“Baptized and Loved” Colchester Federated Church, January 10, 2021, Baptism of Christ Sunday (Mark 1:4-11)
Today is Baptism of Christ Sunday, the Sunday in the liturgical calendar where we remember the Baptism of Jesus performed by John in the Jordan River. When Jesus wades into the Jordan with John, his ministry is just beginning. The start of his ministry is poignantly marked by the Sacrament of Baptism. It’s also a miraculous moment because this is not exactly an ordinary Baptism here. Mark tells us that as Jesus was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw heaven splitting open and the Spirit (like a dove) coming down on him. Jesus heard a voice from heaven proclaim, “You are my Son, whom I dearly love, in you I find happiness”
Now most of us have probably witnessed several Baptisms. Perhaps none quite so miraculous as Jesus’ happened to be. But we know that Baptism is an outward and visible sign of the love of God. Baptism is about joining the Church universal, and of being a beloved and unique individual within the context of a particular community of faith. This is the moment when we officially become part of a faith tradition that was in existence long before we were born and will be there long after we’re gone. We hear a traditional blessing that has been used for thousands of years and has marked this moment of being named and claimed by God for thousands of Christians the world over.
All those memories of Baptisms can come flooding back to us on Baptism of Christ Sunday. Because yes, we are contemplating Jesus’s Baptism by John the Baptist. And it’s the Sunday where we remember our own Baptisms and the Baptisms of those we love. We contemplate what the Baptismal vows we make actually mean for the rest of our lives.
By now I’ve Baptized 27 people during my ministry. I’ve Baptized people in the waters of the Salmon River here in Colchester, Connecticut and in the sanctuaries of Colchester Federated Church and Pilgrim Congregational Church United Church of Christ in Lexington, Massachusetts. I’ve Baptized tiny infants, teenagers, and grown adults. I’ve tripped in the Salmon River and almost Baptized myself and had my hair pulled so hard by an infant during her Baptism it almost made my eyes water. I’ve Baptized people who were so excited to get Baptized and people who were not so excited to get Baptized and everything in between.
For each and every one of those Baptisms I’ve asked the person being Baptized or the parents of the person being Baptized in the case of infants the following question found in the UCC Book of Worship: “do you promise, by the grace of God, to be Christ’s disciple, to follow in the ways of our Savior, to resist oppression and evil, to show love and justice, and to bear witness to the work and word of Jesus Christ as well as you are able?”
In some ways, this question is the “so what” question. We ask the person being baptized (or their parents) if they desire to be baptized. (To make sure that they want to begin the journey of faith.) And we ask if they will continue to grow in the Christian faith. (To make sure that they remember that this is just the beginning of their journey as a Christian. Just as Baptism in the Jordan was just the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.) Though the middle question is the “so what” question if you will. Alright so you want to be baptized and you want this to be the start of your journey as a Christian. But what is Baptism going to mean in your life? That question asks about Christian discipleship. That question asks in so many words if the Sacrament of Baptism will fundamentally change your life or not.
It’s a question about following the teachings of Jesus the Christ in our daily lives. Jesus who taught us to love God with our hearts, souls, minds, and strengths and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Because we can believe all the “right” things within Christianity, but if our beliefs don’t change the way that we live each and every day of our lives—then what’s the point? It’s a question we can contemplate especially these days when we have seen some evil in our nation.
On January 6th, 2021—the Feast of Epiphany for Christians—an angry mob incited to violence stormed the Capitol to disrupt the certification of a Presidential election in the United States of America. The peaceful transfer of power that is a bedrock of our American democracy for hundreds of years was attempted to be stopped. Our Capitol was attacked for the first time since the War of 1812 when the British invaded Washington D.C. and burned the city. Five people died because of these violent acts. Members of Congress, their staffs, and all of the people who work at the Capitol were terrorized.
This is not revisionist history. These are the facts. This is what happened before our very eyes on Wednesday in the United States of America. Our country remains divided. Though leaders, including Pastors, cannot cower and hide in the face of evil. Not when the light of Christ can always guide our way despite the shadows of our time. People are frightened, angry, sad—any number of emotions that we are all wrestling with right now. Oh, and we are still grappling with a deadly pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of people in our nation. More and more people are being infected by the coronavirus every single day. And sometimes this all feels like it’s too much to bear. This week was horrific for our country. Let’s start by naming that and telling the truth.
What is a disciple of Jesus Christ to do on a week like this one?
How are we to act as people of faith in the days ahead?
Maybe on this Baptism of Christ Sunday in January of 2021 we are being asked to remember our Baptismal vows. The promises that we made to God and to one another when we were baptized. Especially the promise that goes like this: “Do you promise, by the grace of God, to be Christ’s disciple, to follow in the ways of our Savior, to resist oppression and evil, to show love and justice, and to bear witness to the work and word of Jesus Christ as well as you are able?”
How will we answer this question asked of us yet again? How do we follow in the ways of Jesus? How do we resist oppression and evil? How do we show love and justice? How do we bear witness to the work and word of Jesus Christ as well as we are able?
We can be the Church. As our UCC Be the Church campaign proclaimed. Be the Church. Protect the environment. Care for the poor. Forgive often. Reject racism. Fight for the powerless. Share earthly and spiritual resources. Embrace diversity. Love God. Enjoy this life.
We cannot give in to hopelessness. We cannot give in to fear. We are not a people who stay mired in the pain of Good Friday when there is the Resurrection and new life of Easter always promised to us. God always gets the last word and that word is love. We are God’s people who are called to love one another as God has always and will always love each and every one of us.
The moment we are baptized into the Christian faith we are given responsibilities as disciples of Jesus Christ. If we said yes to that baptismal vow and we meant our yes, then we are promising to follow in the ways of our Savior. We are promising to resist oppression and evil. We are promising to show love and justice. We are promising to bear witness to the work and word of Jesus Christ. Let this promise that you already made as a baptized Christian or hope to make one day give you courage on this week of all weeks. Thanks be to God. Amen.
 Mark 1:10-11, Common English Bible.