Baptized into Service
Isaiah 42:1-9; Matthew 3:13-17
Good morning. Today we celebrate the baptism of our Lord. That’s why I poured the waters of baptism and that’s why I’m wearing my baptismal stole today. The story of Jesus’ baptism raises some interesting questions. Why does Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, need to be baptized? And who could possibly have the authority to baptize the Lord?
Clearly, John the Baptist didn’t think he was worthy to perform this baptism. According to the Gospel of Matthew: “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.”
John accepts Jesus’ explanation that it is necessary and proper for John to baptize Jesus and performs the baptism. Then the skies open up and Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus. The key to understanding why this is necessary can be found in the very last verse: “And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’”
Matthew believed that Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel, God’s chosen people. To Matthew, the prophets of the Old Testament all pointed toward Jesus. In verse 17, when God says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased,”
Matthew is making a direct reference to this morning’s lesson from Isaiah: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him he will bring forth justice to the nations.” Thus, the heavenly voice, the voice of God declares that Jesus is both the Son of God and the Suffering Servant that is identified in the Book of Isaiah.
This informs our understanding of the sacrament of baptism. According to the Book of Order, the constitution of the Presbyterian Church:
Baptism is the sign and seal of incorporation into Christ. Jesus through his own baptism identified himself with sinners in order to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus in his own baptism was attested Son by the Father and was anointed with the Holy Spirit to undertake the way of the servant manifested in his sufferings, death, and resurrection. (W-2.3001)
Much of this statement is drawn from this morning’s gospel lesson. There’s a lot going on that statement on baptism. I wanted you to hear all of that at once, and now I’m going to unpack that, one piece at a time.
First: “Baptism is the sign and seal of incorporation into Christ.” Baptism is the sign, that is, it signifies what Christ has already done for us: He has taken away our sin. It is not the act of baptism that cleanses us from sin, it is through Jesus’ death and the action of the Holy Spirit that our sin is cleansed. The sacrament of baptism marks us for inclusion in God’s covenants, God’s promises to Israel, but the work has already been accomplished by Christ.
The word incorporation is also very, very important. It means that we are a part of Christ. The word comes from the Latin word, corpus, which means body. If we are incorporated, then we are truly part of the body of Christ. Remember, the term “the body of Christ” is another name for the Church. Baptism means that we are marked as being part of the Church.
Next: “Jesus through his own baptism identified himself with sinners in order to fulfill all righteousness.” The phrase, “to fulfill all righteousness” is a direct quote from our gospel lesson this morning. It means that Jesus was sent into this world to do God’s will, to enact God’s plan for salvation. To do this, Jesus must walk with and minister to all of humanity.
The final statement in that section of the Book of Order reads: “Jesus in his own baptism was attested Son by the Father and was anointed with the Holy Spirit to undertake the way of the servant manifested in his sufferings, death, and resurrection.” Baptism is an action for flesh-and-blood people. In saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved,” God is not only stating that Jesus is the Son of God, but in doing so at the moment of Jesus’ baptism, God is also stating that Jesus is fully human. Furthermore, God clearly states that Jesus’ mission is to serve.
God remains faithful to all of God’s promises to humanity in and through the physical presence of Christ in the world. This is how God lives into a relationship with all of humankind:
The language of “all justice” or “righteousness” expresses actions that are consistent with or faithful to a relationship or commitment. God is just or righteous, for example, when God acts consistently with God’s covenant commitments to deliver the people from exile in Babylon (Isaiah 46:13). To act justly/faithfully/righteously, whether God or humans, is to act in accord with God’s will. Jesus’ baptism, then, signifies his commitment to act faithfully to his God-given commission to manifest God’s saving presence.
In other words, Jesus, in his own baptism, is marked for his service to humanity.
We must never forget that God’s covenants are not part of a passive relationship. God isn’t the only one who acts. We must remember that we are active partners in this relationship. We see this in the disciples who followed Christ’s call. They “were empowered by the outpouring of the Spirit to undertake a life of service and to be an inclusive worshiping community, sharing life in which love, justice, and mercy abounded (W-2.3001).”
