Reflection January 12, 2020 (Baptism of the Lord) by Rev Sun-Young (Sunny) Kim
Isaiah 42:1-9/ Acts 10:34-43/ Matthew 3:13-17
Baptism: Profession and Commitment
Have you ever been married? Have you ever made a vow of any kind? I have been married once, and this is how it happened; “Do you think it’s time?” “Yes, I think it’s time.” There was no marriage proposal. And it was going to be pretty much the same this time, but Attila surprised me with a marriage proposal while we were out at the Last Spike, after we set the wedding date. Nevertheless, it was a lovely surprise. He got down in his knees next to the railway track. Anyway, marriage is a serious commitment, which a lot of people these days avoid. They fear this commitment as if they are joining a gang, and the existing members crack their knuckles and say things like, “Now that you’re one of us, you WILL act like one of us.” Any kind of commitment is a serious business.
As a church minister, I consider baptism and church membership the same way. Not a lot of people want to make the commitment. Today, we celebrate the baptism of Jesus and reflect on our own baptisms, whether we were baptized or not. Baptism is like getting married. A couple can lovingly live with one another all their lives without getting married; it’s an extra step in a long-term relationship where the couple wants to publicly declare their love and commitment for one another. Likewise, one can start and maintain a loving relationship with God without publicly professing this relationship through baptism, or have a loving relationship with a congregation without an official membership. Baptism is that one extra step in our relationship with God where we take the trouble to publicly declare this relationship and commitment. This is the beginning of a long-term committed relationship with God.
As we read in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus got baptized by John, and when he did, the Holy Spirit descended upon him and God declared his love and approval of Jesus. Doesn’t it sound like a vow? According to the gospel writers, Jesus just appears out of nowhere, gets baptized, then gets tempted in the wilderness before starting his public ministry. Everything needs a preparation period; I had my theological studies, then worked as a student minister, then as a probationary minister in the Methodist Church before finally becoming an ordained minister. Baptism and temptation in the wilderness were the preparation period for Jesus. It was the beginning of something great, something epic, as we are the proof.
With our commitment to God through baptism, God can start new things through us. Listen to Isaiah chapter 42. God’s Chosen One will bring new things; bringing justice for truth and establishing justice in the earth. The Lord called this Chosen One in righteousness and give him as a light to the Gentiles, to open blind eyes and to bring out prisoners from the prison. This is the beginning of something great and epic; the restoration of God’s people through God’s Chosen One. For Jesus, his baptism and training in the wilderness was the beginning of this prophet’s vision; something new, something epic, with the declaration of God’s reign based on social justice.
Since Jesus showed up like a superstar, new things kept happening. First, he and his followers proclaimed the gospel mostly for the people of Israel. But the Jesus Movement didn’t stop there. In the Acts of the Apostles, we read Peter’s sermon, which needs some background information and context. Cornelius, a centurion of a Roman regiment was a God-fearing man. But he was a Gentile. Meanwhile, Peter was praying up on the roof when he dozed off in hunger and saw a vision of all sorts of ritually unclean animals coming down from heaven with the command to kill and eat them. When Peter protested that he, a faithful Jew, could not eat unclean animals prohibited by the Law of Moses, God said, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” After this vision, Peter realized that Gentiles are not unclean people and was sent to convert Cornelius and his family. That is the context of the sermon we read in Acts today. This sermon proclaims that God shows no partiality, which is compatible with what Jesus taught about God’s kingdom. The Gentiles, who had been previously considered as the second-class citizens to the Israelites, were now declared equally beloved of God. For Cornelius, baptism was the beginning of his full relationship with God, not held back by his Gentile status.
Like Jesus and Cornelius, when we profess our relationship with God through baptism, we are making a vow to commit ourselves to the different ministries of God’s reign. Because we accepted God’s love for us, because we accepted the gospel teaching that God doesn’t show partiality, we make a vow to God that we will receive the guidance of the Holy Spirit to do our best learning and living according to God’s will. Let us think of our baptisms, which for me took place when I was 2 and I have no memory of it, and in our hearts, renew this commitment. Let us promise to God anew that we will do our best living by the values of God’s reign and treat all God’s people with the non-discriminatory love with which God loves us. This is the new year. This is also the new year for the Christian year as we just witnessed Jesus being baptized. Get ready to go on this faith journey with Jesus as he calls his disciples, teach and heal people, and bravely preach the kingdom messages till his painful death. As one would start a new year with a new year’s resolution, let us take our heart back to when we were baptized and re-commit ourselves to the love of God and the works of God’s reign. Let us start anew as God’s people.