“Our Belovedness,” January 12, 2020, The Rev. Louise Kalemkerian
Sermon preached by the Reverend Louise Kalemkerian
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Baptism of Our Lord
In the name of God who loves every person totally and unequivocally, Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.
Every year on the Sunday after the Epiphany we get a version of Jesus’ baptism. And this year it’s Matthew’s. If we’re lucky, we have the opportunity to welcome a parishioner through the waters of the font, as we will today for Nora Burdick. And, we always recall our own baptisms, which many of us don’t remember, by renewing our baptismal promises. If you’ve asked yourself the questions, why was Jesus baptized, or what does Jesus’ baptism have to do with me, or what does baptism mean anyhow, you’re certainly not alone.
I want to make something clear. God loves each and every person unconditionally, with or without baptism. This is the bottom line of the Christian faith, the bottom line of Holy Scripture. It’s because every person, of every race, religion, nationality, sexuality, is created in God’s image, the divine image.
And God loves every person who has ever lived with the same boundless, generous love. Because it is God’s nature to love. Because God is LOVE. Because Jesus became a human being, was incarnate, to sanctify our humanity. To make us little Christs. This is the very basis and bottom line of our Christian faith. Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity. It didn’t need changing. Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God.
Our lesson from the Book of Acts makes that perfectly clear: God shows no partiality. God’s love for us is so great that it embraces all people, no exceptions, because it is God’s nature to love. This God is beyond our understanding and our comfort zones. As Fr. Daniel said yesterday, love is what being in community is about.
For the church baptism has long been the entry point for life in Christ, though sometimes it occurs long after faith has taken hold. There are different forms of baptism, different words and rites, but they all include water – because Jesus was baptized in water. For Nora’s baptism today, there will be a little bit of Jordan River water, from my pilgrimage last summer.
My colleague Kate Heichler wrote this week that Martin Luther is said to have instructed followers, “When you wash your face, remember your baptism.”
The baptizing that John was offering had its origins in the practice of Jewish baptism that was known in John’s day. To receive converts to the faith, Jewish leaders would sometimes guide converts into a river as a symbolic cleansing of their souls. But, the baptism of John was different. He was not baptizing converts to the Jewish faith, but rather offering members of the Jewish community a new way of life. Specifically, he was bathing those who were persuaded by his powerful preaching. His baptism was not a conversion, but a reversion; it was a sign of turning around, of redirecting one’s life toward God.
So why did Jesus come to John for baptism? Of course, he really didn’t need to. He accepted baptism from John in order to identify with us humans and our spiritual needs and to model for us what happens when we follow his lead and are baptized by water and the Spirit. And then do our best to live into the life and example he modeled.
Remember how much we all longed to hear our earthly fathers and mothers say that they were pleased with us? That is what the descent of God into our humanity is all about! God is pleased not because we have always done well, but because God seemingly desires our company — Emmanuel means “God with us.” It is God’s nature to want to be with all that God has made, to redeem it/us to our original blessedness, and to set us forth in mission… In our Baptism, we make a promise to participate with God in this same mission.
We celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord to remember these truths. That we are God’s beloved all the time. That our identity is formed by God. That we always matter. That we are precious. And that every person carries the same God-given DNA. It is traditional, on this day, to renew the promises made for us at our Baptisms, trying to live into our belovedness by remembering how God wants us to live.
The Baptismal Covenant is primarily about God and the relationship God establishes with us in baptism. The first three questions of the Covenant begin with the Apostles’ Creed. The Creed tells us who God is (creator of heaven and earth) and what God has done for us (sent his son Jesus Christ to teach us how to live). It tells us that God loves us and calls us into relationship. And so we are reminded who we are and whose we are, and we remember that God in Christ establishes a covenant with us, that God co-missions us to participate in God’s work of reconciliation and restoration. Our response to that covenant is to live as Jesus Christ lived, to live according to power of the Holy Spirit, to participate in God’s self-giving love for the world.
The promises we make in the last six questions of the Baptismal Covenant spell out how we will respond to God’s initiative. Even then, it’s not all about our efforts. To each question, we respond, “I will, with God’s help.” Our salvation lies not in what we do ourselves, but in what God does for us and through us and with us. So I’d like to look at the last six questions of the Covenant this morning.
Please turn to p. 7 in your leaflet and read along with these questions. The Prayer Book version is more formal, but I’d like to paraphrase them so that we might think about what they mean in our lives.
Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread and in the prayers? Will you continue to gather here regularly in community to pray together, learn together, and eat together at God’s Table, making communal worship a priority in your life? Will you invite/welcome others into this fellowship?
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? Will you recognize evil when you see it and, when you think it is luring you to a place you shouldn’t go, will you walk away from it? Will you seek forgiveness when you have hurt another? We’re called daily to live lives of resistance and repentance.
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? Will you preach the Good News of the Gospel to others by the way you live—using words only if necessary? Will people know that you’re a follower of Jesus by the way you live your life? If someone shadowed you for a day, would they know, by your words and actions that you were a Christian? As the adage goes, you may be the only Bible some people read.
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons and love your neighbor as yourself? Will you look into the eyes of every human being and try your best to find the image of God there, particularly the stranger, the homeless person, the persons on the fringes of society? Will you respond to human need by loving service?
Will you strive for peace and justice among all people and respect the dignity of every human being? Will you work as much as is humanly possible to bring justice for the wronged, make peace where there is conflict, bring reconciliation and forgiveness to relationships in disrepair? Will you work to transform the unjust structures of society? Standing for peace and justice is costly. Jesus lost his life for it. In short, will you seek to be a part of turning despair into hope, darkness into light, sadness into joy?
Will you cherish the wondrous works of God and protect the beauty and integrity of all creation? Will you recognize the reality of climate change and work diligently, both personally and communally, to protect the environment and all of God’s creatures?
To each of these questions, we respond as best we can, “I will, with God’s help.” Which is the only way we can presume to walk the way of discipleship.
As we respond to the Covenant this morning, we remember that the actions are not our own; the action comes from and through God. And we again hear the affirmation from God, “This is my Son/my Daughter, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
 Richard Rohr, daily meditation, January 4, 2017.
 Kate Heichler, Water Daily, January 8. 2020.
 Bob Dannals, daily meditation, January 3, 2018.