Baptized with God’s Love Every Day!
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Baptism of Jesus Sunday at the Meriden Congregational Church
Rev. Susan E. Gregory-Davis
January 13, 2013
“One of the people who came to be baptized was Jesus. And when he had been baptized, Jesus stood in the water a long time praying. As he was praying, the sky opened and God’s Spirit came upon Jesus, in the form of a dove. And there was a voice—a soft, beautiful voice that said, ‘You are my child. I love you. I am pleased with you.’” (Luke 3:21-22)
I invite you to imagine with me—in your mind’s eye–this story of Jesus’ Baptism. Close your eyes, if you wish, and picture yourself in the dry, dusty desert of Galilee. It is HOT here–but in this remote place, away from the tyranny of Roman rule, the sun feels less oppressive. And there is actually energy in the air—sparks of curiosity, wonder and even hope. This wild man named John—the one over there—dressed in camel’s hair and standing thigh-deep in muddy water, he’s got something to say; he is calling us to repent—to turn away from our fears and our temptations to worship false gods—and to turn again toward our God, the one true source of love. We are desperately longing for any sign of God’s Love. Maybe John will be this sign. So we come to this desert river–Jews and non-Jews, alike, rich and poor, women and men, infants and children, elite and marginalized, fisherman and tax collectors—all to listen to John and to be renewed in these waters of the Jordan River. Even the one they call Jesus, the one they say is John’s cousin, is here, just like any one of us–asking that John baptize him, too. There he goes now—being dunked under by John—now coming up sputtering and yet continuing to stand in that muddy water with his eyes closed, he seems to be praying; now he’s looking up into the heavens as though he can see the very face of God. It looks like he’s hearing something. He’s smiling! What a curious sight to behold. (pause) Stranger still, did you just feel–like I did–the brush of a dove’s wing on your shoulder?
I invite you to open your eyes now, when you are ready, as we continue to reflect on some other ways to appreciate and understand Jesus’ Baptism.
For Jesus and, thus, for us as well, his Baptism was a thin time and place—“thin” in the Celtic sense of there being only a very thin veil—if that–between heaven and earth. One can even imagine, at his Baptism, Jesus’ heart itself being “thin,” that is being fully open and transparent to receiving all the light of God’s Love. In this thin time and place, we can picture Jesus allowing himself to be completely drenched in the waters of God’s Love, with every cell of his being saturated with these words of love: “you are my beloved child. I love you. With you I am well pleased.” I imagine that in this moment, Jesus must have realized, beyond any measure of doubt, the immensity of God’s Love, not only for himself but, for all of Creation.
When have you experienced a “thin time or a thin place” in your own life, where there seemed to be only a very thin veil–at most–between heaven and earth, between you and God, or between you and another–whether person, animal, other being or part of God’s Creation? In a “thin place” in your life, have you ever had the sense of being completely drenched or saturated by God’s Love? Where are these places in your life? Does your heart—at least from time to time–have the quality of being spiritually “thin,” open and transparent to the Love God longs to pour into you? What helps you to be attuned to these “thin places” in your life?
Perhaps another way to visualize what happened for Jesus at his Baptism is to think about this event as a “crucible.” Although a common understanding of a “crucible event” is that of a severe test or trial, another definition is an experience that has a profound influence on one’s life. This past week at one of our church’s Spiritual Companions gatherings, Betsey Pensgen, who was our leader for the evening, invited us to reflect on this image of crucible. She read a wonderful selection by author, Sue Monk Kidd, about her grandfather and the vital importance to him of the land he grew up on and farmed all his life. Kidd writes, “[These] five hundred acres of land have been in the Monk family since the early 1800’s, passed down from generation to generation. My great-grandparents, William and Alcy, are buried here. My grandfather does not just love the land, he reverences it. He knows every row of corn, every spindle-leg calf, every seedling pine. The farm is the crucible of his childhood, the place his soul understands as home.” (Firstlight)
“The farm is [his] crucible. . .the place his soul understands as home.”
I wonder if, for Jesus, the River Jordan was his crucible—the place where his soul understood its home in God Love. I wonder if, as Jesus’ ministry became difficult, as he came face to face with the tyranny of Roman oppression, his disciples’ inability to understand who he truly was, the hardness of the people’s hearts, did Jesus return in his soul to this river home.
