Baptized into submission

January 7, 2008

Some of my favorite words from the United Methodist Church’s liturgy
for Holy Baptism are the first ones spoken: “Brothers and sisters in
Christ: Through the Sacrament of Baptism we are initiated into Christ’s
holy church. We are incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation
and given new birth through water and the Spirit. All this is God’s
gift, offered to us without price.” As a pastor, what a privilege it is
to announce the abundance of God’s generosity extended to us in
baptism. Initiation into the church, incorporation into God’s acts of
salvation, new birth through water and the Spirit—all gifts bestowed
upon us, not because we are worthy to receive them, but because God is
gracious to give them. Free gifts! What more could we want in this
season of post-holiday sticker shock?

When
Jesus comes from Galilee to be baptized in the Jordan River by John,
John’s first impulse is to resist the gift. For John, it is all wrong.
Jesus is the greater one, Jesus should be the one to baptize him, not
vice-versa. What John doesn’t yet understand, perhaps because Jesus’
ministry is just getting started, is that what it means for Jesus to be
the greater one is for him to submit to the lesser one. Soon
we will hear it everywhere Jesus goes: the last shall be first, the
least greatest, the humble exalted. In Jesus’ baptism, we don’t hear
Jesus preach this message; we see him embody it. Jesus’ gift to John is
the gift of submission. The long-awaited Anointed One allows himself to
be plunged into the water by John and as a result, emerges from the
water as the Beloved Son, the Suffering Servant. It is Jesus’
submission that is pleasing to God, for it “fulfills all
righteousness.”

In baptism, we too emerge from the water as
beloved sons and daughters whose new life, in the pattern of Christ, is
one of servanthood. We too are given the gift of submission. The
challenge for those of us who are baptized is to live into the gift of
our own transformation.

Dean McIntyre tells a story
about the greatest Christmas gift he received this year. It was a card
from the singer and songwriter Ken Medema that contained a $10 bill in
it along with the instructions to use the money as Dean saw fit. He
writes, “I had Ken’s $10 bill in my wallet when I stopped at the
grocery store on my way to work one morning. In the checkout lane next
to mine was an older couple who spoke in a thick east European accent
of some kind. They did not have enough money to pay for their
purchases, which appeared to me to be all staples—no frills or extras.
They were having to decide which of their purchases to send back to the
shelves. I gave Ken’s $10 to my own checker and asked her to give it
anonymously to the young woman checking out the older couple. It
covered their deficit and allowed them to keep a few dollars in their
pocket. They were gratefully confused as I watched them head for the
door.”

Isn’t that the way our baptism works? It is a gift that
contains within it the generosity of God, a gift that through us keeps
on giving. We have been baptized into the submission of Jesus, the
greatest gift there is to receive. Therefore, we can once again this
year remember our baptisms and be thankful.

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