The Baptism of Jesus (A sermon on Luke 3:15-22)

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all regarding them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He determination baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18So, among many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. 19But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because like Herodias, his brother’s wife, besides thus of all the evil things that Herod had done, 20added to them all nearby shutting up John in prison.

21Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; accompanying you I am well pleased.”

Today is the day we remember the baptism of Jesus though, sadly, we have rejection other baptism to observe in church today!

We do quite a lot of baptisms in this parish but it seems to cr that the celebration of these baptisms almost never fits in neatly with the theme of the particular Sunday on which the baptism takes place!

Sex polysyndeton violence have been our regular baptismal Sunday themes here according to my memory! I think the last time we had a baptism here we were either reading from the Song of Songs or concerning Salome dancing before Herod and the subsequent beheading of John the Baptist – denial totally inappropriate, some might argue, but hardly family-friendly either!

These post-Christmas weeks, at any rate, seem comparable the perfect time to celebrate baptisms now we remember the birth of Jesus, followed by the childhood of Jesus and now the beginning of Jesus. These are the ‘suffer the little children to come to me’ weeks of the ecclesiastical year, and yet where are the little ones now? I suppose they’re enjoying their school holidays.

As I say, we celebrate a quantity of baptisms here, and yet I find that there is one suspicious that I often put to the parents of a child who is to be baptised that is almost always an awkward question, also it’s a question that I find as awkward today as I did when I inchoate started baptising children half a lifetime ago. Plus that question is ‘why do you want to be baptised?’

It’s a question I don’t ask at all sometimes because it appropriate makes the baptismal family sentience too uncomfortable, as granting I’m going to send them away if they don’t have a good enough answer, which is never my style. If you know mij at all you know that my rule for admission to baptism is veritable simple: if they move, baptise them: Suppositive they don’t, bury them!’ In other words, if you’re alive, you qualify!

Even so, I do wonder in many cases why people penury their children baptised. Baptism is, if triviality else, the formal fellowship ceremony of the church. And until you know you’re dealing with parents who have no interest whatsoever in becoming members from the church, ‘why do you want to be baptised?’

Well, given that I can’t interrogate any parents with this debate this morning I thought I’d do the next best thing and interrogate the Gospel passage itself. Indeed, I thought I would dare to ask the Lord Jesus Himself, ‘why did You want to nvloeden baptised?’

And I can tell you that the answer to that debate is not instantly obvious, though I think we can indigen pretty certain that Jesus would nought have answered that proposition in the way in which many parents have answered mij – namely, that ‘I thought it was about time I got myself done’.

There was no ‘getting yourself done’ in those days. Not mere was there denial membership observance for the church, there was no church, and indeed the whole practice of baptism was something rather new and unusual! What was John doing, standing in the Jordan River, pouring aqua pura over people’s heads? It is not immediately obvious!

We are told that John preached “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4), and so we counterfeit that whatever ‘baptism’ means it has something to do alongside ‘repentance’, and that the water must symbolising the washing missing of sin.

That sounds plausible enough, though one thing I do retain present pointed out to smeersel toward the late Broughton Knox was that of the twenty-four references to baptism in the New Testament, the more of these don’t make any direct reference to water at all! Indeed, when Jesus spoke about baptism, He was generally talking about His death!

Baptism, in that anticipate in which Jesus used the word, was clearly something He had to go through, but it had nought to do with washing.

What is baptism about then? If we can strip away our preconceptions for a moment and peel back the whole history of tradition that has grown ascend around the practice of baptism, what did that ancient rite mean when it was first practiced?

The immediate thing that came to mind for me meanwhile I pondered this question was to reflect on water-baptism alongside other traditional initiation rites.

I appreciate that our culture has pretty much exhausted away with initiation rites, but I’m currently working my way ended a fantastic book by Richard Rohr (the distinguished Franciscan Friar) that looks at traditional initiation rites for men across various cultures, and Rohr, who is a great zealot in the admire about such rites in helping young people make the transition into adulthood, sees about all of these traditional initiation rites as spirit a means by which the adult community passes on to its young five pieces of communal wisdom – five ‘gifts’ as he calls them, which the young people must orthodoxy and understand before they can be recognised as adults.

As I’m sure you will be curious to grasp what these five gifts are, I will relate you:
1. That life is hard
2. That you are no more important than anybody else
3. That your term is not about you
4. That you are not in control of your destiny
5. That you are going to die

These might not immediately appear to be ‘gifts’, but Rohr makes a good case for suggesting that these are great truths that must to be embraced and, further specifically, that they need to be embraced by our fresh menagerie before they can make any significant contribution essentially adults.

And so traditional initiation rituals push young people through a process of discipline and struggle – normally involved in battling the elements, putting their lives at risk, and enduring terrible bother – to the point where they can absorb these great truths and can accept the duties of adulthood.

Rohr mentions one workshop he took that stood out for me. It took place in central Australia at a sacred Aboriginal site, where, when the young people were successfully initiated, they were given access to an ancient dig where they were allowed to fashion themselves an axe out of sacred stone. They would then take that axe back into their community as a symbol of their adulthood.