Is there a place in your own life, in your memory, in your longing where your soul has found a home in God’s Love? In your heart, are you still there? Are you still home? If not, what would it take to find your way back there, to visit again or perhaps to seek a renewed place where your soul can find a home in God once more?
Do you know of others in your life seeking their soul’s home? How might we accompany them on their journey?
Crucible places and moments remind us of who we truly are–of our true selves beneath the masks we wear to disguise our fears and vulnerabilities. Crucible moments call us to shed our false selves so that we can live as God created us to be. They can come about through experiences of deep pleasure and also through experiences of deep pain but, whatever their origin, crucible moments share the quality of reminding us of who and whose we are. Immense joys, such as beholding our church children and youth in this year’s Christmas pageant, and deepest grief—such as our neighbors in Newtown, CT, as well as closer to home, have recently known—distill life to its most precious values. As is evidenced by the extraordinary love that inevitably and wondrously comes out of such crucible moments, we know God is with us both in our most profound sorrow and our greatest joy.
Jesus’ Baptism, like our own, did not make him more holy, but rather recognized the holiness already within. In the words of Marilynne Robinson, author of the novel Gilead, Baptism “doesn’t enhance sacredness, [but] it acknowledges it.” Robinson’s main character—an elderly minister—reminisces in the book about one of his childhood adventures when, as the son of a pastor, he decided to baptize a litter of kittens. He actually didn’t get too far with the Baptism because the mama cat decided rather quickly that she didn’t particularly like this attention her babies were getting. Furthermore, the child received a stern talking to from his pastor-father who believed the boy was disrespecting the sacramental nature of Baptism. But, in looking back on that day, what the now elderly minister most remembers is “the feel of ‘those warm little brows’ and the experience of learning the difference between simply petting a kitten and lovingly touching it’s warm little brow ‘with the pure intention of blessing it.’” (Kate Huey on Robinson) Baptism recognizes and blesses the holiness already within—God’s Love that has already sanctified.
So, we are all tempted at times to go through our day wearing a wet suit with galoshes, a rain hat and an umbrella. We can try, consciously or not, to be water repellent, but we can’t prevent God from still showering us and longing to saturate us with God’s Love. And we all have trouble fully hearing and accepting God’s words of Baptismal Love—“YOU are my Beloved Child. I love you. With you, I am well pleased.” But this is why we gather as a faith community each Sunday morning—to remind and encourage and inspire one another to remember who and whose we are.
Fred Craddock, pastor and story-teller, shares the memory he heard from a chaplain who was on duty when little Elizabeth was born at the tiny hospital in his rural community. After offering congratulations to Elizabeth’s parents, the chaplain tried to strike up a conversation with the young father—a man of few words—as he and the chaplain stood silently before the nursery window watching this beautiful little girl squirm and scream in her crib. Trying to make conversation, the chaplain thought he could reassure the first-time dad that his baby daughter’s crying was completely normal: “she’s not sick, you know. It’s good for her to cry, its clearing out her lungs.” The dad looked oddly at the chaplain and responded, “I know she’s not sick. She’s crying ‘cause she’s just mad.” Kind of taken aback and curious what the dad meant, the chaplain asked him why he thought she was mad. “Well, wouldn’t you be mad? One minute you’re with God in heaven and the next minute you’re in Georgia!” Now really surprised and this unexpected response, the chaplain tentatively asked, “So, you believe she was with God before she came here?” “Of course!” The chaplain pressed on, “do you think she will always remember she came from God?” “Well,” said the young dad, “that’s up to her mother and me, and to our church. We’ve got to see to it that she remembers.” (adapted)
This is what we are all about here in our faith community—reminding one another from whom we come, to whom we’ll return and who continually showers our days, saturating us with life-giving Love. In the words of Martin Luther, “a truly Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism once begun and ever to be continued.”
As we continue our journey through this season of Epiphany, may we return again and again to the life-giving waters of Baptism, remembering the story of Jesus’ Baptism, remembering the stories of our own blessing and Baptisms, and helping one another to receive God’s words of Love—“you are my beloved child. I love you. With you I am well pleased.”
With gratitude for the gift of God’s Love with us always, we pray. Amen.