The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
Baptism of our Lord
January 12, 2020
Jesus goes into the wilderness to see John the Baptist in order to be baptized by him in the River Jordan. This is the culmination of all we have been expecting through Advent and Christmas. In this moment, we recognize the fullness of Jesus as the Son of God. As the Christmas carol says, “the hopes and fears of all the years” are met together in this moment. The hope that God would one day deliver God’s people from sin and death into righteousness and life. The fears, the fear of death, is now put away. This man, God’s very own flesh, has come to dwell with us and to restore our human nature.
All righteousness is now being fulfilled. Going down into the water and coming back up again foreshadows Jesus dying and rising again for our sakes. Death has lost its sting. Resurrection is now guaranteed. Jesus has been baptized. A baptism. Break out the punch and cake and you may as well splurge on the buttercream frosting.
And that voice calls out, “this is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” With whom I am well pleased. Huh. God, could you show a bit more emotion here? I’m mean, we’re eating cake and punch. Maybe, “with whom I am ecstatic, overjoyed, over the moon for?” Just, well pleased? God is just happy, content, well pleased (for reference, see here). I mean, our souls have been promised to us, the baptism is an assurance of eternal life, and God is only content?
I think this is instructive for us in the Christian life. All too often we go searching for spiritual highs that give us a quick boost, so that we can ecstatic, overjoyed, stoked. I remember going to Happening, a youth renewal retreat, as a high schooler. I got home from the retreat on Sunday evening and I was on fire for Jesus. By Monday, the glow had worn off and by Tuesday everything had gone back to “normal.” I see this all the time in the church. We had a good retreat at Camp Allen once, we really felt close to Jesus there, and we keep trying to recapture the magic of that moment. And it always disappoints us because that moment cannot be recreated. We can feel the bishop’s hands on our heads when we’re confirmed on a Sunday morning, but the feeling evaporates by the time the first work email hits your inbox on Monday morning. We start at overjoyed and we don’t even stop at content or well pleased in our plummet downward. Oh no, we go straight down to disappointed. The sugar high becomes a sugar hangover. So we go searching for more cake and more punch, but only because we want to fill that gaping hole with frosting and butter, counting on the sugar high to keep us going. This is not a sustainable model for discipleship. You will get burned out and disillusioned if all you ever do is go chasing that magical moment, thinking that maybe if you do it just right, then you’ll hear God’s voice. We have to find a way to sustain ourselves for the long haul. In other words, we need to unlearn the quick fix, and we have to relearn how to follow. We need to find a way to be well pleased.
We didn’t hear it in today’s gospel lesson, but immediately after Jesus is baptized, the Spirit leads him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And you thought you’ve been on a spiritual rollercoaster. But where we might feel defeated because a spiritual low comes after a spiritual high, Jesus takes it all in stride. What we see in the experience of Jesus - from the high of his baptism to the low of his temptation - is the example of how to live for the long haul. How to be well pleased.
To live for the long haul with God, to be a disciple, we must pray. We don’t only pray when times are good or when times are bad. Don’t treat prayer to God as your lifeboat in despair. Don’t treat prayer to God as your cake and punch. I believe that the humdrum prayers on humdrum days are what actually sustain us for the long haul. We learn this from the life of Jesus. All throughout the gospels, Jesus is withdrawing to find a quiet place of prayer. For the Christian, prayer must be a daily practice. Carve out the time, day by day, to offer yourself in prayer.
And I won’t buy it that you’re too busy to pray. You’re too busy not to pray. I know that your lives can be so hectic, so frenetic, so crammed with work and kids and family and worry that you need, you need to pray. For the long haul, you need to open yourself to that voice that speaks to you everyday, “you are my beloved, and with you I am well pleased.”
For the long haul of discipleship, you will also need community. Christian community. You will need each other. Notice, that Jesus does not baptize himself. John baptizes him. Even during his temptation in the wilderness, the angels wait on Jesus. And in just the next chapter, right at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus will call Peter, Andrew, James, and John to minister with him. Do not be so presumptuous as to think that you can be a disciple by yourself. You can’t. And it’s not just about you. Other people need you to help them in their discipleship. Think about that for a moment, other people in this church depend on you to know and to follow Jesus. That’s why being in church is so critical to our spiritual lives. It’s because we need each other to help us follow Jesus in the rollercoaster of life. We need each other for shoulders to cry on, for friends to rejoice with, and to have brothers and sisters to pray for us. By being in community with each other - studying the bible together, learning together, sharing our lives - we will hear that voice, “you are my beloved, with you I am well pleased.” For the long haul with Jesus, we need each other. We need each other to be well pleased, so that we don’t go bouncing around from spiritual high to spiritual low.
In just a few minutes, we are all going to reaffirm our own baptismal promises. And the first promise we make is to “follow in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.” Consider my sermon a commentary on that promise. And if they ever let me revise the Prayer Book, that question will simply read, “will you go to church?”
When Jesus is baptized in the River Jordan, it is the inauguration of his ministry. So too your baptism, the promises you made, were the beginning of your Christian life. It was then and there that you promised to pray, to be in church, and to share in this life of discipleship with your brothers and sisters in Jesus. When you choose to live that kind of life, you will be well pleased in your relationship with Jesus.
And now we are going to baptize Bowen and Sawyer. Through the ups and downs and the humdrum moments of their lives, they will need prayer, they will need you, and they will need each other, they will need the Church for the long haul. They will need to hear your voice tell them that God is well pleased with them. Yes, every baptism is a joy, every baptism is a blessing, and yes, we are going to break out the cake and the punch. But the water will dry off. The spiritual high won’t last for ever, it might not even last till the end of the day.
But your goal isn’t to live with Jesus until the end of the day. Your goal is to live with Jesus until the end of your life.