John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Here in the waters of the Jordan River the prophetic tradition of the First Testament continues from John the Baptizer to Jesus the Christ.
First we are clearly reminded of this tradition in the universal prophetic call of repentance that we see John echoing. All of the prophets of old told individuals and communities to turn around from their wicked deeds and return to the loving ways of their God.
Second, to further show the prophetic connections we are reminded specifically of the prophet Elijah based on John’s eccentric clothing. The clothing is so reminiscent of Elijah that many Jewish people believed that John was actually Elijah returned from heaven. And if this is still not enough to convince you of the connections between stories then they continue in the tradition of the passing of the prophetic mantle in the River Jordan from 2 Kings chapter 2 where Elijah parts the river so he and Elisha can cross. There Elijah gives Elisha a double portion of the Holy Spirit to continue the prophetic work in Israel.
The splitting of the waters and the passing of the prophetic mantle remind us of another iconic duo from Israel’s prophetic history. The story of Moses and Joshua in Exodus, leading the Israelite people out of slavery and oppression continues this prophetic tradition. Moses parts the Red Sea and then later the Jordan River. And it is here in the wilderness by the Jordan River that Moses passes along the prophetic mantle to Joshua.
And both of these instances of the prophetic duos in the River Jordan again connect to our story today in that they were accompanied by divine acts. God appears to Moses and Joshua as a pillar of cloud. Elijah is taken up to heaven in a flaming chariot and cyclone. And as you have noticed all of these connections in our story, we see that in our story today God rips open the heavens to share the Holy Spirit with Jesus. Just like how the Spirit entered the chaotic void in Genesis 1, our first scripture reading of the day.
All of these moments, the miracles of God appearing in our world and the prophetic tradition are all part of God’s connected world where God declares that we are beloved. This might seem like a distant tradition that does not connect to us today with men in weird clothing and divine acts. But in reality the sacrament of Baptism connects us all, from Moses and Joshua to Elijah and Elisha to John and Jesus to you and me. Baptism is, as theologians like to say, an outward sign of an inward reality of grace. This inward reality is not something you can change. You can hide it or distort your view of it but the grace that God bestows upon you, that we remember in Baptism, can never leave you nor forsake you.
Each and every one of us is called into this prophetic tradition of creation and liberation and belovedness through the waters of Baptism. Each and every one of us is given this radical love, this radical inclusion into the beautiful and caring world that God is creating with us. It reminds me of the motto of Hagar’s Community Church that our greatest mistakes do not define us. In Baptism, we make the radical claim that no other claim on our life can define us as anything other than God’s beloved child.
And in that calling is the work of the prophet, to tell ourselves, our neighbors, our friends and families, our enemies, and all of of creation of our belovedness. The prophetic work is to correct us when we have forgotten or when we treat others as anything less than beloved. The prophetic work that unites us on this earth is to share radical love and radical acceptance. To decry the ways and the systems and the messages that tell us we have to earn love or care or justice.
On Wednesday, we saw something that has been building for a long time finally erupt. There are cracks in the foundation. We have not treated one another with love and acceptance and more often than not, those with power in our society whether based on money or the color of their skin, have stoked the flames to keep control and many of us have remained silent. Baptism is a call to repentance. To remind ourselves and all people that they are God’s beloved. To take up our prophetic mantle and work to end violence in every form.
Liz and I have been watching a reality tv show called Alone recently. The show takes ten contestants and drops each one in a different location in a wilderness area with only ten items. They then have to stay and survive in the wilderness for longer than everyone else. The show always starts with people setting up camp, starting a fire, and trying to find a source of water. And while conceptually I have always known of the need for water, it hit me watching these people struggle without water for just a day or two just how important it really is. Dehydration causes fatigue and even hallucinations.
As the people of God, our belovedness is like water. We cannot survive without it. We become fatigued and start to let false images enter our minds. I love the Pacific Northwest for many reasons but the constant rain helps me to never forget God’s promises in the waters of Baptism. The promise that I am dearly beloved. The promise that you are dearly beloved.
I do not know what messages you are listening to today. I do not know where you are on your Baptismal journey. I do not know if you have been going without this watery love. But what I do know is that you are a beloved child of God and that nothing, nothing can ever change that. You are a beloved child of God who gets to enter into this prophetic tradition of sharing the belovedness of the whole world. So come on in, friends, the water is fine!