Baptism of the Lord A 2011

Sometimes certain scripture passages stick out in different contexts.  For instance, the Magnificat, the Praise of Mary in Luke’s Gospel where the mighty are cast down and the lowly are lifted up were banned in certain parts of the British Empire.  It was in a prison setting in Southern Indiana that the words, God shows no partiality struck me.  On a banner in the prison chapel, those words were inscribed and I thought of what it meant to the residents there.  It would be a sign of hope that God offers a new life.  Our past sins and mistakes can be forgiven.  This is what we celebrate when we gather for baptisms.  God cleanses us from sin and we become adopted children and members of the Church.

The Gospel accounts of Jesus being baptized were problematic for the early Church Fathers.  Why would Jesus be baptized if baptism takes away sin?  Jesus institutes the sacrament but has no need of forgiveness of sins.  Many of them answered that Jesus gives us an example.  Just as a mother may go into the water to give an example of how to swim, Jesus goes into the waters to show us that none of us are above the saving power of the sacrament.

One of my seminary professors came up with a list of ways to understand baptism which are all found in scripture.  I want to read these because the each reveal something that the sacrament does.

1        A change of ownership.  We are claimed by God as God’s own.  We become God’s property, God’s instruments.  2 Cor. 1:21-22 and Eph. 1:13-14

2        A change of allegiance: we live no longer for ourselves but for him; we owe allegiance to the Spirit.  Romans 6:15-18 and 8:12-13

3        Stripping off the old man and putting on the new man who is Christ.  Col 1:9-11 Gal 3:27-29

4        Birth to new life.  John 3:5 and Titus 3:5-7

5        Enlightenment.  Hebrews 10:32 and 1 Peter 2:9

6        Making a person a sharer in Christ, the anointed king and priest.  2 Cor. 1:21 and 1 Peter 2:9

7        Adoption as God’s child.  Rom 8:14-17,23, Gal. 4:4-5, and Eph. 1:3


My seminary professor reminded us that many ways of thinking about baptism seem strange.  After all, Paul speaks about baptism as a form of spiritual death and resurrection.  Fr. Kurt reflected on the significance of adoption as a way to understand baptism.  Perhaps it is because he was adopted that he had this insight.  As someone also adopted I think there is something significant of approaching baptism in this manner.  At baptism, we are adopted sons and daughters, claimed by God.  Just as Jesus was declared the Father’s beloved Son, through baptism we share in God’s family.  The relationship the Son possesses by nature; we possess by adoption and grace.  May this Eucharist strengthen our desire to live in accordance with our baptismal promises.

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