On Monday, I noted that Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism is probably my favorite of the four Gospels, and that is true, but as the week has worn on, I’ve come to realize more and more just how little I actually like preaching the Baptism of our Lord. Don’t get me wrong, it is a powerful inaugural moment in the ministry of Jesus, but the discomfort of the early Church has spilled across the millennia and is pooling upon my desk. My problem is this, as a preacher, I see my main task as finding ways to apply Scripture as a living, breathing text to the lives of the faithful. If my sermon is nothing more than a doctrinal statement on the nature of the Incarnation or Resurrection of, as the case may be, Christ’s baptism, then I have failed to adequately do my job, and the fact of the matter is that Jesus’ baptism is so peculiar, a never-to-be repeated event, that it is hard for me to tie it into the larger story of the life of faith.
What it does offer, however, is an entree into the Epiphanies that come through baptism. For Jesus, it came in the form of the heavens being torn in two and the Spirit descending like a dove, but very few of us have had that experience. Even if we did, how many Roman Catholics or [former] Mainliners remember their baptism at all? For Jesus, his baptism was his commissioning as the beloved Son – so what does it mean for us?
I think that’s where the Acts lesson comes to play. Peter’s encounter with Cornelius and his family is a prime example of the Spirit at work in the life of a faithful Christian, and, as the Church has taught since the beginning, the Spirit is the gift of Baptism. What does our baptism mean? It means that we are full members of the family of God, gifted with the Holy Spirit, and invited to follow the Spirit en route to the Kingdom of God. It means that as we mature, our opinions will change, our eyes will be opened, our hearts will be filled. It means that we’ll trip and fall over our traditions as the Spirit leads us beyond man made classifications into the fullness of God.
In sort, our baptism means that our work has begun. Which, I suppose isn’t all that unlike Jesus’ baptism after all.