Over the next couple weeks, our gospel readings are going to offer us call stories. That is, stories of Jesus calling the disciples. He calls them to participate in his work, and, eventually, to carry on that work in the world after his death and resurrection. At the end of the Gospel of Matthew, the resurrected Jesus appears to the disciples and commands them to baptize and teach, to “make disciples of all nations” (28:19). If this sounds familiar to you, it might be because we had eight baptisms last year, but I digress.
The story of Jesus’ baptism is a reminder that we are called to continue that work. Last year was great, but we have to keep up the good work. We have to keep making disciples, as we work to live into our baptismal vows.
Last Sunday I reminded you that there are a lot of people outside of our walls who have left church over the years. Some drifted away, while others stormed out. I believe we are called to bring these sheep back into the fold. Today I want to leave you with a story that speaks into the question of how we connect with the lost sheep.
I saw this story on Facebook a couple weeks ago. It is amazing! My friend Charissa posted it with the comment: “Do not like or comment on this until you’ve read it.” When one of my best friends says something like that, I know I need to honor that request, and then read the story. After I read it, I liked it, commented on it, and then reposted it to my own Facebook page. Some of you may have seen it, and if you didn’t, I’ll post it to the church’s Facebook page.
The story was written by a man named James Hatch. After a 26-year career in the US Navy, he decided to go to college. He was 52 when he started. He decided to go to Yale University. Hatch offered a little bit of background info:
I was an unimpressive and difficult student in public schools. I joined the military at 17 and spent close to 26 years in the US Navy. I was assigned for 22 of those years to Naval Special Warfare Commands. I went through SEAL training twice, quit the first time and barely made it the second time. I did multiple deployments and was wounded in combat in 2009 on a mission to rescue an American hostage.
You can imagine the culture clash. The title of the article is, “My Semester with the Snowflakes.”
From that title, you might think that this guy would mock his fellow students at Yale. You might think that he would make fun of all the overprivileged, liberal snowflakes that he met in his first semester. You might expect him to be critical of how disconnected and self-absorbed all of those so-called “elite” students are. You might expect those things. And you would be wrong.
Over the course of his first semester, Hatch learned how hard most of his classmates worked to get into Yale. He learned that two of his classmates were children of taxi drivers—they certainly weren’t born into privilege. He found that his classmates were more courageous than he could have imagined. To get to that place, Hatch had to let go of his own notions of who those kids were, and actually engage with them. He had to listen to their perspectives and admit that he could be wrong. And then he had to learn from those experiences. He wrote: “To me there is no dishonor in being wrong and learning. There is dishonor in willful ignorance and there is dishonor in disrespect.”
James Hatch chose Yale because of the challenge. We also have to do challenging things, like reach out to people who aren’t in church. We have to listen to them. We have to engage with people who hold different political opinions. We have to listen to them, too, and we have to be kind. Always. And then we have to be willing to be changed by the relationships we form. This is the work of reconciliation; this is the work of the Church, the body of Christ, into which we have been baptized. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Now, Beloved, as you depart from this place, remember to engage with the people who aren’t in this place on Sunday mornings. Humble yourselves and let go of the things that prevent you from engaging with others. Go forth and be instruments of God’s love and peace and reconciliation. Do not return evil for evil to any person, but know that we are all loved by God, and that we are called to reflect that love to everyone we meet. Go forth and be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, let all God’s children say, Amen!
 M. Eugene Boring, “The Gospel of Matthew: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. VIII, (1995, Nashville: Abingdon Press), p. 160.
 Boring, 160.
 Warren Carter, “Commentary on Matthew 3:13-17,” retrieved from: http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3137
 James Hatch, “My Semester with the Snowflakes,” retrieved from: https://gen.medium.com/my-semester-with-the-snowflakes-888285f0e662