13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Today we find ourselves with John who is just a wee bit strange, prophets in the bible nearly always are. Between John’s hair shirt, diet of bugs, and rudely calling people names, I find it amazing that there were folks waiting to be baptized by him, lots of them.
John stormed against the hypocrisy and injustices of his world and called from the wilderness for people to come and repent, to turn away from injustice and embrace God’s justice. John’s baptism invited people to come and confess their wrongs and to dedicate their lives to living according to God’s ways. John’s baptism was about transformation, going into the waters as one type of person and emerging as someone new and different, someone transformed.
And this is where Jesus speaks his first words in the gospel of Matthew. We meet adult Jesus with John at the Jordan River. John seems to be in shock, protesting that he should be baptized by Jesus. Yet, Jesus’ first words are “Let it be so now.” Let it be so, let it happen, baptize me, this is what needs to be done and this is how it is to be done. Jesus says this is what needs to happen “to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus does not separate himself from us; he did not separate himself from John and all of the people waiting to be baptized at the Jordan. Jesus does not hold himself apart.
We just celebrated Christmas in which God chose to reveal God’s self to us through the incarnation—through flesh and blood, through the mess of a manger and birth. Why on earth, would God stop there?
Jesus’ toes squished in the mud of the Jordan River, just as John’s did. Just as every other person’s feet and toes squished in the mud and muck. This is the God who knows and loves us, to get in the mud and the muck with us. There is no distance; there is no separation between us. This is another unifying moment in which God promises that we are not alone, that God is with us.
And then, according to Matthew the sky opens and a voice says “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” The words we all long to hear.
I was 12 the summer I came home from church camp and asked to be re-baptized. I had been to a non-denominational church camp in which they rebaptized just about everyone. I loved my pastor back home and wanted him to be the one to rebaptize me. When I got home I went to Reverend Earl and told him about my amazing experience at church camp. I told him that how I wanted to follow Jesus. I wanted to follow him with my whole heart and with everything I did and I wanted to begin by being baptized like Jesus. The sprinkling I had had as an infant just wasn’t enough, I needed more. I wanted to be dunked in a river, or stream, or even a pond. I wanted to come up from the water and see the heavens open. I needed to hear the booming voice of James Earl Jones “With you I am well pleased!” As a United Methodist we were only baptized once.
I don’t remember if Reverend Earl tried to persuade me that my sprinkling was good enough or if he saw a light in my eyes that simply would not be extinguished. What I do remember is that one of the farmers had a pond that we could use. The elderly church ladies were happy to pack up a picnic lunch complete with a red checkered table cloth and we drove out to the farm. I was nervous and excited, I could hardly wait. Reverend Earl and I walked into the water, it was nearly waist deep. He prayed over me and dunked my head into the water. I expected a miraculous transformation. I expected everything to feel different. But as the elderly ladies clapped and shouted “Amen” and Reverend Earl brought me in for a big hug, and I saw my mother holding a beach towel open for me, I was disappointed. I hadn’t heard God call me “Beloved.”
Can you imagine a 12 year old girl, waiting for weeks to be baptized? Waiting to come up from the water and know that I was beloved. But when I came up the heavens had not opened. James Earl Jones did not speak. I would have even settled for Morgan Freeman or Charlton Heston, but I got nothing.
At that moment I realized that it didn’t work. I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t beloved. God was not well pleased with me.
I hadn’t heard God call me beloved. I had not heard it, but each person there did. Each person who drove out to that farmers pond heard God. Not only was I beloved to each person there, witnessing my faith and desire to serve God. But they also heard God speak (probably in a small voice) and they heard that I was beloved to God.
It took me a long time to realize what they all knew. I didn’t realize it until I grew up. As an adult I realized what they all knew. We are ALL beloved by God! Each child on this earth, no matter their age, no matter their religion, political beliefs, no matter what, is a Beloved Child of God. Each person in this room, whether you were sprinkled in a church, dunked in a tub, swam in the River Jordan, splashed in a farmer’s pond or not baptized at all, You are Beloved by God. Hear me again – You are Beloved by God.
Somehow from that first moment of Creation in which God said “It is good.” We have forgotten, we have gotten things twisted. We were created for Good. We were created for love. And yet, we live in a world that can be scary. A world filled with injustice and acts of evil. This past week, we were saddened, if not shocked, by yet another mass shooting. Nearly 21,000 people a day die from hunger related diseases. 1 out of 3 girls and 1 out of 5 boys are sexually abused. Hunger, poverty, substance abuse, domestic violence all terrorize and wreck havoc in our world. They wrecked havoc in John’s world as well.
John put on his hair shirt, ate bugs, and stormed against the injustices he saw. He screamed for people to confess their part in it all and then go a new way, go a new way doing better, working for justice and healing, helping others. Jesus left the Jordan and entered into the wilderness—he was baptized with us. He was with us, with his toes in the mud and muck of the Jordan River. There, he began his ministry. Jesus loved and healed those he met in ministry; he preached and taught that all people are God’s beloved Children.
Our gathering together today to worship God, to join together as a community of faith, is a rebellion against the world gone wrong. Today we stand in solidarity with one another, just as Jesus did when he put on flesh and blood, squished his feet in the River Jordan and was baptized so that we can be in ministry together, loving, healing, and reminding the people we meet that they too are beloved by God.
Each time we reject the ways of this world that tell us to treat others in ways that are cruel, mean, or simply indifferent. Each time we embrace one another, embrace strangers, embrace those who are different from us or very much like us. Each time we treat other people as a Beloved Child of God, we are doing ministry. We are walking with Jesus.
For too long we have engaged in the idea that we are only sinners. Yes, we fall short. Yes, we make mistakes. Yes, we do wrong, but we are also created in and with great love. A love so great that we can choose to act in love and faith rather than in fear and despair. We can lift one another up rather than trying to put each other down. We can choose to treat each person as they are a Beloved child of God.
Let us leave this place today never forgetting that we are a beloved child of God. So is each person we meet. Every person we encounter is a beloved child of God. Let us go and be like the old church ladies on a red checkered blanket next to a farmer’s pond. Let us hear God and know that each person we meet is a beloved child of God. Let us be like those who encountered John in the Jordan River who chose to be transformed, who chose to go a new way. Let us go and follow Jesus into the wilderness of this world and start our ministry armed with love. Armed with the knowledge that we are all Beloved by God. Amen.