Baptism of Our Lord Matthew 3:13-17
“O How I love Jesus
O how I love Jesus,
O how I love Jesus,
Because he first loved me.”
Because he first loved me. Before I could do anything, before I could even think of needing to do something, Jesus loved me. Imagine being loved before we even breathed our first breath! We read in Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.”
We are conditioned to think that we must earn something like dessert. You know, eat your vegetables and then get the ice cream. Not so with God. We hear the good news that we are “sons and daughters, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” All this before we do anything. It is simply a fact.
Jesus even gets the dessert first. Here he is being baptized and only after does he begin his ministry. Before he has done anything he hears the words from God, spoken for everyone around to hear, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” All of this before he goes into the wilderness, to prepare for his ministry, to be tested. Then he returns to heal the sick, comfort the lost and give sight to the blind. He has done nothing, yet he is declared “beloved, well pleasing to God.”
Jesus returns from the wilderness to do as God wishes. Jesus returns to give life and hope to all people, sharing the love of God to all without price or consideration of worth or deserving. Jesus loves all people simply because we are lovable, we have been declared loveable by God.
This is the love Jesus shows to each of us -- a love without deserving, without having to do anything. This is the love that God showers upon those who are baptized today and renewing their baptism today. A love that requires that they do nothing to deserve, that, in fact, they can do nothing to deserve it.
Of course, we love Jesus, “because he first loved me.” There is nothing we can do that will make God love us, God in Jesus Christ loves us already.
With our identity and worth established, we are free to live as God would have us live; to live by God’s measure, and not by anyone else’s. In baptism we commit ourselves to a life lived in response to this great love. How could we not share God’s love with others once we have experienced it ourselves? Our journey in faith is to learn how to live a life of response to this love. We commit ourselves to teach our children to live in response to this love in spite of all the messages they may receive to the contrary.
Along with Jesus, our ministry begins with our baptism. As Jesus went into the wilderness to be tested, we too, are tested. Life as a baptized child of God is not one that is without pain and suffering. In fact, as we baptize our children, we are committing ourselves to make their lives more difficult because we seek to teach them to live open to the needs and hurts of others as we must do in our own baptism. We are to live with Matthew 25 in mind, looking for those who are hungry, naked and thirsty, because it is in people such as these that we find Jesus. All of this in response to the love that was first given us.
Sometimes we take baptism lightly. Sometimes we see it as something to be done and that’s about it. We do not really hear the words — they become repetitive and lose their impact. We forget that it all begins with a declaration of our worth, forgetting God’s view of the world, one based on love. Baptism becomes the end rather than the beginning.
We often begin our funeral service with the words from Romans, “When we were baptized in Christ Jesus, we were baptized into his death. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life.” This is the new life that is lived according to the will of God, driven by love. In response to one who first loved us.
Imagine if we actively sought to see Jesus in all whom we met. Imagine how our response to that person would change. We sometimes get a narrow view of ministry, something done by certain people. In baptism we are all given a ministry. As we seek to live out our baptism, we find all of life to be ministry. With our identity as loved and the delight of God clearly in mind, we are able to do what God wants without regard to how it makes us look.
Baptism leads to community and commitment. We baptize into the Christian community because we need each other. Living out our baptism is not easy. There will be struggles and pain. We need others with whom to share these struggles. We need to tell each other the stories of how we have grown through suffering. We need to explore what our baptism means to each of us in our varied stages of life. We need the encouragement of one another when we find it hard to live out our ministry.
We also need to celebrate with one another the joy of living life that is full of purpose and meaning as we live in harmony with the purposes of God. Life as a child of God is not always easy but it is always right.
We should begin every day remembering that we are baptized. When we feel the water on our faces in the morning, it should remind us of the waters of baptism. To do so is to enter each day with a renewed sense of ministry. Who will I meet today? How will my activities today be a ministry to others? How can I share the dessert first with others, in this community of faith and beyond?
“Oh how I love Jesus, because he first loved me.”