Jesus’ baptism and our baptismal covenant


Scripture; Luke 3: 1-22, Baptism of Jesus Nigel Bunce

We renew our baptismal covenant today not as a pale re-enactment of Jesus’ own baptism.  That happened two thousand years ago at the River Jordan. Instead, we reaffirm that we are God’s people.  We try our best as we live and work in our ordinary, secular world.

Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism

Today we return to Luke’s account of the origins and life of Jesus. This passage finally catches Luke up with Mark’s presentation. Typically, Luke adds some details to bring colour to Mark’s narrative. For example, that the events took place in the 15th year of Tiberius’ reign.

And also, about what it meant for people in his day to repent. Tax collectors must not rake in more money than they should. Soldiers must not use threats and false accusations to extort money in the form of bribes.

Luke was not an Adoptionist

As I have said before, Mark’s Gospel is consistent with many early Christians’ belief that Jesus was an ordinary man whom God ‘adopted’ at his baptism. With the words, “You are my beloved Son.” On the Cross, he returned to ordinary human status when he despairingly cried out, “My God, why have you forsaken me?”

You cannot possibly take that message about adoption from Luke, who stressed from the outset that Jesus was the Messiah. Heavenly angels intervened in the births of Jesus and his cousin John the Baptist. Luke identified both of them as descendants of King David.

Over Christmas, we’ve seen a whole series of people recognizing Jesus as Messiah. Shepherds, Magi, Simeon and Anna. Now, even God authenticated his mission. “You are my Son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased.” All these events testify to the holiness of Jesus.

This morning, we reaffirm our own baptismal covenant

 It’s something that we do every year. There are two parts to this. First comes the Trinitarian credo. “Do you believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit?” Then we put flesh on those bare bones. There are six questions.  Each of them asks “Will you … ? “

continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread and in the prayers?
persevere in resisting evil, and whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?
seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbour as yourself?
strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
strive to care for and safeguard the integrity of God’s Creation?

With God’s help

These questions connect baptism to making the Kingdom of God a reality.  The answer to each of them is, “I will, with God’s help.” To make them more amenable for online worship, I have combined them today into a single promise. 

They also connect to issues that are very “live” in present day Canada. To seek to find Christ in all persons and to respect the dignity of everyone. These speak precisely to the legacy of colonialism and issues around racial discrimination. 

They are serious responsibilities, but God doesn’t ask us to shoulder the burden alone.  But the beautiful Scripture from Chapter 43 of Isaiah can give us comfort. ‘I am the Lord your God. You ae precious in my sight, and honoured, and I love you … I have called you by name; you are mine.”

Growing into new clothes

I recall a sermon by the Lutheran Bishop Michael Pryse at a clergy retreat that I attended some years ago. He likened baptism to the clothes that we remember our parents buying for us when we were growing up.

They were always a bit too large. Our mothers would tell us that this was so that we could grow into them. Baptism, he said is like that. The size is always a little too large. . Baptism itself may be a one-time deal, but following Jesus is something that we have to work on throughout life.

That’s why I think it is important to re-recite our baptismal promises every time we read about Jesus’ own baptism. Those promises are very hard to keep. We all have prejudices to keep in check. And 2021 told us very clearly that human activities are impacting our environment. Not in some distant future. No; right now.

To sum up

What we do this morning is not a pale re-enactment of what happened two thousand years ago at the River Jordan. It is instead to reconfirm that we are God’s people living and working in our ordinary, secular world to establish God’s rule of justice, peace and love.

Call it evangelism; call it mission. Those are just fancy words for doing our best to be the face of Christ to the people we meet. Our baptismal covenant tells us how to do it. Continue to gather together as a parish. Respect other people, no matter who they are. Care for God’s Creation.  And on that last point, it’s hard to avoid despair.  See, for example, the new satiric movie Don’t look up.  

As the January 2022 issue of the Anglican Journal noted, the COP26 conference last November was very discouraging.  There was almost unanimous agreement that climate change is real and accelerating.  But it was equally obvious that the community of nations intends to address the problem only half-heartedly.  What about we, God’s people?

So, I end by repeating that our baptismal promises must always attest that we are God’s people living and working in our ordinary, secular world, to establish God’s rule of justice, peace and love. Amen.