Baptisms are always among my favorite days in the church, and I’m pretty sure most every parent or grandparent has happy memories of their own children’s or grandchildren’s baptisms—the gathered family, the white baptismal gown, comments on whether the child was well-behaved or cried or squirmed at the water, the pictures and the general joy of the day. Lexie, today your family is getting the chance to remember that day with you, too, when you were baptized and now, when you take on those promises for yourself. And due to the crazy circumstances of this year, it just so happens to fall on the day that we celebrate the baptism of Jesus himself!
But, y’know, Jesus’ baptism wasn’t quite like the joyful, happy-gathered-family-with-photos-followed-by-an-egg-bake-luncheon baptism so many of us had. It took place in the dusty wilderness, hundreds of feet below sea level, along this muddy creek called the Jordan River. Jesus was surrounded by hundreds, maybe thousands, of other people who had flooded in from Jerusalem and the Judean countryside, compelled by the calling of John the Baptist to repent. And, of course, there was that little detail of the heavens being shredded in half and the Spirit of God in the form of a celestial dove dive-bombing into Jesus. So, y’know, different from ours.
Still, as much as pastors throughout the ages have worked very hard to explain how Jesus’ baptism was different in fundamental ways from our own, I don’t think that’s quite right. Because underneath and behind all the pretty lace of baptismal gowns, and smiling faces in family photographs, and crying, squirming antics of a baby not sure why its parents insist some stranger throw water on its head, the Spirit is hovering over the chaos. We may not be trained to notice it, but through the tattered remnants of the heavenly barrier the works of the kingdom still pour through uninterrupted, and the baptized is swept up in the torrent of that raging river of grace.
Our baptisms, it turns out, have a crucial similarity to Jesus’ own baptism. See, his baptism was his inauguration, his coronation, his initiation as the bearer of the good news of the kingdom of God. It was the day he got to work doing God’s business of telling everyone about that gaping hole in the sky and how it meant God was coming near, to right the wrongs of the world, to lift up the oppressed, to bring justice to the marginalized, to heal those divided by sin, to make whole everything that was broken. That hole in the sky meant that God was on the loose. That hole in the sky meant nothing was going to stop God from this mission of making the world right. God’s mission was unstoppable.
And in his baptism, as in ours, Jesus was called to announce this mission: God’s revolution. God is overturning every system, every evil, every corruption, every oppression that has ever been known and ever will be known. In Jesus, God brings a revolution that can’t be stopped, because it’s not like a human revolution. It doesn’t rely on violence, storming government buildings or taking up arms against class oppressors or overthrowing a government. Instead, it’s a revolution built on this radical, unstoppable notion that in water and the Word, we are remade as children of God, and brought into the work of sharing God’s love with the world.
This revolution looks like living lives based on these promises that Lexie is going to make this morning. We live in communion with each other, whether we agree on everything or not. Where the world demands that we get back in our bubbles, this revolution calls us together, to listen to one another, to confess our shortcomings to one another, to grow with one another, to love one another, as the Church. We learn who we are and whose we are, how we are part of a story much larger than ourselves, how even our small part is beloved by God. We live by prayer, trusting God to be at work even when we can’t see it ourselves, even when the world has gone crazy with pandemic and elections and social instability. And we see all of this, we learn all of this, so that we can enact the revolution of God that declares freedom to the oppressed, hope for the downtrodden, healing for the sick, love for the loveless, wholeness for the forgotten, and the presence of God that will not be turned back.
And do you want to know something? God’s revolution is succeeding. Because when this revolution makes a step, all of humanity shudders and realizes they can never go back to the way things were. When the world sees the goodness that you promise to do, when the world gets a glimpse of that gaping hole in the sky, when the world recognizes the unassailable beacon of hope that we hold before it—even when we don’t hold it well—the world realizes just how deeply it needs God’s healing and whole-making grace. In baptism, we are inaugurated into the work of this revolution of God’s kingdom, and we get to be part of that work that makes the whole world right.
Lexie, that is what you are saying yes to today. That is what each of us said yes to when we were confirmed. In baptism, we’ve already received the Holy Spirit, molding and shaping us to be the kind of people who will share God’s revolutionary justice and hope with the world. On a day like this, though, we get to respond. We get to agree to keep on working in this kingdom, working toward this revolution, because God has already started it, and has already empowered us to be a part of it.
So remember your baptism today, and every day. Remember the ways that it was similar to Jesus’ own—that you, too, received the Holy Spirit; that you, too, were called “beloved;” that you, too, were initiated into God’s revolution and the kingdom it brings. And remember that the heavens have already been torn apart, and that God’s work can’t be undone. This revolution will happen, and God has invited you to be a part of it. So go, change the world with your example of unfailing love, reckless grace, boundless hope, unflagging justice, and unassailable peace. God is changing the world one baptism at a time, and everyone wants to be part of it.
Thanks be to God. Amen.