carpenter of Nazareth into the Savior of the world, and they have the same transformative power to make the wounded, vulnerable, and lost part of the family of God.
The desire to be part of something, to belong, to have a family—whether one of blood or one of our own choosing—is a fundamental characteristic that is shared by every person.
Is there anyone who does not seek some form of belonging?
Who does not seek a relationship with someone who tells us that we matter and that we are loved?
This is what makes Bumblebee such a good story, not because it’s about a car that turns out to be an alien robot—although that’s pretty awesome—it’s because in the characters of Bumblebee and Charlie we see that desire played out, and we see these two form such a relationship. The whole world is longing with such a desire, and we are the agents who can go and say to the lost, lonely, and outcast, and tell them: “In the eyes of God, You matter. And you are loved!” We not only discover our own selves when we become part of the family of God, but we are equipped to go and invite others in.
I refer to you all in my messages, and during worship, sisters and brothers because I see us all as just that. It seems natural, doesn’t it? We belong together, as a family, united by the love of God made manifest in Jesus and given outward representation by the same waters of baptism that washed over him and washes over us. I wonder how we will live into this journey of discovery and belonging among our congregation. How will we be equipped to be sent out, to find those who need to hear such a message? We have been transformed by baptism into children of God, now how will we transform this world that God loves so much?
Baptisms, like most beginnings, find meaning long after the event. Beginning is often easy, while finishing is often hard. The significance of any decision takes a while to emerge. Moments of initiation are meaningless until we are true to the promise of that beginning. At the beginning of worship I always open with a comment similar to “We hope this morning’s worship experience is an important part of your journey of faith, as we continue to travel it together” and I say something to that effect every week because we are on a journey. In Baptism we’re handed a map, but then we have to take the trip. It takes our whole lives to finish the journey of faith, and that journey begins when we are baptized.
So what does it mean to us to live out our baptisms? If we are true to our baptisms, we cannot make ourselves comfortable, cannot do only what will be appreciated, and cannot be satisfied with the way things are. Our baptisms demand that we struggle with what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s important and what’s not.
Baptized children of God tell the truth in a world that lies; give in a world that takes; love in a world that lusts; make peace in a world that fights; serve in a world that wants to be served; pray in a world that waits to be entertained; and take chances in a world that worships safety. The baptized are citizens of an eccentric community where financial success is not the goal; security is not the highest good; and sacrifice is a daily event.
Simply put, baptism is everybody’s ordination to everyday ministry, our vow to live with more concern for the hurting than for our own comfort, and our promise to take issue with ideas with which everyone else agrees. Baptism is the commitment to share our time with the poor and listen to the lonely.
What did it mean when you were baptized? The meaning of your baptism is seen in what you think, feel, and do every day of your life. Have you done anything today that you wouldn’t have done if you had not been baptized? We are forever
answering the question “Why was I baptized?” And we answer that with everything that we do and say to reveal the light of Christ in an often dark world. So I want to close with the word’s of our baptismal liturgy: “Let you light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven.”