“More Than Just Water”
January 13, 2008, Matthew 3:13-17, Acts 10:34-43

Baptism is an interesting concept. Different denominations see it differently, and apply it’s use differently. Some churches baptize infants and children, then later have them be confirmed into membership of their church, in a sort of reiteration of the baptismal vows. Some other churches only bless children, expecting they will at some point later in their life, choose to be baptized after making a public affirmation that Jesus Christ is their Lord and Saviour.

Some churches sprinkle water on the forehead, others require full immersion, being fully submerged in the water. Some people like to have fun with it and call it “dipping.” Everyone is of course entitled to their own opinion on how baptism is performed. But what we really need to focus on is, what does baptism mean, not so much when or how it is performed.

This morning we see John the Baptist standing in the Jordan River, baptizing people, prophesying about the coming Messiah. Then comes Jesus. He walks up to John to be baptized, but John feels he is not privileged enough to do it. John says he should be the one coming to Jesus, not the other way around. But Jesus responds telling John it is alright, it has to happen this way, John has to baptize him.

John finally consents and baptizes Jesus. And just as Jesus comes up out of the water, the heavens are opened and the Spirit of God descends upon him, and the voice of God is heard “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Put yourself in John’s shoes for a moment. You are baptizing people from all over who have come to you. The next person comes, and it’s Jesus. You are well aware of who Jesus is, even before his ministry starts. You recognize him as the one you are telling people to expect. And he asks you to baptize him. Wouldn’t you feel unworthy? What would you say? John probably has words he shares with each person who came to him to be baptized. But what in the world could you say to Jesus at this moment? He is the one you are telling people about? “I bless you in the name of… ummm… you”? Thankfully, when it’s over there really isn’t much to say. God says it for him, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

And that’s it! That’s all we hear about the baptism of Jesus. Last week he was still an infant, visited by the wise men. We’ve skipped about 30 years to where Jesus is now ready to begin his ministry. Already he is living out everything he will teach us, in just these few verses.

Jesus will teach us about love, he will teach us about caring unconditionally for the needy, he will teach us about giving of ourselves without asking for anything in return. In his baptism, we see these traits. Jesus comes to John to seek baptism, but John realizes that he is not worthy of this task. John knows he should be the one coming to Jesus, not the other way around. Jesus is divine, how can a human baptize God’s Son? But Jesus submits himself, he submits to someone lower than himself. Jesus humbles himself, and rises from the water blessed and anointed by God. His ministry now begins.

Today, baptism continues to be a sacramental welcoming of people of all ages into the church. We make promises to one another and to God as we become members of Christ’s church. Big promises to take part in ministry, to commit ourselves to Christ’s mission in the world.

What did Jesus do after his baptism? Did he go home and continue to work at being a carpenter?Did he sleep in the following Sunday and skip church? No, his ministry began right there. The first thing Jesus did was go into the wilderness and fast 40 days and nights, and was tempted by Satan to rebel, to sin against God.

The act of baptism is more than just the sprinkling of water, it’s about commitment. It’s more than just becoming a member of a group of people. It’s about being a member of God’s church, and acting out the call God has placed in our hearts.

Peter, in our reading from Acts today speaks of the start of Jesus’ ministry. Peter speaks about how it was from the moment of Jesus’ baptism his work began, but not only began, it spread throughout all of Judea, starting from the banks of the Jordan River. How Jesus, from that day on, was anointed by the Holy Spirit to serve and do good. To help the oppressed, because God was with him always. Even in dieing on the cross, because God raised him on the third day to continue his ministry. To instruct the disciples to preach and continue serving others in his name.

This was Jesus’ response to his baptism. No matter what we do, we cannot do all he has done. But what we can do is think deeply, well more than that, we can pray about what it is we are doing. Are we helping? In our commitments we make to God through our baptism, and by our connection to the church, we are being called to do ministry. Being Christian means more than just being regular attendees of church, it means being aware of God’s calling in our lives, and to hopefully be able to respond to that call.

Jesus was fully aware of what he was to do. He prayed each and every day, communicating with God about what he was doing. A sort of checking-in so to speak, making sure he was still on the right path. We are able to have that same connection, we too can pray for direction. We too can choose to do the work of God with our lives and gifts… or not.

There are many places in our world where God can do His work, He just needs the labourers to do it. There are many issues in PEI where maybe God is calling us to respond. Questions around responsibility for care of the earth in farming, fishing, and energy production. Questions around the quality of life and support from government and medical institutions. And if we look across Canada there are also important issues. If we look at Alberta for instance, sure it’s an economic powerhouse… but at what cost? There are poor communities and aboriginal communities which are feeling the effects of the massive environmental impact the oil industry is placing on the fragile landscape of northern Alberta. Even in Canada people are being oppressed, their voices ignored as we seek economic prosperity.

And around the world, we catch only glimpses of the horrors that are happening. Several nations in Africa are seeing hundreds of people killed in civil violence. Pakistan, the Middle East, all over the world people are taking advantage of one another, at great expense to those who have no voice.

So what can we do? First we pray. Then we pray some more. And after that, we should probably pray some more. Then we do what we feel God is calling us to do. The starting point may be as simple as something in our community. From there it may grow into something much larger. There are plenty of examples of times when a local action becomes a global movement. Look at the example of the two boys who responded to a bullying incident in their school. A classmate was being bullied and harassed for wearing a pink shirt one day. They decided to wear pink shirts themselves, in support of their classmate. This action became international news, with “pink shirt days” happening in schools all over the world. It became a symbol that bullying will not be tolerated. That people are equal no matter how they look, or what they are wearing.

Jesus’ ministry began with a simple baptism in a river. It grew and spread all over the world, even thousands of year’s after his death, as people continue to follow his teachings, and do the work God is calling them to do.

So where do we go from here? Is change required? Probably. How will it look? Who knows! Well, God does of course.

Baptism is more than just water. It is an acknowledgment that God is more than just a being we come to worship on Sunday morning. It is an acknowledgment that God is real and active in the world around us. And the question remains… what is it God would have us do as followers of Jesus Christ to spread His love and His Gospel to the people we meet?