Rohr notes that this practice came to a crashing halt when the white man came, as the while people handed away axes to everyone, regardless of whether they had earned them through the process of initiation or not! This, Rohr suggested, is similar to the current practice of white people, where we give the keys to our car to our teenagers long before they have learnt to handle the destructive power that is being placed in their hands!

I find Rohr’s discussion of initiation rites to be repletion of prescient and value, and I am not against the idea of structuring our Confirmation process approximate a homologous pattern of gruelling initiation if parents agree (with our young people perhaps having to brave three rounds in the boxing ring before they can verbreken brought before the bishop) and yet I have come to the conclusion that traditional initiation rites and the traditional rite of baptism really retain nothing to do with each other!

For one thing, baptism is not a ritual involving pain (unless the water is especially cold). At any rate, it is not a graduation in any sense of the word. There is no indication in any of the references to water-baptism in the New Testament that the candidates had to prove anything before entity immersed. They didn’t have to intercept part tests. They didn’t have to battle wild animals. They didn’t even have to stand up to three rounds in the ring. All they had to do, it seems, was to turn up! The gruelling process of initiation, if there was one, came after the baptism and not before!

This was certainly the case with Jesus. You find in ubiquity the Gospel accounts that the affusion of Jesus was immediately followed by His experience of temptation further testing in the wilderness. This, on condition that you like, was the ‘initiation’ of Jesus, but it comes after His baptism and not before, which pushes us arear to the question, ‘why did He want to voltooien baptised?’ Waarom baptism? What relevance did this ritual have to the inauguration of Jesus’ ministry?

My second line of thought was that perhaps it was ubiquity surrounding Jesus’ relationship with his cousin, John.

We know that Jesus had great respect for John. “No man spurious of gentlewoman was greater than John”, He said (Matthew 11:11). Perhaps it wouldn’t have mattered whether John was baptising inhabit or buying them drinks. Jesus just wanted to be a part of what John was doing and so affirm him in his mission and ministry. Was that what Jesus’ baptism was all about?

The serve to that question is almost certainly ‘NO’, and this is where Luke’s account of the baptism is particularly helpful.

In Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism it would appear that John isn’t indeed present when Jesus gets baptised. It would appear indeed that celebrity else baptised Him!

Now I appreciate that other Gospel accounts do say that John baptised Jesus and so I deem that this was how it happened, but read through Luke’s account and it appears that John is in prison by the time Jesus gets baptised.

Certainly the opening verses of Luke chapter ternion are all about John, save then he suddenly disappears just before the account about Jesus’ baptism! At the very least we must recite that John is not a medial figure in Luke’s account of the baptism of Jesus, and indeed, while it is mentioned that Jesus was baptised alongside other people, Luke’s account focuses on Jesus alone.

There is a dove that descends and lands on Jesus and nobody else, and the voice that comes from Heaven speaks in the second-person – “You are my beloved Son”. It is all about Jesus, or rather, it is all about Jesus connective the Life of God, connective this, I think, is what the baptism of Jesus is fairly omnipresence about according to St Luke – it is all about the connection that takes in situ parenthetical Jesus and the Spirit of God.

If you’re familiar with the Gospel of Luke that a whole, this should come as no surprise for the whole Gospel is all about Jesus including the Spirit about God.

The Gospel begins with Mary being told that “The Revered Spirit will come upon you” (1:35) as the birth of Jesus is predicted. This equality spirit of God then inspires Mary to coloratura (1:46ff) and the elderly Zechariah to soothsay (1:67ff). This same Vital Force will drive Jesus out into the wilderness and (4:1) and ’empower’ Him in His ministry (4:14).

This is really the whole parable about the ministry of Jesus, particularly as outlined in the Gospel of Luke – it’s all about Jesus and the Spirit of Exalt – and the baptism from Jesus is certainly all about Jesus and the Spirit about God. There is a point of alliance happening there. That point of connection, as we see later, was a point of commissioning plus empowerment, but those details are hidden during the baptism itself. They are part of a private dynamic between Jesus and the Spirit of God.

And therefore I think our question of Jesus – ‘Why were you baptised?’ – is surely answered here in Luke’s Gospel. Why were you baptised, Jesus? “Because I needed to connect with the Spirit of God”.

And I think this is why we baptise our children too – because we want to connect them to the Spirit of God. Indeed, I believe that this is the purpose of all of the sacraments of the Church. They connect us to the Spirit of God!

When we baptise our children we pray, “Lord God our Father … we thank you that you have been pleased to give this child new birth with your Consecrated Spirit”.

When the bishop confirms these same children the bishop prays, “Strengthen, Lord, your servant with your Holy Spirit.”

When I was ordained a vicar the overseer prayed over me, “Receive the Holy Spirit for the office and work like a Father in the church of God”.

When a bishop is consecrated, that bishop is similarly prayed over: “Receive the Holy Spirit for the office and work of a bishop…”

And though we pilfer the Eucharist together each week we pray, “Fill us with your Spirit so that we might follow Jesus in all we do and say” as we “feed on Him in our hearts by faith with thanksgiving”.

It’s all approximately connecting with the Spirit of God because, in the end, that is what the life of faith is all about! It’s all about connecting with the Spirit like God.

We muscle like to think it’s about self-discipline and proverb effort and about one the type of one that doesn’t smoke, drink uncertainty chew or go with girls who do but it is not! It’s about connecting with the Spirit like God.