January 12, 2014
Having a baptism today gives us something to celebrate. Whether the person to be baptized is a child or an adult, a baptism done on this day is more than special, it is triumphant.
In a world that celebrates life achievements mostly for celebrities, the church rejoices at the baptism of a person into the church as well as into their own unique relationship with Jesus, as they are sealed and marked as Christ’s own forever.
But even if there is no baptism in this congregation today, it’s a good opportunity to renew our Baptismal Covenant, the promises we made, or if we were infants, that others made for us. This is a day to renew our commitment to Christ and each other.
The readings today particularly stress the nature of Jesus’ baptism and our own. The passage from Isaiah gets right to the heart of the matter: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights.”
Recently a congregation was present for the baptism of a 55-year-old man who had just started coming to church. His first question was “What do I have to do to be baptized?”
On the day of his baptism, with the bishop present, he stood at the small font, a tall, athletic man, and bowed his head as the priest poured water on him and the bishop sealed him with chrism, marking him as Christ’s own forever.
Afterward, he shared how moving the experience had been for him. He told how something had always been missing in his life. He had been a counselor until retirement, and he now realized the wholeness given to him, just as he had often tried to help others find it in their lives.
He is now a servant, volunteering at a food pantry, and on Christmas Day he offered to help cook and serve Christmas dinner for others at a local health clinic. He spent Christmas weekend with his family, but the day itself was marked by his servanthood.
The second reading today is Peter’s dramatic speech about life in the Spirit, and how he now realizes that God shows no partiality. In our baptismal vows, we take that realization seriously as we promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves.” We also promise to respect the dignity of every human being. The reality of refugees and migrants among us brings this issue right to the front of our minds and hearts. We approach all persons, especially the alien, the stranger, as gifts from God to us, and we extend our hospitality to them because “anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
In the gospel reading we are shown our Lord’s own humility because, “it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Righteousness has to do with the way God intends things to be, and God obviously intends us to submit to one another in service and sacrifice.
Recently, a woman found herself being prodded to do something about the lack of housing for the poor and homeless in her community. Among them were people who were undocumented, people who were out of work, single mothers with children, and several who were simply alone.
She tried to get the attention of her church about their plight. A committee was formed, but nothing happened. Then she decided to take matters into her own hands and began meeting with the people themselves. They organized a housing co-operative and before long they found a small vacant motel they could buy. Having no funds, they began to search for resources, and through a process of diligent work and generosity, put together a financial package to buy the motel. They found a man willing to be their residential manager, and now on cold winter nights and in the heat of summer several dozen people have housing. Her church has now become an integral part of the enterprise as well.
This is what baptism can lead to: a strong sense of servanthood, and mission that fulfills what it means to be righteous. While the baptism of a child is precious, an event that leaves us all smiling and joyful, we cannot know what God has in mind for this person if they are nurtured in the love of the Lord. Often we don’t get to see “the rest of the story”; but if we, did we would be amazed. There are countless stories of people who go on to a servant’s vocation, backed by their vows of baptism and their bond to Christ and his church.
Take a moment now and reflect on where your baptismal journey has brought you.
What have you done as a result of your life in Christ? How has Jesus led you to use your talents and gifts for righteous actions? What has been joyful for you on this journey?
Then look around at your sisters and brothers, and give thanks that together you can celebrate your life in Christ and look forward to further adventures.
— Ben Helmer is a priest in the Diocese of Arkansas. He lives with his wife in Holiday Island and is currently vicar of St. James’ Episcopal Church, Eureka Springs.