One of the questions that David Lose raised in the link I posted yesterday has been haunting me for 24 hours now. It is a question that haunts most preachers these days, one that will hopefully be raised again and again at this weekend’s Emergence Christianity Conference in Memphis, and it is the title of this post.
For all the crummy things the RCL editors have been accused of doing to the lessons for this week by me and many others, they have worked hard, I believe to force the preacher into asking and answering this very pointed question.
So What that Jesus was baptized? What difference does it make?
In my tradition, The Episcopal Church, the RCL gets some help from both the order in which lessons are read and from the Collect that starts the whole things off. First, we hear these words prayed on behalf of the whole congregation:
Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Then, we hear from the prophet Isaiah:
Thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
Followed by the Psalmist:
The voice of the LORD is a powerful voice; * the voice of the LORD is a voice of splendor.
And the cautionary tale from Acts 8:
The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus).
Finally, then, we hear the story of Jesus’ baptism from Luke:
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
In his Baptism, Jesus hears the voice of the LORD, the powerful voice full of splendor. In his Baptism, Jesus receives the Holy Spirit who descends upon him like a dove. In his Baptism, Jesus is called by the name “Beloved Son.” In his Baptism, Jesus is given the power and authority that will carry him through the temptation in the wilderness, through his near death experience in Nazareth, through his three years as an itinerant Rabbi and miracle worker, and most importantly, through his arrest, trial, crucifixion, death, and resurrection. In his Baptism, Jesus is given everything he needs to carry out the work he is called to do.
In our Baptism, we too are given everything we will need to do the work God has given us to do. Even those of us baptized as infants, having been welcomed into the household of God, are blessed to be “beloved children” and “heirs of Christ.” By the power of the Spirit (who, BTW, does the baptizing in Luke’s version of this story) each of us is given the gift and responsibility of being named by the powerful voice of God. This is the “so what?” of Baptism. We are proclaimed as beloved children, and expected to live as such. What a blessing. What a challenge.