A Sermon for the first Sunday after the Epiphany: The Baptism of Our Lord
We are united to Christ in baptism. The story of Christ’s baptism is a story of connection, of access, of identity, and it enables us to reproduce the act so that we too may be connected to Christ, to God. Baptism is our rite of initiation, a welcoming into the community, into the family, into the church, that marks us as Christ’s own, as God’s own, forever. It is in Jesus’ baptism that God names Jesus as God’s son. A son with whom “I am well pleased.” He, Jesus, is proclaimed the beloved of God. This act, this moment, then becomes a foundational piece of our experience of faith, our experience of church. It is in our own baptism that we are also proclaimed the beloved, that God welcomes us into the family, that we, that those who love and care for us, commit to living into a way of life that emulates the way of love, that teaches us what it means to be a person of faith, that fills us with the knowledge that God is with us, is pleased with us, is full of love and joy for us.
We renew our baptismal covenant to remember that it is in and through baptism that we find our familial connection to God. It is this moment where God chooses to proclaim Jesus the beloved Son. It is this moment where Heaven opens and that connection is firmly established. Where the understanding of who Christ is, is cemented. Where the acts of what Christ will come to do, the sacrifice that Christ will make on the cross, are framed within this understanding that he is God’s Son. And in that, Jesus’ understanding of that relational reality creates the opportunities for us to better understand our own relationship with and to God. Jesus being God’s Son, as recognized and proclaimed by God, enables us to know ourselves as part of the beloved creation of God, it enables us to know ourselves as being beloved through Christ because we are granted a familial access that had previously not existed, at least, not in this way.
In our renewal of baptismal covenant we remind ourselves what we believe through our understanding of our relationship to and with God, with Christ, with the Holy Spirit. We proclaim a reality of faith in our covenant. We proclaim an understanding of faith that is centered upon the scriptures, illuminated by theologians, by our tradition, that rings true for us today just as it did at the foundational meetings of the church. We can hold this faith up and know where we stand in relation to not just each other, but to God, to Christ, and through this knowledge be able to share this reality with others, to use our baptism to teach others, to bring others into the family with us.
We also renew our baptismal covenant to remind ourselves of what we have promised, of what has been promised for us, of what we promise to do for those who are baptized in our midst. Our baptismal covenant is more than simply proclaiming our faith, but also what we are going to do with our faith. This is why we renew our covenant from time to time. To remind ourselves not simply what we believe, but what we have committed to do with that faith, what we have committed to fight for with that faith. And, we renew our baptismal covenant to be made aware of where we come up short. We renew our baptismal covenant to remind ourselves that we are human, that we are going to fail at even the most basic tenants of our faith, the most basic promises that we have made, that were made for us, that we as a community promise to teach and uphold for all who are baptized in our midst. We do this, because we are called to boldly confess our faith. We are called to boldly confess Christ as Lord, as Messiah, as Son of God. We are called to boldly confess our place as beloved in this creation, a place that is afforded to us through our connection to Christ, afforded to us through this very interaction in Christ’s own baptism. Where God, Christ, Holy Spirit commingle with one another, and the reality of God being with us is made clear. So, the question then stands, are we boldly confessing our faith? Are we living into the baptismal covenant? Where are we coming up short?
I’m going to begin with the last question and work my way backwards this morning. I’m beginning with the last question because it is the easiest to understand and so hard to really, truly live into. Honestly, each of these commitments are hard, faith is hard, being a Christian should be hard, because it constantly and consistently demands us to be better.
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
This is an actionable covenant piece. We know what all of these words and concepts mean without too much breakdown. But, there’s a kicker. ALL? EVERY? Surely, not ALL and EVERY. Yes, ALL and EVERY. Justice and peace for all is surely not being sought in our day and age. Justice and peace for all, us fighting for justice and peace for all, would be a world we wouldn’t recognize. But, we have to try anyways, because we have committed to it. Respecting the dignity of every human being is that much harder. Referring to human beings with labels (like “illegals”) that seek to dehumanize or excuse deplorable behavior on the part of the powerful is not respecting the dignity of that human being. So, we have to stop this from being a part of our culture. We have to call people out who would use such rhetoric, we have to be willing to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves to remind others that they too are human beings who deserve every bit of respect and dignity.
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
There’s that word again, ALL. You cannot help but love your neighbor as yourself if you are seeking Christ’s presence in all persons. You cannot help but serve Christ in all persons if you see Christ in them, if you show them the power of Christ’s love that fills you, that teaches you how to love yourself. This part of the covenant is possible because of our gospel lesson today, because of God’s connection to Christ, because of God’s recognition of Christ as the beloved Son of God.
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
Will you live your faith, and in living your faith, share that faith, share the reality of faith that is before us in the gospels, that we have learned through our life in community with that family we call church. When you do this, when you share this reality in what you do, in how you do it, in the way you speak to and with others, when you share the same connection of recognition that our siblings in Christ are also beloved, this is how you proclaim the Good News of God in Christ.
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
Two parts to this piece of the covenant: a) resist evil, and b) you’re going to fail. This question comes before the questions we have already discussed because it speaks to the reality of our condition. We are really good at trying. We make every effort at trying. We want to live into the covenant wholly and fully. And, we will consistently fail at this. We will be tempted, we will fall into sin, we will fail at resisting the forces of evil at work in this world. But, this isn’t the end. In fact, because it is expected, there is a response. Repent and return. Seek the forgiveness that is always there for us. Seek the grace and mercy that God provides to us, that has been made available for us through the sacrifice of Christ, through the understanding that God gains through this sacrifice because of the reality of Jesus’ connection to God, as seen in this moment of baptism.
Will you continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
I will, with God’s help. This is to be our answer to each of the preceding questions, and it is put here first to remind us of where the source of our connection to God, our source for fuel to take on the rest of our commitments in this covenant is to be found. We have to come together, regularly, consistently, as the body of the church, to uphold each other, to teach each other, to teach those who we have committed to raise up when they are baptized in our midst. We have to come to these pews to hear the teachings. We have to come to this table to receive the bread. We have to sit in prayer amongst this body of Christ and offer ourselves to God, offer ourselves for the work that we commit to, and receive that reassurance that we have the ability to rise to and meet each of these commitments. To know that even when we fail, in many ways, it is expected, and as long as we repent and return, we can move forward once more.
We are united to Christ in baptism today. And through our baptismal covenant, through renewing our baptismal covenant, we remind ourselves of this unending connection. We remind ourselves of our commitment to our faith. And, we remind ourselves that when we make these commitments we do so with the knowledge that God’s help is there for us, that it is only with and through God’s help that we can live into these covenant promises. So, I ask you to join me now, as we renew the promises of our faith in renewing our own baptismal covenants:
Found on Page 292 of the Book of Common Prayer, or online at bcponline.org under “Proper Liturgies for Special Days: The Great Vigil of Easter”