Sermon for Epiphany 1 January 9th 2022 Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
How are we changed by Baptism? By Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Klein
Good morning and a warm welcome to each one of you online and here in in the nave this morning. We are so blessed to have this sacred time to dwell in God’s word, the Good News. These are challenging times as we struggle with the ongoing COVID pandemic, fires in Colorado and gun violence here in Oregon. My hope is that we can hear and wonder about Jesus’ baptism and our own baptism and how these 2 events change us, change our hearts and minds to live with faith, hope and love.
I love baptisms. The history of baptism is fascinating. The name ‘‘baptism’’ came from the Greek noun bßptisma, ‘‘the dipping, washing, to dip’’ or ‘‘immerse.’’ In classical Greek, Baptism was used in the literal sense of ‘‘dipping’’ and in the figurative sense of ‘‘being overwhelmed’’ with sufferings and miseries. In the New Testament, however, the verb baptàzw means the religious ceremony of baptism. The ancient world used the waters of the Ganges in India, Euphrates in Babylonia, and the Nile in Egypt for sacred baths. The purifying properties of water have been ritually attested to ever since the rise of civilization in the ancient Near East. Water and washing and ritual baths were important prior to the birth of Jesus. Ritual baths, or miqva’ot, have been excavated at the entrance to the Jerusalem temple built by Herod the Great. People would wash in a miqva’ot, after traveling long distances to the temple to present offerings or to pray.
Even before Jesus’ ministry began, John the Baptist preached to repent and be baptized. On the first Pentecost, Peter told the crowd of 3000 to “repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” Saul, after being blinded while speaking to Jesus and three days later receiving his sight back, was told by Ananias to be baptized. Baptism was an important part of the early church.
Early Christians did not baptize quickly. Candidates for baptism went through a gradual exploration of the Christian life in community. The process could take years. There was a final preparation that involved intense preparation during Lent for baptisms that were to take place at Easter. Lent originated as a period of imitation of Christ facing temptations of the Accuser (Satan) in the desert. Throughout Lent, candidates fasted, gave alms and explored how their lives and behaviors were transformed, changed by the Good News of Jesus’s example of justice, peace, and love. This process of change or transformation is what the Greeks call Metanoia, translated as “conversion” and “repentance” and a turning or change of heart.
Those candidates that were chosen as ready for baptism, bathed on Thursday and fasted on Friday and Saturday before baptism. Saturday night was spent in vigil. Early baptisms were associated with the Easter Vigil, the Exsultet and the blessing of the paschal candle.
But what about today?
What is baptism and what is its meaning and significance? According to The Book of Common Prayer, page 858, Holy Baptism is the sacrament by which God adopts us as his children and makes us members of Christ’s body, the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God. God adopts us as his children, we become members of the Church and inherit the kingdom of God.
The inward and spiritual grace of baptism is “union with Christ in his death and resurrection, birth into God’s family the Church, forgiveness of sins, and new life in the Holy Spirit” WOW!! (page 858) We are baptized into something. A fundamental change takes place in each of us. An adult is baptized after accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior through faith. Children are baptized after their parents and sponsors promise to raise them to be faithful. The Rite asks “do you renounce your old way of life? And will you continue in your new way of life?”
When we go under the waters of baptism we die with Christ, and when we emerge from the waters of baptism, we rise with Christ. The old sinful self dies. A new person is raised to life. Like Christ, we receive the Holy Spirit to empower us for our new life, and God adopts us as sons and daughters. He calls us, “beloved.” I love to think about the birth of a new baby and the first breath of a baby when it is born. (Take a big breath) I delivered a lot of babies as a family doctor. It is magical, mystical and amazing. And once a baby is born, it is changed. And as any parent will tell you, we are all changed by a new birth in our family.
Second, in baptism we join a new community. The Book of Common Prayer calls this community, “one body, The Church.” We come together to worship, to learn, to serve and to support each other, and to be transformed into the image of Christ.
The church is People of God called out to bear witness to the free and transformative gift of grace that we received in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As a community we eat bread and drink wine
to recall and rejoice in Jesus’ love for us and his resurrection for us. I quote Rowan Williams who says “The church should be a community of those who have been immersed in Jesus’ love, and are changed by it.” “A well-functioning Christian community is one in which everyone is working steadily to release the gifts of others.”
There are so many gifted people here at Grace Memorial. I wonder how we can support each other in our ministries. I have some ideas for the new year. Stay tuned, coming soon.
In a few minutes we will renew our Baptismal vows. We will recommit to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in prayers. In Baptism, we promise to persevere in resisting evil, and whenever we fall into sin, to repent and return Lord. Our world is full of things that take us away from God including money, power, and selfish desires and so many other things. We need to reconcile with God and with one another when we sin and say, “I’m sorry.” And return to God. Begin again.
In Baptism, we promise to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. Yes, even we Episcopalians need to talk about our faith with others. In our Baptism, we promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. We are to look for Jesus in all we meet, even when it might be hard for us to see him. In Baptism, we promise to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being. We Christians are called to respect and treat every single person with dignity and respect. Even and especially people that we do not necessarily like, with God’s help.
I thank God for the gift of water and especially for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit. May we each renew our own baptismal vows today and experience God’s love and grace as we begin a new year. May we start anew, be born again. (Take a big breath).
In conclusion, I pray for our wisdom, courage, and strength that we may each grow into our Baptismal Promises and Ministries, with God’s help. May Christ, the Son of God, be manifest in each one of us so that our lives may be a light to the world.
I conclude with 3 questions for us to ponder as we begin this new year. What does Baptism mean to you? How does it change you? How does it change us?
References- Book of Common Prayer Holy Baptism Page 299-314 and Catechism page 845-862
Commentary on the American prayer Book by Marion J. Hatchett 1995
Ancient Christian Worship by Andrew B. McGowan 2014
The Shape of Baptism: The Rite of Christian Initiation 1978