“Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and water is clear?” (Lao Tzu. 6th century B.C.E.) Matthew 3:13-17
Two friends were touring France. On Sunday morning they decided to attend one of the churches. Not being Catholic and not understanding French they decided to just do what the guy sitting in front of them did.
Halfway through the service, with everything going well, the gentleman in front of them stood, as did they, only to hear the congregation break out into fits of laughter.
Realizing that no one else was standing up, the two men quickly sat again. After the Mass the priest, who spoke English, approached them, chuckling.
“Well, you obviously don’t speak French”, he said.
“I announced the Baptism of a child… and asked for the father of the child to stand up.”
The next big event after the birth story of Jesus, comes the Baptism-story of Jesus.
It is interesting to note that all four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, speak of the Baptism of Jesus while only two Gospels, Matthew and Luke, include the birth-narrative. (Mark and John have no birth-story at all.)
Clearly, the Baptism of Jesus played a very important role in the early church. John had made a name for himself as the prophet who called people to repentance and forgiveness through the ritual of Baptism in the River Jordan.
The role of ceremonial cleansing by water as an act of penance is not unique to Judaism or Christianity, and for obvious reasons. From very early on people knew that water cleans you. Hence the symbolic cleansing of sin through the ritual of washing one’s body.
But we have a dilemma with Jesus’ baptism. As the belief that Jesus was God began to gain traction, these very early followers could not claim that John’s baptism of Jesus had anything to do with sin. After all, how could the Son of God, deemed to be without sin, receive John’s baptism of repentance?
And so, the Baptism of Jesus became interpreted as the launch of his public ministry. Baptism was no longer the Baptism of repentance but an affirmation of God’s grace—God’s love for the recipient.
In Jesus case, his baptism became the affirmation of God’s confirmation that he was indeed God’s Beloved, God’s ordained, the Messiah.
The words, “this is my beloved. Son, with whom I am well pleased” — is seen as God’s password, to open the file of his ministry on earth-for those who are of the computer age.
So, where does our own baptism come in and what is its significance.
This has been a hotly contested question and there are as many claims to the answer as there are different strands of Christianity.
The Baptist tradition claims that baptism is simply a continuation of John the Baptist’s baptism of repentance. They claim that only an adult can make the rational decision to repent and align yourself with God by your own choice.
Other Christian traditions claim that baptism is essential to salvation. Therefore, they claim a person’s baptism is your insurance card against hell and that makes the act of baptism essential, even for the newborn. Or something to that effect.
Others, including our own denomination, believes that baptism got a new interpretation after Jesus was baptized, and that it is a sign of inclusion in God’s family of believers, and that the child confirms his/her baptism as adults.
There are endless variations of the interpretation of baptism, and you may have your own. Good for you because no one has come back from the dead to tell us how God meant it all to be. All we have are interpretations.
Personally, I view baptism as a ritual of inclusion. Nothing too pompous or pretentious for me, thank you. Just as circumcision was a simple sign or reminder of the Jewish child’s inclusion in the Covenant people so the baptism becomes the sign or symbol of our children’s inclusion in the congregation. It reminds us that we, too, are God’s beloved. Therefore, in my view, missing out on baptism is no threat to anyone. God is big enough to see past all of our correct-believing-stuff and more is more interested in our correct-living-stuff.
Does that mean baptism is meaningless?
I say no.
To quote Rev Katherine Matthews, by remembering our baptism, we are reminded of God’s consistent love for us. She says “…’remembering our baptism’ is seeking equilibrium on a storm-tossed sea, getting our bearings, remembering who (and whose) we are, and grounding ourselves in that assurance.”
Rachel Held Evans’ in her book, Searching for Sunday, says, “Jesus did not begin to be loved at the moment of his baptism, nor did he cease to be loved when his baptism became a memory. Baptism simply named the reality of his existing and unending belovedness.”
And there is that word again: “Beloved”
Baptism does not make us beloved—it reminds us that we are Beloved by God.
Martin Luther King, the Reformer who broke away from the Catholic Church to invoke a new way of understanding God, uttered these words in the depth of his own personal storms.
“Remember your baptism.”
We may wonder what our personal challenges or life-choices might have to do with remembering one’s baptism. But its value lies in “remembering whose you are”
May your Baptism always be an anchor for you to remember WHOSE YOU ARE.
When challenges leave us exhausted and we need to dig deep for hope, remember your baptism. Hear the words—your are beloved.
And then, in the words of Lao Tzu, may we “…[have] the patience to wait till the mud settles and water becomes clear?” Amen.