There is a great story told about an old scallywag who one day decided that he need to turn his life around. So he went to a local church and marched into the clergy’s office and plopped himself down. He boldly declared to the clergy that he was done with his old life and its ways and wanted to know how he could make a fresh start. So after some time, the pastor suggested that the way to start a new was for the two of them to go to a nearby lake and for the rascal to be baptized. So that is what they did. They walked down to the lake, walked in the water and the pastor grabbed the scoundrel by the scruff of the next and pushed the man down into the water and held him under for 10 seconds.
When he came up, gasping for air, the pastor asked the man, “do you see Jesus?” The man replied, with a rather surprised “No!”
So the Pastor repeated the process a second time, holding the man under for 20 seconds. Again the man came up gasping and sputtering and was asked, “Do you see Jesus?” The reply was the same. “No.”
So for a third time and for thirty seconds, the man was held under the water. When he came up again, the pastor asked, “Do you see Jesus?”
“NO!” replied the man, “Are you sure this is where he fell in?”
This week, we recount the baptism of Jesus as Matthew reports it. It might be helpful to know that as long as there has been baptism in the Church there has been controversy over it. There are scholars who believe the Matthew was trying to help the Church understand why Jesus was baptised. Mark’s Gospel had raised the question about why the Messiah needed to be baptised when he did not know sin. That is why Matthew recounts the discussion in Matthew 3.13-17, between John and Jesus. Jesus tells John that it is okay to do this because it is the righteous thing to do.
For Jesus, Baptism was and remains about relationships – with God, yes. Baptism is also about our relationships with each other. Baptism provides for the community and for the individual necessary identity. Relationships and identities must been maintained if they are going to be worth anything. It is why when John was baptizing and preaching he warned the religious people about coming, being baptized, because they think it is the religious or spiritual thing to do. After all, one needs to cover all the bases, right? That is why John warns them off and tells them not to approach unless they mean it and he calls them a bunch of snakes.
Baptism is a great leveler. Archbishop Tom Morgan, who is a retired Canadian Bishop, once said to a group of clergy of which I was part, that, “No one is greater than they are at the moment of their baptism.” We are all equal at the edge of the lake, the foot of the cross and at the Lord’s Table. We get wet to take on his death and new life. We also need to come to the Table to be fed that we might truly live that new life that we have been given. Baptism tells us who we are, and who we belong to – God in Christ and to each other. We are not born as Anglicans nor are we made Christians. We choose these things just as God chose to send his Son, his Beloved, to us that we might know him and live. Jesus’ coming to us is a deliberate act of God and such acts can be accepted and received or rejected and discounted. God and his salvific acts cannot and will not be ignored.
Where does this leave us? Well there are a lot of things that could be said. But for me there are two important things that need to be said. The first thing is that the message that John, that Jesus and that the early Church preached is still needed today. The message? “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the Good News.” It is as true today as it was then. God has come near us in the person of Jesus Christ. We need to make people aware that there is another way to live this life and God is providing it. People need to be drawn to it.
Therefore we need to major in the ministry to the minors: the unworthy, the unnoticed, the unimpressive, the unknown, the unlovely, the unhealthy and the unwanted. The Master will show us who we truly are if we look for him in others – to seek and to serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbours as ourselves. It is important to do this because the other side of the coin has its consequences to. Who wants to face the Master at the end of it all and have him say to us, “When you did not do this to the least of these, you didn’t do it to me?” We have a choice to live out this life with Christ in the lead or to go our own ways which will leave us without Christ and real, abundant life that grows into eternity.
The second thing we need to recognize is that we are the broken pieces of bread made holy for the communion of this city. When you are invited to the table, you take in that which is holy. It works to consecrate you through the work of the Spirit and divine grace. Then you are sent out into the city – broken up to fed and care for the ones whom God has set in your path. We are those who will draw those who see the need to make changes in their life to the water’s edge. They will see Jesus in us as we seek to see and to serve Jesus in them.