The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - January 8, 2017
Scripture Reading: Matthew 3:13-17
Sermon Title:
“Baptism of Jesus

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     It certainly must have been amazing to see it.  Jesus is on the banks of the River Jordan, his friend John is down in the river, baptizing people.  Now at that time, the Jewish used what John was doing as a kind of ritual bath.  It was cleansing them of their sin, or any unclean things that they did.  If you read through the old testament, it lays out all the things you must do if you are unclean.  You may have to leave the city for a time, may have to partake in a ritual bath, probably have to perform some kind of sacrifice at the temple.  So John was not operating outside of the religion of the day, he was just helping.  And he was also talking about a messiah, which certainly the Jewish believed would be returning. 

     And then Jesus walks down to the water.  John protests, “I cannot baptize you, you should be the one who should be baptizing me.”  But Jesus convinces John to do it, and when Jesus comes up out of the water, the heavens open, a dove appears and a voice, “this is my son with whom I am well pleased.”

     Something is special about this guy.  Now remember that Jesus was about 30 by the time this happens.  He is all grown up.  And we know almost nothing of what has happened in the last 30 years.  We heard the birth story a few weeks ago.  Then Jesus may have gone off to Africa as Herold ordered all the male babies killed.  Since there is no other record of this happening in any non-biblical sources, we don’t know.  But then we have a little glimpse of Jesus in the temple when he was maybe about 12.  We have no stories of Jesus the toddler, or Jesus the teenager.  Or even Jesus the 20 something young adult.  Jesus just disappears until he is around 30, and the first recorded thing at that time is his baptism. 

     Epiphany is the holiday that just happened last Thursday, and the church season we are now in is Epiphany.  Epiphany is recorded as the day that the wise men appeared in Bethlehem, realized that there is something special about this baby.  And this Sunday we hear about Jesus being baptized.  This is a kind of second Epiphany if you will, those who were in the stable realized there was something special about this baby, wise men bringing him gifts.  And now, the heavens open and the spirit of God descends.  And we still have Epiphanies today, when we realize that Jesus is the one we choose to follow.

     I have to wonder what it was like for Jesus.  We know that Mary was told by the angels that she was to bear a son, and Joseph was told not to divorce Mary, even though she was pregnant and Joseph knew that might not be the biological father.   But how was Jesus raised?  Certainly, fully human, he probably made some mistakes growing up, hung out with the wrong crowd sometimes, maybe got into trouble.  Even if not serious trouble, every child needs to be corrected at times.  And then once he became an adult, if he knew that he was the messiah, why wait until he was 30?

     Maybe this baptism by John, and the events of the dove and voice were his signal to start doing what he was always meant to do.  We tend to assume that Jesus was a carpenter, after all that was what Joseph was and it was common for people to follow in the family business.  And by 30, in his time, he was fully an adult.  There is some evidence that Jesus may have had brothers and sisters, some suggest that he was married and maybe even had children of his own.  Not uncommon for children to live on the family land, sometimes even in the same house as their parents, even after they were married and had their own families. 

     I wonder if Jesus could have said no, if that thought even crossed his mind.  There is something nice about being secure.  Perhaps Jesus had developed some real carpentry skills, was supporting himself, perhaps a family, at least being able to help out with the family business.  Or maybe just spending time until the time was right for him to start his ministry.  But if you know that there is something really special about you, if you are the messiah, I cannot imagine waiting until 30 before doing anything about it. 

     I have often wondered about Baptism.  In our culture, for many, it is the thing that we do.  It has become almost a ritual which has lost its meaning.  You have a baby, you bring it for its first doctor’s appointments, get his shots, as they get older, you go through potty training, enroll them in school, and somewhere in there, you get them baptized.  That was what your parents did for you, and I fear that in today’s culture, for many, that is all it is.  A time to invite all the relatives in, have the child baptized in church, plan a big brunch after.  Halmark has even gotten into it, go to the store and there all sorts of cards you can get for a child being baptized.  If you Google “Should I give a present for baptism” the most common answer is yes.  One person responded to that question by saying that when her child was baptized most of her guests gave gifts cards or cash ranging from $50 to $200, she said that this was typical in her area and she preferred cash. 

