The First Sunday after the Epiphany January 9, 2010 Matthew 3:13-17

Today we have the joy of bringing into the fellowship of Christ Harrison and Tucker.

I asked Harrison yesterday what he knew about what would happen today. “I can get the cup and the Christ”, he said.

I know Harrison and Tucker have been looking forward to this day. I can read their eagerness at the altar rail this last year. They know everyone else is being fed, and they want to be fed too.

Baptism is a sacrament we receive once, but the “cup and the Christ” is something they will partake in repeatedly in the Christian life that begins today for them.

Baptism is our way of accepting all the graces and goods we find in Jesus Christ, and saying “I'll follow you, Jesus”. This is done once.

“The cup and the Christ” is food for the journey of following Christ. We drink the cup and eat the Christ again and again, because it strengthens us to take the journey; a journey in which we'll learn from Jesus how to live in the ministry he gives us, that he shares with us.

We baptize Harrison and Tucker on the same day we remember the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan at the hands of John the Baptist.

Matthew's Gospel tells us that Jesus' baptism was the beginning of something. Matthew has in mind another beginning, that told in Genesis, when the “Spirit of God hovered over the waters” and the world was brought into being.

In Matthew's story, there is the Spirit hovering again!

“Suddenly he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased!”

There's that Spirit hovering, and now a new beginning. Creation had suffered long enough because of our collective waywardness and rebellion against God's goodness. Now a new beginning! The Holy Child of God joins us in our life, and a new Genesis is being written!

It's clear that Jesus' baptism is just a beginning. Ahead of him lies his ministry in the world; a ministry of deep and fundamental challenge to all the ways of the world; a ministry of the reconciling and suffering love of God. His baptism is a commissioning for ministry. What follows in his life is the working out of what this baptism means. And the Spirit wants us to know this, to notice, to see and hear what Jesus will do and say now.

“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased!”

When we baptize Harrison and Tucker, we acknowledge that for them it is the beginning as well.

“We receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood,” we say.

We need to grasp this fact and own it. See if you find familiar elements in the story I'm going to relate now.*

A pastor writes of a boy he'll call Kyle, who was nowhere to be found after his baptism and confirmation on Pentecost Sunday.

This was odd, because Kyle had been a faithful participant in his ninth-grade confirmation class, participating in two retreats, a mission activity, work with a mentor, weekly classes for study and exploration. He developed wonderful friendships with other ninth-graders. The celebration on Pentecost was a terrific time for all concerned – mentors, confirmands, parents.

But where was Kyle after Pentecost Sunday? Nowhere to be found! His parents and he just disappeared from the fellowship of the Church.

The pastor called the parents to check to see what was up. He writes:

“I distinctly remember his mother saying 'Oh, well, I guess I thought Kyle was all done. I mean, he was baptized and confirmed and everything. Isn't he done?”

The pastor explained that the baptism and the confirmation were only a beginning; a commissioning, as it were. Just like Jesus' baptism was only a beginning of a ministry, so our baptism or the confirmation of our baptismal vows is just a beginning of something. It is the commissioning for our ministry.

The pastor told Kyle's parents how much he missed them and Kyle, and how his confirmation mentor was ready to continue a relationship of support to Kyle. He writes that the parents were “remarkably understanding,” and even apologetic.

“I guess we just missed this somehow,” they said.

And the pastor said “And I don't think we did a very good job of conveying this to you and Kyle”.

The end of the story is that Kyle and his parents came back into the community. They came back to the church, were warmly greeted, and, as the pastor says, “they even seemed a little relieved at the realization that the journey was not over but was just beginning.”

How much of our own church life do we recognize in this story? How are we working to change that?

Today Harrison and Tucker will be receiving “the cup and the Christ”. Today also Jarrod will begin his journey to his adult baptism at Easter. “The cup and the Christ” is his desire too.

To receive “the cup and the Christ” is to share with Jesus in his commissioning for ministry. We are never “done” with our Christian life; our ministry in the name of and for the sake of the love of Jesus.

So here's to Harrison, and to Tucker, and to Jarrod, and to all of us, who take the water bath with Jesus in order to share at his table.

His table is a place to be strengthened for service in a ministry we continue until the Last Day. Amen.

*Rodger Y. Nishioka in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, Volume 1. (Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), pp 236-240.

Art: "Baptism of Christ" by Piero della Francesca