Baptism: “Going Back Home”
Sermon prepared by the Rev. Dominique Peridans on the Baptism of Our Lord 2022
Four churches in a small Indiana town: Presbyterian, Methodist, Catholic and Episcopal. All four, oddly, are overrun with pesky squirrels.
The Presbyterians, after much prayer and consideration, determined that the squirrels were predestined to be there, and didn’t want to interfere with God's will.
The Methodists had to deal with the squirrels inhabiting the Baptismal font. Theirs was a very practical approach: cover the font. The squirrels, however, managed to move it and there were twice as many squirrels the next week.
The Catholics decided that they didn’t want to harm any of God's creation. So they trapped the squirrels and set them free outside of town. Three days later, the squirrels were back.
The Episcopalians had the most effective solution. They baptized the squirrels and registered them as parishioners. Now they only see them on Christmas and Easter.
Speaking of Baptism, today we celebrate that of our Lord. Two questions, however, immediately arise for me, both of which may have a same answer.
We could at least have some chronology, even if Jesus’ childhood and adolescence are very largely hidden: the presentation of 40-day-year-old Jesus in the Temple, the finding of 12-year-old Jesus in the Temple... a soccer game or two…
The jump in time is actually not a problem because we are not recreating history, but, rather, celebrating the mystery of Jesus. This is another manifestation, a revelation.
Why is Jesus even being baptized?
He is the author of Baptism because the “author of our salvation”. He is “full of grace” (John 1:14), and grace is what we believe Baptism confers. This is another manifestation, a revelation. Notice “the heaven was opened”, the mystery of God revealed. The Holy Spirit, like a dove, that is to say, full of gentle love, descends, confirming the divine origin of Jesus. Then, “a voice came from heaven”, expressing divine delight: the Father. Son, Holy Spirit, Father. This epiphany is not only of Jesus but of the Trinity. It is the first explicit New Testament revelation of the Trinity.
There is another reason for Jesus’ Baptism. Jesus is to make use of John’s Baptism, the Baptism of repentance at the threshold of the New Covenant, to institute a Baptism that confers grace, the Baptism.
Saint Thomas Aquinas, 13th century, says
“Jesus wished to be baptized with a baptism which He clearly needed not, that those who needed it might approach unto it.”
Thus, in being baptized, Jesus makes a promise: to use the simple element of water to communicate divine life in a special way. A guaranteed encounter with the Triune God. (James Boylan soon will have this!) An encounter so guaranteed, that it led Saint Isidore, ancient Christian philosopher, Bishop of Seville, Spain, who died in 636—and who, by the way, invented the period, the comma and the colon—to say that “Baptism is not the work of man but of Christ, and this sacrament is so holy that it would not be defiled, even if the minister were a murderer.”
Those Baptismal waters led American singer-songwriter, Nina Simone, to sing
Take me to the water To be, to be baptized
I'm going back home, going back home Gonna stay here no longer
I'm going back home, going back home
Baptism confers grace to us, and grace grants us a share in God’s life, home. Indeed, the Baptism of Jesus reveals this. Jesus comes to be Baptized in the Jordan, through which the Israelites entered the Promised Land. By grace, and thus through Baptism, we enter the “Promised Land”, nothing less than God’s very own life, home.
Today, we celebrate
Jesus is the Beloved, in whom, we are the beloved. Each of us is a beloved child of God. God has given us everything, so that we be born again and share in His life
—which means a happiness deep in the heart that no one/nothing can take away. We must, of course, cooperate with grace. We do so by seeking God and letting ourselves be found by God and by stepping out in faith to love our neighbor. Loving neighbor is intrinsic to our relationship with Christ. Worry not, however. Christ makes this possible: “grace upon grace”… (John 1:16)
In his Catechism, published in 1538, John Calvin asks,
“How do you know yourself to be a child of God in fact as well as in name?” Answer:
“Because I am baptized in the name of God the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”