Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.The Rev. Dr. Joanna Adams, pastor of Morningside Presbyterian Church in Atlanta reflected on this passage for the radion program Day 1. She said in part,
An ancient Christian catechism describes baptism as a "visible sign of invisible grace." By the grace of God, we are surrounded and upheld every day. 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."
Before I prepared this message for you, I had told Luther's story any number of times, but 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. Baptized or not yet baptized, you are a beloved child of God.
At present, I am a busily engaged pastor, but I am also only days away from being launched into that unknown sea called retirement. I do not know where the tides will take me, but I am sure that whatever the next chapter holds, I will sail with the winds of the Holy Spirit in my sails and with the guiding hand of God holding fast to the rudder of my future. I will be exactly the same person who at the age of six months was buried into the death of Christ and raised up into new life through him. In every season of life—in life and in death—we belong to God.
Let's go for a moment to the banks of the River Jordan where Jesus is being baptized. Here he makes his first public appearance on the stage of human history. John the Baptist, repentance-preaching, fire-breathing John, had prepared the people for a Messiah who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. And here he is, Jesus, going under the water and coming up out of the water. While he prays his own post-baptism prayer, suddenly heaven itself opens, the Holy Spirit descends like a dove, a voice comes from heaven speaking to Jesus, but in a way that all who are gathered can hear: "You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well-pleased."
I remember a theater production in Atlanta of Clarence Jordan's Cotton Patch Gospel. In this production the excellent actor Tom Key played God. Not a bad role if you can get it. Tom stood on a ladder on the stage. The actor playing the recently immersed Jesus stood below him looking up with hope and perhaps a little bit of anxiety in his eyes. But he needn't have worried. God speaks in a voice loud enough to be heard all the way down Peachtree Street: "You are my boy, Jesus. I am so proud of you!"
I could feel in the marrow of my bones the exuberant love and approval in the actor's voice, and 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."
At King of Peace Tomorrow
At our 10 a.m. worship service, Nolan Davenport will be the 98th person baptized at King of Peace. Following the worship, we will hold our annual meeting. Then at 2 p.m., we will hold a Memorial Service for Angela Gartner.
Labels: Gospel reading