The baptism of Jesus, the church has always taught us, is an epiphany story and so it is fitting that we begin this short season of the church with Jesus dripping wet from his baptism. Epiphany is a time in the church in which we are invited to recognize Jesus once again. What began with a very private annunciation of the angel to Mary and then to Joseph, what was made known to the shepherds, and then the gentile wise folk, is now made clear to a crowd gathered around a poor excuse for a river. The circle is getting wider and wider. And from this day until Easter day everything that we read and hear in Holy Scripture is an epiphany of Jesus. This is an important season in the church’s year because these are the weeks in which we‘re invited to come and see who Jesus is, where he is to be found, and to understand what he is about – what is his business with you and I and our world and also important for us – how he went about that business – the manner in which Jesus led, taught, and loved.
So back to the present moment, back to the river Jordan and Jesus presenting himself for baptism. He is thirty years old. Why is he coming now ? We can speculate. In Israel, anyone entering public life did so at age thirty. Maybe that’s reason enough. Maybe in the synagogue, listening to the rabbi read scripture while others were dozing off, something strikes him and he says, “ That’s it – now !” Or it could have been something simple, one afternoon after a hot day
in the carpenter shop, Jesus goes for a long walk and communes with God and there is this stirring inside him. Maybe he remembers something he saw when he was a teenager south of Nazareth. The Romans came in and gathered up a whole bunch of the men of the town and strung them up on poles, just to warn the people that they did not want any trouble, and there is this burning desire in Jesus for justice and fairness. Maybe that is it. Or it could have been his mother’s prayers. Or maybe he still remembers when he was twelve years old in the Temple saying, “ I have to be in my Father’s house.”
Why now ? That’s a good question. I don’t know the answer, but it’s a good question. I don’t know why now but I do know why Jesus was baptized. It’s not like the rest of the baptisms that John did. To be baptized by John was to repent, to turn around from a life apart from God to a life with God at the very heart of everything. But that never applied to Jesus, no his baptism is a witness to God’s already present claim on his life. Jesus is baptized, and by that action says, in effect, “ I belong no longer to myself or to my parents or to my work, or even to the world; I belong to God.”
This morning God is simply reclaiming that which he created at the beginning. Baptism is the renewal of a relationship with God that began at creation. Jesus is baptized to show to all who will look, that he, Jesus Christ, is the means by which God will accomplish his will and work on earth.
And on this day we learn a great deal about how Jesus will go about accomplishing that will. A voice says, “ This is my son.” No question about it. This is my son. What does that mean ? The line is a quotation from the second psalm. It was spoken on the occasion of the crowning of a king of Israel, and now it is quoted at Jesus’ baptism. He is now king. What does it mean that he is God’s Son ? Does he go around now in a chariot with silk cushions, wear a crown and say kingly things and elevate himself above the common folk, saying “ Don’t touch me – I am the Son of God. I am the king and I say kingly things and make pronouncements that sound positively kingly. And now I’m going to the palace and have a nap and later a nice banquet ?”
The last part of the quotation – “ My Son, my beloved, in whom my soul takes pleasure” – did you recognize where that came from ? It’s a phrase from Isaiah 42. It is a line from the description of the suffering servant of God, the one who gave his life.
It means touching, loving, going, doing, caring for people. Here is my Son, the servant. And so it was. Still wet from his baptism, Jesus left the Jordan and went about God’s business. Every crying person, every brokenhearted person, every hungry person, every diseased person, every alienated person, every suffering person was his business. I am the king ? I am the Son of God ? And what that meant was that he was the servant of all. He even knelt down and washed people’s feet. The Son of God washed men’s feet. He did that because he was about God’s business. And what is God’s business ? To serve the needs of every human being.
Martin Luther, the great reformer said, “ Remember your baptism.” Now how can people do that ? In Luther’s church, just like ours, most of us were baptized in our diapers. We were brought by our parents and were baptized. So how are we supposed to remember our baptisms ? Well in Luther’s day just as in ours that when folks got to be about 13 years old they would be
confirmed in the church and they would claim, you and I claimed our baptisms. We all stood in front of a bishop and said in effect, “ I accept my baptism. I remember my baptism I want to live a life worthy of my baptism.”
