All This

by: Rev. Jason Radmacher

Text: Mark 1:4-11

The Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John agree that the turning point in Jesus’ public life was his baptism in the Jordan River by the hand of his cousin John.

Today, we’ve heard Mark’s record of that event.
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

 

Jesus’ temptation, his ministry, his death and resurrection all flow from this moment, as do the Church and our faith as Christians.

There’s a strong current running between the manger, the Jordan, the Cross, and what we do here today at this celebration of the Lord’s baptism and remembrance of our own. That current carries Good News of God’s grace through the ages and refreshes faithful hearts everywhere with the promise of Christ’s eternal presence.

Baptism gives shape to our identity as a Christian community and reveals something essential about who we are and what we’re all about.

Given the vital function in plays in our lives, therefore, it’s important for us to think deeply about baptism.

Why do we baptize?

How do we baptize?

What do we believe is happening when we baptize?

Questions like these can fuel our thoughts and invigorate our prayers.

Likewise, I recently came across a passage written by Bishop Will Willimon that pulls our reflections on baptism into even deeper waters.

Bishop Willimon writes,

Baptism is essentially something which God does…From [our] point of view, the question asked of…baptism is, “What does this mean to me, and what am I doing when this happens?” [but the better question is,] “What does this mean to God, and what is God doing when this happens?” (Remember Who You Are, p. 33)

“What does baptism mean to God, and what is God doing when baptism happens?”

What a remarkable question!

For me, the difference between answering Willimon’s question and the question “What does this mean to me?” is like the difference between warming up a frozen dinner in the microwave and being treated to anything off the menu at your favorite restaurant.

I don’t believe thinking about what baptism means to us is bad. It probably won’t hurt us. Something is just lacking from the experience.

But shifting our question to God’s point of view, to God’s activity, the possibilities appear limitless. Instead of thinking about what our experience lacks, instead of cultivating thoughts of scarcity, we’re drawn deeper and deeper into the reality of God’s abundance—abundant love, abundant grace, abundant possibilities.

Through the Sacrament of Baptism we are initiated into Christ’s holy church.

 

We are incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation and given new birth through water and the Spirit.

 

All this is God’s gift offered to us without price.

We hear these words regularly in worship, but we need to be clear about what’s being said.

Initiates, incorporates, gives, offers—God does these things. We receive “all this” and more.

It’s true. This statement—it appears in your bulletin today as the Invitation to Reaffirm the Baptismal Covenant—is loaded with promise and meaning. But, far from being just a nifty little liturgical turn of phrase, it expresses the heart of the Gospel. In fact, when compared to what the New Testament says about baptism, we could be accused of saying too little.

Take the work of Saint Paul, for example. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul proclaims that God gives us in baptism a new identity that transcends the barriers once thought to determine so much about who people were and what they could accomplish in life.

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

Society’s roles, the privileges and obstacles of your birth, your upbringing, your experience; Paul says that the various roads we’ve traveled, the paths upon which we’ve stumbled and been denied access, have no power over our destiny because of the new identity God gives us in baptism.

Paul goes on to say that the basis for this new identity is nothing less than Jesus’ resurrection. In other words, Christian unity and our identity in Christ aren’t simply the product of a new point-of-view or perspective. Our identity is tied to history’s crucial event.

Paul elaborates on this in his letter to the Romans.

We have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

 

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

“Incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation” is fine, but it just doesn’t have the same punch as what Paul said, does it?

The New Testament goes on.

Revelation speaks of those who “have the seal of the living God” who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

In Acts, baptism was the Ethiopian Eunuch’s response to the Good News that he wasn’t a second class citizen in God’s kingdom.

And Saint Peter boldly compared baptism to Noah’s ark.

Baptism, which [the Ark] prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

What does baptism mean to God, and what is God doing when baptism happens?

Pondering this question helps us to recognize that, thanks be to God, the font before us is filled with Good News, overflowing with God’s goodness, and brimming with the promises that God would realize among us.

The waters of baptism have the strength to bring down barriers.

They carry the gift of life to desert places.

They quench our deepest thirst.

They wash the foulest clean.

The chapel at Belmont Abbey College not far from Charlotte, North Carolina is home to a unique baptismal font. Belmont’s basin is carved into a large stone, a stone with an incredible story to tell.

The baptismal font at Belmont Abbey College is carved into a piece of granite that’s been on the school’s property for hundreds of years—but that property hasn’t always been a school, and that rock hasn’t always been a tool of worship.

Before the Abbey’s monks came to that part of North Carolina, you see, the land where their college now stands was a plantation and the stone that would become their baptismal font was an auction block.

Men, women, and children were once made to stand on the stone so that they could be inspected, purchased, and sold into slavery.

After the Civil War, a priest bought the old plantation and gave it to a community of Benedictine monks who built a chapel and a college there.

And the monks turned the millstone into a baptismal font to which they affixed a plaque that reads,

Upon this rock, men were once sold into slavery. Now upon this rock, through the waters of baptism, men become free children of God.

Friends, Belmont Abbey’s chapel holds something unique, but the promises spoken round that roughhewn stone are proclaimed wherever God’s waters flow.

“What does baptism mean to God, and what is God doing when baptism happens?”

Baptism means that the past doesn’t get to write the future and that change is possible because God brings to the water new life, and forgiveness, and transformation.

The waters of baptism have the strength to bring down barriers.

They carry the gift of life to desert places.

They quench our deepest thirst.

They wash the foulest clean.

And “all this is God’s gift offered to us without price.”

Thanks be to God for this gift and for this Good News. Amen.

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