Monday, January 4, 2016

Baptism: A New Identity – 10 January 2016 – Baptism of Jesus

Jesus’ baptism opens the possibility of teaching about baptism as the first sacrament while also addressing the new identity we receive as baptized children of God, adopted siblings of Jesus, and people anointed for holy work in our vocations.

When a congregation has not emphasized the importance of baptism, it is easy for it to slip to the side as a sacrament that is nice but not necessary or even a rite that stands as an obstacle to inclusivity. Given the complexity of our sacramental images, teach the significance of the Holy Spirit’s coming into an individual’s life along with the many ways baptism is described in scripture and in the writings of early theologians––baptism as light, drowning, rising from the dead, new birth, belonging, love from God, acceptance, and many more.

Baptism is an essential welcome into God’s communion of saints.

Although the majority of baptized children tend to participate in confirmation years following their baptism, the level of commitment to church participation varies greatly among families in the years that separate baptism from confirmation. Perhaps a more satisfying and faithful approach is to put greater focus and emphasis on the naming dimension found in Jesus' baptism: You are marked by God's love. A parallel message is found in the Isaiah lesson: “Do not fear, for … I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” The combination of these two lessons. . . on this occasion. . . reinforce the sense of acceptance and love from God to us, a theme that cannot be told too often. – Carol J. Noren

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

John the Baptizer proclaims that this [coming] one will also bring a baptism from above, but one that will not involve water. Rather, his will be a baptism of the Spirit and of fire—images of cleansing and conviction of sin. Luke's text illustrates for us that this message was clearly received, for Herod, who had been the object of more than one of John's fiery sermons, promptly had John thrown in prison. . . .

So, the message of Christ—the “good news” God anointed him to bring—is not only about cleansing and conviction, it is also about peace. It is a life message that is preached through acts of goodness and works that bring healing.

If, on this day of remembrance of the baptism of our Lord, we are to renew our commitment to follow in the way of Jesus, then perhaps we may renew, as well, our commitments to peace, to goodness, and to healing, as well as to the naming of that which is wrong and hurtful in our world. May we hear the voice saying, “You are my Beloved; with you I am well pleased!” – John Fairless

Isaiah 43:1-7

This poem is an assurance of Israel's redemption from exile. The passage begins and ends with the words: created, formed, named, and called to underscore the deep special relationship between the Holy One (vv 1, 7) and Jacob/Israel (vv 1, 4, 7). Allusion to God's protection through water and fire identify redemption from exile as a new exodus and new entry into Canaan (vv 2, 4). . . . The passage presumes all in diaspora would be reassembled as witness to the glory of God who created, formed, named, and called Israel. – Regina Boisclair

Acts 8:14-17

In the third gospel, Luke's John the Baptist claims that the one to come will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire (Luke 3:16). In Acts, the sequel to Luke's gospel, the ministry of Jesus' followers begins only after they were baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1–5). From that point on reception of the Holy Spirit becomes an integral aspect of Christian initiation and is distinguished from baptism (Acts 2:38; 10:44). Neither one nor the other alone suffice. . . to mark new believers. – Regina Boisclair

God calls, gathers, names, and sends the baptized to be peace in our weary world. May this word inspire your preaching for this Sunday and always.

Regina Boisclair, a Roman Catholic theologian, is professor of religious studies, Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage.

John Fairless is senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Gainesville, Florida.

Carol J. Noren, a United Methodist pastor, is the Wesley W. Nelson professor of homiletics at North Park Theological Seminary. She served chuches as pastor in Minnesota for twenty years.

Homily Service 40, no. 2 (2007): 23-34.

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