Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord – Br. James Koester

(this sermon was preached at the baptism of Sarah Rose Maarten-Hidalgo)

Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

Rose, I want to begin this morning by putting you on the spot. It is not that I want to embarrass you, but I do want to say thank you. Thank you Rose! Thank you Rose, for what you are doing this morning is hugely significant. Today is an important day for you. But it is also an important day for us who witness your baptism. By your baptism you are reminding us who we all are, and even more so, whose we are. You are also reminding us that like so many things in life, this way of life is a choice that we all must make for ourselves.

Today we are surrounded by potent symbols: the Easter Candle, the font brim-full with buckets of water, the icon at the grill, a pile of bath towels, the sweet scent of the oil, a set of white clothes, the soft texture of bread and the sting of wine. We are going to use them all because they, like Rose, are reminders to all of us about who, and whose we are, and that this way of life is a choice we all must make for ourselves. For baptism is about identity, belonging and choosing.

Today in the gospel we see Jesus as he truly is, we discover to whom he belongs and we watch him make a choice that will eventually lead to the cross, the tomb and his eternal place seated in glory at the right hand of the Father. Today, as Rose enters the waters of the Jordan here in the midst of the monastery chapel we see her as she truly is, we discover to whom she belongs and we watch her make a choice that will lead to her own laying down of her life, so that she with Jesus can take her eternal place in glory seated at the right hand of the Father. Like Rose, we who witness her baptism are reminded once again who we truly are, we discover anew to whom we belong, and we are encouraged in our own journey that leads to cross and tomb and glory.

So who are we? Who is Rose? To answer that we, like the crowd on the banks of the Jordan , need to look to Jesus and witness what happens to him. For what happens to him, happens to all of us when we emerge dripping wet from the waters of baptism.

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.”

Today’s celebration of the baptism of Jesus is not the remembrance of an event but the witnessing of an identity. We see Jesus emerge wet from the waters of baptism and we hear a voice from heaven saying: You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased. Baptism is about an identity, as the beloved of God, for in his baptism the voice from heaven proclaims Jesus to be the beloved of God. If that is true for him, we believe the same is true for us. In our baptism, God proclaims us to be God’s beloved. Rose, like Jesus, indeed like all of us, God says to you today, you are beloved. That, from this day on, is our identity. Who are we? The beloved of God is who we are!

But that’s not all, as if it weren’t enough to be the beloved of God. For in his baptism we witness also to whom Jesus belongs. You are my Son , the voice proclaims from heaven and so we see to whom Jesus belongs. Baptism is about belonging and belonging has been important to us ever since we were children. As children is was important to know to whom we belonged and from where we came. When I was a very young child my mother sewed into my jacket a large label that read: My name is Jamie Koester, I live at 87 Angus Crescent . It was important for all sorts of reasons to know to whom and where I belonged. In baptism, God marks us, just as my mother marked me, as the daughters and sons of God so that all the world can know to whom we belong. In a few moments Rose, I am going to mark you, just as all of us here have been marked, just as God marked Jesus, as I say: Rose, you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever. From this day on Rose, you and we, like Jesus, belong to God as God’s daughters and son and because we belong to God, we know, like I did as a small child where I was from, where I was going, and to whom I belonged. Baptism is about belonging, and all of us belong to God as God’s daughters and sons.

But that’s not all, as if it weren’t enough to belong and to be beloved by God. For in his baptism we witness Jesus choose a path that will take him far from the carpentry shop in Nazareth . Eventually this path from the Jordan will lead to cross and tomb and glory and all along the way it becomes clear to those who have eyes to see who Jesus is, and to whom he belongs. It becomes clear to the devil in the wilderness, the disciples on the road, the crowds by the sea, to Pilate in his hall, the centurion at the cross, to Mary Magdalene at the tomb, to Thomas in the Upper Room who Jesus truly is and to whom he belongs. It is this path from cross to tomb to glory that Jesus chose to walk day by day in spite of everything, including his own death, for all along the way he knew who he was and to whom he belonged as the beloved Son of God.

It is this same courage that we are given in baptism to choose a path that will lead to our own cross and tomb, but also take us to glory where we too will sit with Christ at the right hand of the Father. Rose, the life that you have chosen, indeed the life which all of us have chosen, is a life we need to choose every day. For the life which you, and we and Jesus chose at our baptisms is a life where day by day we must choose to love, and not to hate, to be friends and not enemies, to forgive and not to hold grudges, to heal and help and hold and not to injure, wound and scar. It is the choice to live such a life that eventually cost Jesus his own. It our own ways, it will cost us our own lives just as choosing this life will not be easy for you Rose. But the reward of such a life is greater than its cost and the glory that not only will be ours, is ours already because it is already Christ’s. This is what you and we have chosen in baptism. From this day on Rose, you and we, like Jesus have chosen a life that while full of struggle is also full of glory and it is because of this choice to live such a life that we will pray:

Sustain Rose, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give her an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen .

I began Rose, by saying thank you to you, from all of us here for you are doing a wonderful thing this morning. You are reminding all of us that we are beloved by God, because you, like Jesus are beloved by God. You are reminding us that we belong to God, because you, like Jesus, are God’s daughter. You are reminding us that this life is a life we must choose day by day, because you, like Jesus have chosen to walk this way and while it may not be easy, will certainly lead to glory.

So thank you Rose for this reminder, of who we are, to whom we belong, and the choice we all must make day by day to live the Christian life.

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  1. John David Spangler on January 12, 2014 at 07:18

    Dear Brother James, For me, one of the most important prayers is that of St. Chrysostom. In praying it, I try to cocentrate “as may be best for us” rather than my own wants. Continuing I pray most fervently to be granted “knowledge of thy truth” and leave “the world to come” in God’s hands. This fervent wish is granted daily as I read “Brother, Give Us a Word”. For this, I thank you and all the Brothers most whole heartedly. Turning to to-day’s word “Baptism”, I appreciate the deeper understanding that you have provided. I have one question. How old is Rose? Though baptized as an infant and having no recall of the event, I count Baptism as the most important moment in my life as a Christian, more so than Confirmation. Peace! David

  2. William Fleener, Sr. on January 12, 2014 at 06:45

    Dear Brother James,

    Your email about the Baptism of Jesus included, “will take him far from the carpentry shop in Nazareth”. I have found that I have to go deeper into how Jesus, and Joseph before him, provided – or didn’t provide on some, or many, days – for the family. I have read that “carpenter”, in Jesus’ time, meant landless day laborer, someone who took a position among all the other poor people who were hoping to be hired to do a job for someone today, so maybe there would be some money for some food tonight. I do not remember where I read that definition of “carpenter”, but it does, for me, go deeper into what God’s love led God to experience in human life.
    I hear what you are saying about baptism and about Jesus’ baptism, and appreciate it. This is just a bit of -for me – greater depth in Jesus’ like-me life.

    The Rev. William J. Fleener, Sr.
    Priest of the Diocese of Western Michigan, retired
    (but enjoying my new career – “flunking retirement”)

  3. Jin on January 12, 2014 at 06:44

    And I thank you Brother James Koester. I’m 38 year old male living in Australia and I’m planning to be baptised this year. Last few days I was distracted by something else but reading this article reminded me of what I need to re-focus on.

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