"Matt's Baptism" – Matthew 3:13-17
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
When my wife Lindsey and I attended the baptism of our nephew, Matt, it was a day of mixed emotions.
You see, Matt’s parents decided to raise him in the Catholic Church. Given that Lindsey and I, along with my in-laws figured to be the only non-Catholic attendees to the service, I wondered whether we would be allowed to stand at the font with Matt, or if we would be banished to the furthermost pew. I wondered if I would have any strong theological disagreement with whatever the priest would say during the baptism.
But most of all, and again I’m just being honest, I was sad that the decision to raise Matt Catholic meant both that Lindz and I would not be Matt’s godparents. Also it meant that I would not be able to baptize Matt myself.
When I was baptized, the man who presided over the service and who poured the water over my head was my uncle, who was a Lutheran pastor. In fact he baptized both my dad and me on the same day. I like that I can say that that I was baptized by someone in my family. I’m proud that my uncle was the first one who officially welcomed me into the church and the faith.
I was a seminary student when I first learned that I would soon become an uncle for the first time. I immediately made the connection, thinking, “My uncle was a pastor and he baptized me; now I’ll be a pastor and can baptize my nephew.” I wanted to be the first one to welcome him into the church and the faith. I wanted to establish a faith relationship with the little guy. Years down the road I want Matt to see me, be reminded of his baptism, and to know that God loves him and has claimed him as his own child.
Unfortunately, when Matt’s parents were making important decisions about their child’s faith, they didn’t put my needs front and center!
Of course, in the end, the baptism was a wonderful event. We were not banished to the dark corner of the church, but instead were welcomed to stand at the font for the baptism and even invited to stand near the altar for the blessing. There were laughter, smiles, approximately a thousand combined pictures taken, and a liturgy that was beautiful and profound.
What really matters is that there was a lot of love in that church; a lot of love surrounding Matt and his parents. The whole family was welcomed and supported. It was a triumphant entry into God’s kingdom.
And that’s what baptism is all about – it’s all about love.
We learn about this love in today’s scripture. Jesus comes to the Jordan River so that he can be baptized. He walks into the river. John is at his side and guides Jesus under the water. The water covers his head. Jesus is then brought back up. As his face breaks the surface of the water he is embraced by the Holy Spirit and he receives a revelation which tears apart the heavens. He is told that he is loved. The first thing that happens after Jesus has been baptized is God claims him as a son and says out loud, “I love you.”
In baptism, Jesus learns who he is and whose he is; and this will guide his ministry from that moment on. Every miracle he performs, every healing that takes place, every word from his lips, even his death on a cross, is a testament to the fact that God loves him, has claimed him as his Son, and has given him the power of the Holy Spirit. God’s love enables him to live a selfless life of service to those in need.
Like you and me, Jesus needed to know that someone loved him. Like you and me, he needed the gifts that are bestowed at baptism so that he could live a life of service to others. If Jesus did not know that God loved him, there would have been no healings, no miracles, and no salvation.
In baptism we too were claimed as God’s beloved. Our sacrament of baptism is not an initiation ritual granting entry into an exclusive club; rather, it is a ritual in which we are claimed, called, and commissioned to live lives of service to God and others.
Baptism is a relationship based on God’s love for us. In baptism, God’s permanent and unconditional love is explicitly made known to the one being baptized. It’s a relationship that will never experience a breakup or a painful divorce. God will never leave us. When parents bring their children to be baptized, they are saying, “We love you.” We love you so much that we want you to grow up surrounded by as much love as possible. We especially want you to know that God loves you and will always love you.
With regards to my nephew’s baptism, I initially lost sight of my role in his life. My desire to baptize him myself was selfish. I lost sight of the fact the most important relationship in baptism is between God and the one being baptized. My responsibility is to daily remember my baptism and let it inform every decision I make; so too, my responsibility is to remind my nephew that he has been claimed, called and commissioned to live a life of service to others and to God.
Matt doesn’t look at me and recall his baptism, but I try to make sure he looks at me and is reminded that God loves him.
May we all take the time each day to remember our baptism; to remember that God loves us and claims us as His sons and daughters. May we remember who we are and whose we are. May God’s love move us to live lives of thankfulness and service in Jesus’ name.