Year A Baptism Of Our Lord Matthew 3
The Water that Brings a New Beginning
There are two very different ways to think about baptism. The first approach recognizes the time of baptism as a saving moment in which the person being baptized accepts the love and forgiveness of God. The person then considers herself "saved." She may grow in the faith through the years, but nothing which she will experience after her baptism will be as important as her baptism. She always will be able to recall her baptism as the time when her life changed.
The second approach wouldn't disagree with any of that, but would add to it significantly. This idea affirms baptism as the time when God's love and forgiveness are experienced. It also recognizes baptism as a time of change. However, where the first approach isolates the act of baptism as the most important moment, the second approach understands baptism more as a beginning. While it is true that in the waters of baptism God laid claim on our lives, it is also true that we spend the rest of our lives trying to figure out what that means. The first understanding often overlooks the journey which follows baptism.
Baptism too frequently carries the connotation of having arrived. Sometimes people say to their ministers, "I want to be baptized and join the church as soon as I get my life in order." Of course, if that is what any of us are waiting on, we will never be baptized. None of us will ever have our lives sufficiently in order to be baptized. Baptism is not something we earn, nor is it a sign that we have found all the answers. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Baptism is a beginning. It is the desire to see the world differently, to see each other differently, and even to see ourselves differently. Baptism is a fresh start, not a destination. Baptism calls into question our previous lives, it does not bless them. Baptism is not a trial-free membership, but a rite of initiation into a way of life in which Jesus promised there would be trials.
Jesus' baptism serves as a model for our baptism. For Jesus, baptism represents the beginning of his ministry. While some ultimate questions may have been answered when he was with John the Baptist in the Jordan River, Jesus continued to deal with questions and temptations throughout his life. The baptism of Jesus is one of our favorite stories. We love to hear how the heavens opened, to imagine the dove descending, and to hear God's blessing on the Son. We would like to think something like that happens when we are baptized. What we should be prepared for is that our journey of faith, much like Jesus' journey, continues to unfold long after our baptism as we try to discern what our baptism means in our daily living.
We can begin to understand more about our baptism by thinking of it in three ways.
- First, baptism is about beginning anew.
- The second part of baptism is the good news that we have been included.
- The third part of baptism is ordination. With baptism comes the Spirit, and with the Spirit come gifts to be used in the service of God.
You Bring Me Great Pleasure
How many of your New Year's Resolutions have made it intact through the first full week of 2011? Have you missed a day of exercise yet? Have you stuck to your diet? Are you texting less, talking more, always telling the truth?
Most "resolutions" we make are self-directed: get thinner, work smarter, be stronger, take control of your life. We want to make changes that will help us, improve us, and bring us good feelings about ourselves.
Jesus said to be "in" the world but not to be "of" the world. So let's start with being "in" a world that begins each year making resolutions: let's make a New Year's Resolution. But what if we weren't "of" this world of resolutions we're "in"? Instead of resolutions to live 2011 in a way that makes us feel good about ourselves, that brings ourselves pleasure, what if we resolve to live a life that brings pleasure to God.
What if we were to forget the little resolutions and resolve something big (did you catch it? another in-not-of alteration since the world is filled with lots of resolutions but little resolve)? What if we were to resolve to so live in 2011 that in January of 2012 God can look back at our year of living and declare — "Your life brings me great pleasure. Well-done, good and faithful friend."
Could there be any greater joy than hearing those words?
Remember how as a little child you lived and loved to get the approval of your Mom and Dad? Piano recitals, school plays, science projects, Christmas and Easter pageants — all were at the same time fearful and fun. But for you to feel like you'd really accomplished something, it took a parent, one of your grands or that "special someone," watching and cheering, applauding and effusing--"great job," "well done," "bravo," "I'm so proud and pleased." Or even just an "I love you."
If the praise of our imperfect human parents could bring such a sense of satisfaction to our childish hearts, think how much more the affirmation of our perfect, all powerful, heavenly parent would mean to our life.
The absolute best thing we can ever know in life is that we have lived in such a way that it brings God great pleasure.
But there is always a flip side...