     Perhaps we should be viewing baptism more as an invitation to join in the ministry.  I believe that all of us are called to ministry.  Not necessarily ordained ministry, but you all do ministry.  Look at the people who gave rides to someone this morning, that is a big ministry.  How about those who help out at Grandmas kitchen, or give food to the food pantry?  How about those who work at the rummage sale.  Yes you do make some money for the church, which is ministry, but also you provide a great place for people to get affordable clothing and household goods.  And then, once you have sold what you can, you give the rest away.  How about our greeters, and ushers and readers every week?  How about the backpacks that were made for the school kids this fall?  Even that money you put into the plate every Sunday goes well beyond this church.  Just in the past few months some of that money has gone to South Carolina, where people are still recovering after the record rains in October 2015, they have gone to help those who were effected by Hurricane Matthew, those effected by the flooding in Louisiana back in August, the earthquake in Ecuador, the typhoons in the Philippines, the wildfires in the South.  And while those funds go to those areas that are effected by disasters, they also go to places where disaster has not happened yet.  Developing countries, missionaries in many, many places, so when a disaster does happen we have the people in place who know the community and their needs, so our help can do the most good.  Those funds also support the long term recovery.  I was just reading about the nuclear disaster in Japan, several years ago.  Our funds are still going to help those who were effected by that disaster years ago.  There are so many ministries that we are all involved in, within this walls, within this town and around the world.  We are all ministers.

     Of course those who are involved in these ministries do not have to be baptized, so maybe baptism is not so much all about the person being baptized as it is for all of us.  If you remember, the last promise of baptism, it is made by the congregation.  Do you promise your love, support, and care to the one who is about to be baptized as they live and grow in Christ?  The wording maybe slightly different when you are baptized, but the idea is the same.  You are promising, every time someone gets baptized your love, support and care.  And to be honest, you may never see them in church again, but that love, support and care goes beyond the church walls, and we fulfill that promise for all, just as we hope others do for the ones that this church has baptized.  When you do your ministry, feeding, or clothing, or donating, or visiting, you are showing those people the love, support and care that we have promised and others have promised them. 

     So this Sunday, when we celebrate the Lord’s baptism, perhaps we should see it as an invitation to rethink the meaning of our baptism in the light of Jesus’ baptism.  Not only have we have been baptized into his mission, to proclaim the hope of God’s reign of justice, peace and reconciliation; we have been baptized into his death to become, as his risen body, the living sign of that justice, peace and reconciliation for the world.

     I have been thinking a lot about the future of the church.  If you read the headlines in the news it tells us that mainline Christianity is dead.  And you don’t really need to look too far to see what is happening in a lot of churches.  I recently visited a church that meets in the winter time in their fellowship hall, because it is less expensive to heat.  There are many churches that have closed. 

     But I don’t believe that main line Christianity is dead.  I think the church has a huge roll in the future as the living sign of that justice, peace and reconciliation for the world.  Just as the term ministry is many faceted, I also see this living sign as many faceted. 

     We talk a lot about the Kingdom of God, or at least I do.  I don’t see this as someplace we will go after we die, I view the Kingdom of God as something we should be working toward.  And what does this Kingdom look like?  Jesus gives us plenty of insight.  A place where the last will be first, and the first will be last.  It is an upside down world, where power does not come from who wins the war, but power comes from those who promote peace.  It is a place where all are valued, and there is a place at the table for everyone.  It is a place where we love, support and care for each other.  Each time we baptize someone that is what we promise.  We promise to do our part to help bring this Kingdom into existence.  And this is possible.  It is not easy, sometimes it is a lot easier to hate, ignore, reject. 

     As you leave here today, just like I did last year, I invite you to stop by the baptism font and dip you hand into the water.  Some will want to draw a cross on their forehead, or the back of their hand.  Last year I wanted you to remember that you are a child of God.  This year I want you to remember that when you were baptized as a child of God, many people promised to love, support and care for you, and you have promised to love, support and care many others.  You do this through our shared ministry within these walls and beyond these walls, and this will be a reminder that this is not just a good thing to do, this is what God has called you to do.