May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, Our strength, Redeemer and the font of All grace – Amen
How many of you were baptised as a Baby or young child?
A quick show of hands, if you please, how many were baptised young?
I too was baptised as a baby, and I don’t remember it all…
I am told that there was a heavenly glow about me and that my mother treasured up all these things and pondered over them….
Actually I have been told almost nothing of baptism, probably like most of you
This is the time of year for annual reports, and like my responsibilities at St. Luke’s before, I looked back over the year’s baptisms. And between the 21 since I have been here, and the over 140 that I was responsible at St. Luke’s – not once in all the baptisms did anything visibly happen
In fact I can say, in all my conversations with other clergy, spanning sometimes a lifetime of ministry, I have never heard of anything visibly incredible ever happening
Yet we are told that when Jesus came out of the water or after He prayed – the heavens opened, and God manifested in bodily form descended like a dove – and there was a voice of God the Father declaring “this is my Son, in whom I am well pleased”
And we as Christians claim – claim, that we share in Christ’s baptism
Never heard of anything visibly supernatural ever happening, yet we symbolically ritualize the fact that we share in Christ’s Baptism
So that begs the following questions:
- What is baptism?
- Does anything happen at our baptism?
- And why is Baptism so important to Christians?
I share all of these questions today, because today as the readings would indicate, we celebrate the annual feast of the Baptism of Jesus (or the Baptism of our Lord)
Last week we marked the beginning of Epiphany (God’s revelation to the whole world – Gentiles included)
We had baby Jesus only a few weeks ago and again last week with the gifts from the magi – and we have ‘fast forwarded’ ahead 30 years to the beginning of Jesus’ adult ministry and His Baptism.
Time flies when you are having fun!
Since Baptism is the theme for the day I would like to share with you a condense version of the 60-75 minute talk that I have with each family that comes here for baptism.
And also we are at the beginning of the New Year and therefore a good time to look at the foundational beliefs – Baptism being one of the most important understandings
So what is baptism?
Now when this question first comes up, I am the one that asks this of the family gathered, so that I have an understanding of why they are there.
I get answers like: It is something that you do keep your child safe and in God’s care
Or that it is an initiation rite
Or it is a time when water is sprinkled on someone’s head and their sins are washed away
Or that it is the beginnings of a life with Christ
To all these answers – I say yes, and then… it is much more!
For Jesus, in each of the Gospel accounts, it marked the beginning of His adult ministry
It was preformed by John the Baptizer (prophet with one foot in the Old Testament and one foot in the New Testament) the voice in the wilderness – calling for a life of repentance and a prophet declaring God’s desire that we prepare a way for the coming of the Lord in our lives
For Jesus, by Matthew’s account – John questioned Jesus whether the roles should be reversed, questioning whether it was appropriate for John to baptize Jesus?
To which Jesus responds “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”
…Here we are starting to get to the answers - What is Baptism and why?
To understand this, we need to first understand some Hebrew theology – now don’t be dismayed by the term – theology – it simply means the study of God (and therefore the understanding of God’s relationship to us)
One of the key principals of Hebrew theology, was that they were the chosen people
God, beginning at Abraham, selected them to be His people in the world
To live out a covenant relationship with God and to be a model for all the nations of the world
They, like us, continually fell short of their portion of the covenant
Never-the-less they were the chosen people – they were Israel
When famine occurred in their land – they went down to Egypt, a way prepared by God in the life of Joseph – they flourished there
There they lived for 400 years and after a while the Egyptians forgot their special relationship and made the Hebrew people slaves – and they suffered
Along comes Moses and after several stubbles along the road of his life, he answers the call of God to bring the Israelites out of bondage and into freedom.
Initially Pharaoh doesn’t want to lose his work-force, but after 10 incredible plagues they are released, only to have Pharaoh change his mind and chase them to the edge of the sea
Here God performs the most incredible escape route ever
God using Moses’ staff parts the sea and the people walk on dry land – going through the waters
So here we meet up with Jesus and his claim to Cousin John, at His baptism, to ‘Fulfill all righteousness’
The Hebrew people, the Israelites, were the chosen people – set to be a model – a witness to the world of the covenant relationship with God
They went down to Egypt and began their journey of freedom - going through the waters
And Jesus the Messiah, the perfect Israelite, having escaped after the Magi left, because of Joseph’s vision in a dream, to Egypt as a baby – then coming out of Egypt and beginning the model life of the perfect Israelite – going through the waters of baptism - to show us a life of freedom – fulfilling all righteousness
Jesus was baptised and so we Christians – followers of the Christ are baptised
Jesus in ‘fulfilling all righteousness’ left for us an initiation rite to begin our following
Scripture reveals to us that it was vitally important that it was a baptism by John
John’s claims were for people to be baptised into repentance
Repentance is not merely ‘saying your sorry’ – that is a part of it for sure – but, in fact it literately means to turn from one way and turn towards another
So Jesus modeled a baptism of turning towards God’s will and God ways – Baptism is an act of obedience to the will of the Father – and remember the words of God the Father “this is my Son in whom I am well pleased”
So baptism is also about naming and claiming – Identity - The Father claims the Son
And as we share in Jesus’ baptism – we too are claimed by God
I believe that something similar happens between God and us in our own baptisms:
"This one is mine!" the Lord exclaims. "I see my image in her! Don't you see my image in him?
And here comes my Spirit, my Spirit to sustain and guide as you go about doing what I put you on earth to do." 
