Homily, An Invitation to the Waters of Baptism
First Sunday after the Epiphany, The Baptism of Jesus, 2023
Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
The Rev. Derek M Larson, TSSF
Today’s Lectionary Readings:
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Every year on New Year’s Day, thousands of people gather in Vancouver to take a plunge into the 46 degree water of the English Bay for the annual Polar Bear Swim. Forty-six degrees!
Why would anyone do that? I’m not sure I could ever do that!
But it does remind me of one time last year when my brother’s family came to visit on a cold, windy, winter’s day. Despite the weather we all went to the beach, mostly just to see the water, but I mustered the courage and decided to go for a swim. Amidst the waves and the wind and cold, my family shook their heads at me! But after a few minutes of laughing and enjoying myself, I convinced my brother to join me and we had the best time.
Now I know swimming in Florida on a winter’s day is NOTHING like swimming in Vancouver on a winter’s day, but it helped me understand just a little bit why so many people would gather for the Polar Bear Swim.
We take the plunge because we are invited by someone already in the water.
Our gospel passage this morning begins with someone in the water. First, it was John the Baptist. Inviting people to come for a baptism of repentance. And people came. Despite the cold discomfort of acknowledging their sins, the Scripture says that people came from all around Jerusalem and Judea to join him in those waters.
And then came Jesus. Who came also to be baptized by John. And as he was coming up out of the water, the heavens opened and the Spirit came down upon him like a dove, and a voice proclaimed, “This is my Son. The Beloved.”
This is Jesus’ first appearance as an adult in all of the gospels. We’ve heard the miraculous stories of his birth, but this is the first thing we hear about Jesus as an adult, when he begins his ministry.
And it’s no accident that here in the third chapter of Matthew Jesus begins his ministry standing in the waters of baptism and that in the final verse of the final chapter of Matthew, Jesus ends his ministry with the words of the Great Commission: “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
In the beginning: baptism. In the end: baptism. And everything in between—his teaching, his healings, his miracles, his life, his death, his resurrection—it’s all an invitation to join him in the waters of baptism. For it is in the waters of baptism that we find our true identity and calling in life.
When we join Jesus in the waters of baptism, the heavens open not only to him, but to us, and we hear the voice of God proclaiming about us: This is my child. This is my child. This is my child. And I love them.
This is the very foundation of our faith: the affirmation in baptism that we are each and every one of us a child of God and that God loves us. Everything we do after our baptism ought to point back to this affirmation: You are God’s child. And God loves you.
The invitation to join Jesus in the waters of baptism, then, is not simply an invitation to get dunked or sprinkled once, but to make the waters of baptism our daily nourishment. To drink deeply from the living water Jesus offers so that in everything we do we live into believing that we are beloved children of God. We may only be baptized once, but the waters of baptism live on into every aspect of our lives.
When you feel lost or alone, you keep going because you know that you are God’s child and God loves you. When you are cut down by others and treated poorly, you still stand tall because you know you are God’s child and God loves you. When you doubt your own purpose or worth, you reassure yourself because you know you are God’s child and God loves you.
And as God’s beloved children standing assured in our own identity we take up the calling in our baptismal covenant to invite others into that truth. We volunteer at the food pantry because we know our visitors are fellow children of God and God loves them. We speak out against racism and white supremacy because we know our neighbors are children of God and God loves them. We love our enemies, because we know they are children of God and God loves them.
We have all been invited by Jesus into the waters of baptism. It’s the very foundation of our faith.
Now most of us in this room have already responded to that invitation. I invite you then today as we hear the story of Jesus’ baptism, to think of and remember your own baptism. To reaffirm in your heart those words spoken from heaven. To reaffirm in your heart our baptismal covenant. That those waters for us may become not only a memory, but that we may drink deeply from them as a daily nourishment. Amen.