January 10, 2016 – The Rev. James Richardson

We hear today about people long, long ago who are searching for something new in their lives.

What must these people have seen and heard while standing in line at the river, hoping and waiting?

They had come from seemingly everywhere, traveling a long perilous journey across desert and mountains, to the lowest place on earth – the Jordan River Valley.

Some had come in the lowest moments of their lives, hoping, praying, yearning to be free of whatever torments, flood and fires they endure.

All of them are searching for a sense that God is with them, that God has not deserted them.

Now they stand in line, waiting to be washed in the river by a strange holy man, to be baptized into a new way of living.

Standing next to them in line is a young man from the north, from the region known as the Galilee.

Did they even notice him, standing in line next to them?

Or are they so consumed by their own worries, their own struggles, their own troubles, that they don’t notice?

He waits his turn. If he says anything to anyone, no one notices enough to remember what he says, or even what he looks like.

Yet one man does notice. John, the one who they would call “the Baptist.” He notices.

John is an austere man of the desert, living off the land, and he attracts followers, lots of them. We can guess some of them are starving.

Maybe all he could give them was insects and a little honey. It was all he ate, and it was enough.

John also gives them hope. He gives them a new start on their lives.

And then there is this other man waiting to be baptized. This man comes alone.

John the Baptist, he knows exactly who he is, and he knows in an instant that the world would never – could never – be the same.

He washes this lone man in the river, baptizes him like so many others. But this time is different.

This time it is the Baptist who feels like he has been washed, made new, made holy.

And he hears the voice, maybe only a whisper, saying that this man in the river is “my beloved. Listen to him.”

Listen to him.

For countless centuries many have pondered this scene, debated its significance, wondered why on earth Jesus, the Son of God, would choose to stand in line with all these troubled unwashed people and choose to baptized.

To find the answer, maybe we need look no further than ourselves.

By standing in line to be baptized, Jesus chooses to be one of us, to share in the same difficulties, the same trials, floods and fires; to experience life as we experience it, and ultimately bring his divinity to dwell with us.

He yearns to show us that we, too, are the beloved of God, that our very existence is God’s dream. He yearns for us to truly experience the holiness waiting to come alive in ourselves.

Down through the centuries, many have brought holiness alive in countless places, and in countless ways through their baptism.

Indeed, in our own baptism we bring this holiness alive every day of our lives.

Our baptism is the tangible sign that we are truly embraced as Christ’s own forever, no matter what, and that there are no limits on who can be baptized.

It is why we baptize babies, and children and older people.

This is also why the traditional placement of the baptismal font is the center aisle near the entrance to the church, where it is right now.

Turn and look for a moment.

It is in the way! You have to work your way around it.

It is in the way for a very good reason.

The font is there to remind us every time we enter – and every time that we leave – that we are marked as Christ’s own forever by our baptism.

Nothing we do, or don’t do, will change this. Nothing we do, right or wrong, will change this. We are truly marked as Christ’s own forever.

Yet our baptism also comes with awesome responsibilities – and the font in the center of the aisle reminds us of this, too.

In a few moments, we will join together in renewing our baptismal covenant, reminding ourselves of these promises and our responsibilities.

We will pledge to pray together and share in the breaking of the bread – regularly.

We will promise to love our neighbors as ourselves, and promise that when we fall short – as we will do regularly – that will return to the Lord, again and again.

And here is the hardest one:

We will promise to strive for justice and peace, and respect the dignity of every human being.

That would be every human being – Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheists, agnostics. Republicans, Democrats, decline-to-states.

And that would be men, women, gay people, straight people, adults, teens and children. Black people, white people, Latino people, Asian people, mixed people.

And that would be people who live in houses, or on the streets, or in their cars, or in refugee camps.

Every human being.

By our baptism, we pledge to respect the dignity of all.

Our baptism commissions us to be servants to each other, servants to our community and servants of every nation.

The only privilege of our baptism is the privilege to serve.

Our baptism will change the world if we have the courage to let it.

And know this too: Wherever we go, whatever trials we endure, Christ Jesus joins us in the waters of our baptism and claims us always.

And he tells us over and over that each one of us is the beloved, each of us living testimony to God’s dream.

Listen to him.

As the prophet Isaiah proclaims:

“When you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

My brothers and sisters, may you live into your baptism, fully, now and forever. AMEN