In the protestant church, we believe that there are two sacraments: Baptism and Communion (or Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper, or whatever term you like)
Whereby our Catholic brothers and sisters would claim that there are seven sacraments
Baptism and Communion are shared and considered the two most significant sacraments – known as the Domical sacraments – Domina: meaning God
And called as such because our Lord was both baptised and instituted the Lord’s Supper
The other five sacraments are: Confirmation, confession, marriage, ministry to the sick (used to be called last rites) and ordination
Here like many main-line protestant churches we in fact do all of those special acts – but we don’t quite get as far as calling them sacraments – we might say that they are ‘sacramental in nature’
What is the distinction? And why is that important?
First, as I said, Jesus participated in both baptism and communion
He wasn’t confirmed, we don’t believe that he needed to confess anything, he wasn’t ordained (at least not in the way that we do it now), although he certainly heal many sick – it doesn’t fit another definition of a sacrament that I will explain shortly
And despite what the ‘DeVinci Code’ says: Jesus was not married to Mary Magdalene
We Protestants can trace our roots to people that Protested against the ways of the Roman Catholic Church and the traditions that had developed at that point in time.
The attempt of the protest was to reform the church – thus the Protestant reformation
However when that proved to be impossible new national churches were born and the focus was on a simpler faith – a faith that believed in the foundational statement “sola scriptura”
This means that: not our individual rationale or our personal experiences of reason
Nor the passing on of traditions of the church
Will be the ultimate deciding factor of what we believe is truth
Solely Scripture – only the divine word of God will be the ultimate test
And since only Baptism and Communion were recorded in scripture as part of Jesus’ life, therefore they are the only two sacraments
Now at this point you might be saying to yourself – wait we do the other five things – why
So here it might be good to look at a couple definitions of what a sacrament is:
First definition: is that a sacrament is a sacred act
Now I find this to be too vague, I believe that every Sunday, in fact everyday we are involved in scared acts – anything that is done to the gory of God: is a sacred act
The second definition is an ancient Christian catechism description of a sacrament as: ‘an invisible sign of God’s invisible grace’
In the bread & wine and in the water we have the visible sign, and yet it is God’s grace that is truly at work
It is not about how I hold my hands or even the words that I say – but in fact, it is God that is at work.
And so the other five ‘sacramental in nature’ acts don’t have the same characteristics – there isn’t the same visible sign
There is nothing in confession or prayers of healing or confirmation (we haven’t always given bibles and we haven’t always exchanged rings in marriage
But all of these five sacred acts are beautiful expressions of the church at work – the church in service to others and by others – so it is great that we do all of these
Now back to specifically Baptism and the belief that “it is a visible sign of God’s invisible grace”
We believe that we are surrounded and upheld by that invisible grace each and every day
Once baptised we share in God’s love in a special way – we are made children of God – not merely part of all of God’s creation, which everything is – but more specifically and special
We are part of the family of God – share ‘by God’s grace’ as Sons and Daughters of God
The great Protestant Martin Luther was plagued at times by a sense of unworthiness and despair. To drive back those demons, he kept an inscription over his desk that read, "Remember, you have been baptized." Often, he would touch his forehead and remind himself, "Martin, you have been baptized." 
Now with each baptism that I am involved in, after the water is placed three times on the child of God’s head (signifying the Father, Son & Holy Spirit) – I then either with water or oil will make a sign of the cross on their forehead and say “I sign you with the sign of the cross and mark you are Christ’s own forever”
And I have told Luther's story many times in baptismal preparation, but the thought occurred to me that I had never touched my own forehead.
I had never reminded myself in a physical way that I too have been baptized--cleansed and forgiven, claimed and sanctified, sealed by God's own Spirit and given my new, everlasting identity in Christ.
I recommend that you take a moment, touch your own forehead, and remind yourself that you are a child of God. You are a beloved child of God. 
God chooses to bring us into the world. God's grace claims us and reclaims us over and over again.
That is why it is so important that most protest church have public baptismal services
Each time in the words that we all claim – we have the opportunity to remind ourselves that we believe that God believes in us
We state each time the claim of God’s renewing grace
We don't need to get all worked up over whether or not we are adequate or worthy.
With the exception of Jesus, we are all unworthy and without hope; however, we are saved in God's sovereign mercy.
When I am with a Christian, in their home or hospital bed, when they and I know there time is running short – I can look into their eyes and know that they are sealed by the Love of God – they are Christ’s forever
One of the greatest claims that the Christian faith can make – is that the past need not define the future, by Grace and our acceptance of Grace, God can define our future
So today – we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord
We acknowledge that, like John’s baptisms before that prepared the way, it is a baptism of repentance – of saying your sorry so profoundly that you turn from your sinful ways and turn towards God
We believe that it is a washing away of all our sins and making us – defining us - as clean in God’s judgment
We claim our faith in Jesus as Lord and claim our role as disciples (followers)
We understand that it is an initiation into that role as followers
We are baptized into the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit
We are not God, only Jesus had the Holy Spirit manifested bodily as a dove descend
Only Jesus had God the Father speak audibly and claim Jesus the Son’s identity
But for each and every one - we believe that God is invisibly there
That God claims each one of us
That God looks at each one of His children and makes His Claim on us and says “look and him or her, see how my image is in them – there future has begun – the past no longer rules – but, the promise of my salvation
Baptism is a the beginning of the Gospel (the good news) in our lives
And so it is one of THE things that the church is all about
Remember, like brother Luther, that you are baptized in Jesus the Christ
God’s seal is upon you!
Heavenly Father – we pray - for the baptism of Jesus, when he was made one with us, and for our baptism when we are made one with him and one another, we praise you, O God. As we enter a new year, help us to remember whose we are, so that we might glorify and enjoy you forever. Amen.
 http://day1.org/1678-god_believes_in_you - The Rev. Dr. Joanna Adams
 http://day1.org/1678-god_believes_in_you - The Rev. Dr. Joanna Adams