So Luther wanted to know, “ Do you remember your baptism?” Why did Luther ask that? To make us feel guilty ? “ Aha! You’ve strayed from your baptism.” No, no. Everyone of us strays from our baptism, forgets our baptism, denies our baptism. Everyone of us has done that. So what Luther had in mind was this: Remember your baptism by claiming yourself to be a child of God and by going about God’s business – serving other people.
Fred B. Craddock, one of the best preachers in our day and age tells this story.
“ In southwest Oklahoma near the Washita Creek where Black Kettle and most of the woman and children of his little tribe were massacred by General Custer’s army when they swept down in the early morning hours on those poor people, a little community is named for the general: Custer City. The population is about 450 of a good day. There are four churches: a Methodist church, a Baptist church, a Nazarene Church, and a church that just calls itself
Christian. Each has it’s share of the population, and attendance rose and fell at each according to the weather and whether it was time to harvest the wheat.
The best and most consistent attendance in town, however, was at the little café where all the pickup trucks were parked and all the men where inside discussing the weather and the cattle and the wheat bugs and the hail and the wind and whether we were going to have a crop, while their wives and sons and daughters were in one of those four churches. The churches had good attendance and poor attendance, but the café had consistently good attendance. Better attendance than some of the churches. Men were always there.
Once in a while they would lose a member there at the café because his wife finally got to him, or maybe his kids did. So you would see him go off sheepishly to one of the churches. But the men at the café still felt that they were the biggest and strongest group in town, and so they met on Wednesdays and Sundays and every other day to discuss the weather and such. They were not bad men. Indeed, they were good men, family men, hard-working men.
The patron saint of the group at the café was Tim. Tim was seventy-seven years old when Fred Craddock met him. He was a good man, a strong man, a pioneer, a rancher, a farmer, a
cattleman. He had been born in a sod house, and he had prospered. He had his credentials, and all the men there at the café considered him their patron saint. “ Ha, ha,” they said. “ Old Tim will never go to church.”
One day Fred met Tim on the street, and he knew Fred was a preacher. It has never been Fred Craddock’s custom to accost people on the street in the name of Jesus, so he just shook hands and visited for a bit with Tim. Then Tim took the offensive; he said, “ I work hard and I take care of my family and I mind my own business.” He said that as far as he was concerned, everything else was just fluff. He was telling Fred, “ Leave me alone; I’m not a prospect.”
So Fred didn’t bother Tim. Which is why he was surprised, indeed the entire church was surprised, the town dumbfounded, and the men at the café were absolutely “bumfuzzled,” when old Tim, seventy-seven years old, presented himself before Fred Craddock one Sunday morning for baptism. Fred baptized Tim right there on the spot. Some in the community said that Frank must be sick, said he must be scared to meet his maker. Some said, “ He’s got heart trouble, going up to be baptized. I never thought old Tim would do that, but I guess when you get scared. . . .” There were all kinds of stories. But this is the way Tim told it to Fred.
They were talking the day after Tim’s baptism and the preacher said to Tim, “ Do you remember that little saying you used to give me so much ? ‘ I work hard, I take care of my family, and I mind my own business’?” Tim said, “ Yeah, I remember. I said that a lot.”
“ Do you still say that?” asked preacher Fred. “ Yes,” Tim said.
“ Then what’s the difference now?” Tim said, “Then I didn’t know then what my business was
– now I do.”
Tim discovered what his business was. It was his creators business. It was to serve human need. So Fred baptized Tim; in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Do you remember that ?
Do you remember that ?
Do you remember your Baptism ?
Epiphany is a season in the church year in which we’re reminded of who we are – and whose business we’re called to be about in this world. And I also need to remind us all how Jesus went about that business because we see again at his baptism. Jesus the first born of creation, the Lord of heaven and earth humbled himself and submitted to John the Baptist; made the lesser greater than himself. And we who presume to lead the church are called to do no less. It matters whose business we’re about – it also matters how we go about that business. We have an example in Jesus – and we’re all called to follow it. Amen.