Tag Archives: Baptism of the Lord

The Importance of Knowing Your Name

A Sermon for 7 January 2018 – Baptism of the Lord Sunday

A reading from the gospel of Mark 1:4-11.  Listen for God’s word to us.

“John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.  6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.  7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.  8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”  9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.  11And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!


Have you ever been to a naming ceremony?  We’ve heard of one these past few weeks in our Christmas readings.  The event is so matter-of-fact that after all the hype of the angels and shepherds and birth out back among the animals, the gospel of Luke simply records:  “After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb” (Luke 2:21).  One little verse, recorded only in one gospel; tells us Jesus’ parents observed his naming ceremony.

If you want to know what to expect today in a naming ceremony, just goggle it.  Reformjudaism.org includes Rabbi Karen Companez describing “What to Expect at a Baby Naming.”  Though the number of days after birth differ for little boys and little girls, you can expect a naming ceremony for a Reformed Jewish family to be held either in the baby’s home or at the synagogue.  The child receives a Hebrew name – the name they will be called at every major milestone of their lives.  From their first Consecration ceremony at the beginning of their religious education, at their coming-of-age bar or bat mitzvah, when they wed, when the are called upon in worship to read the Torah, and at last, when they die.  The Hebrew name given at their naming ceremony will be used at their funeral.  Then to be inscribed on their tombstone.  At a Reformed Jewish naming ceremony, parents typically explain why it is that name has been chosen for their child.  Blessings are said that remind all that this child has “entered into a brit, a covenant, with God.  . . .  The traditional wish is offered – that this child may grow into a life of study of Torah, of loving relationships, and the performance of good deeds” (https://reformjudaism.org/what-expect-baby-naming).

Hindu naming ceremonies are considered sacred and elaborately performed on the twelfth day after an infant’s birth.  For the first week-and-a-half of the baby’s life, no one but it’s mother and a helper – typically the mother’s mother – is allowed to touch the baby or mother.  After a ceremonial bath for both infant and mom, relatives are invited to the home.  In some Hindu cultures, the paternal aunt has the honor of naming her brother’s child.  After the mother “wets the head of the baby with drops of water as a symbol of purifying the child,” the auntie “whispers the newborn his or her name in the ear and then announces it to the gathered family and friends.”  After, in some Hindu communities, “the sacred fire is lighted and the priest chants sacred hymns to invoke the Gods in heaven to bless the child” (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naming_ceremony).  . . .  What beautiful rituals to welcome a new little one into the world!  To ensure that child and all who will surround his or her life know how special the little one is.  How cherished and honored and excited the whole community is to watch the life of that little newborn unfold – to become all that little one can be as a blessing to the world.  The naming ceremony tells all how important this child is for the life of the world.

If you were here last week, I asked you to bring a photo of yourself from your baptism – or the photo of another one you love on the day of their baptism.  I hope you did and that you take a good long look at it.  . . .  Today is the time in the liturgical calendar to remember what most likely was our equivalent naming ceremony:  our baptism.  . . .  Spiritual blogger and Millennial spokesperson Rachel Held Evans speaks of baptism as a naming ceremony.  In a Work of the People clip, which is a resource we’ve been using as part of our curriculum for Sunday School these past few weeks; she says:  “Baptism is a naming.  Naming someone a child of God.  Baptism acknowledges someone’s belovedness.  Jesus’ baptism was an acknowledgement of his eternal belovedness.  Baptism acknowledges our eternal belovedness too” (www.theworkofthepeople.com, “Baptism Named Beloved,” Rachel Held Evans).  In the baptismal liturgy, we renounce evil and its power in the world.  We’ll do so in our Reaffirmation of the Baptismal Covenant later in this service.  Rachel Held Evans makes sense of this renouncing by explaining that it is a “renunciation of all those competing voices that try to tell you who you are.”  She says:  “The world gives you names like screw-up, faker, fat, slut, addict.  In baptism you are named beloved.”  We are beloved, she explains.  And that’s enough!  “Baptism is a defiant thing to do,” she says, “because the world always will try to name us.  And in baptism we say:  ‘No!  My name is beloved!’  We are named by God and that is enough.  It’s good news!” (Ibid.)

It’s why we Presbyterians baptize publicly – at the time of worship, not in some separate private ceremony.  Whether a newborn baby, a pre-teen, or an adult; we declare as a community that the one to be baptized must know their name:  Child of the covenant, Beloved of God!  As we acknowledge the one being baptized’s name, we are charged likewise to remember our own baptisms and be grateful!  To call to mind our own name – beloved – lest the names of the world are left to resound in our heads.  We all are beloved!  And from the moment of our vows on, we resolve to live as those who know our own and show others’ their names too.

I love this day and I love that it falls so close to the beginning of each calendar year.  What better way to begin a new year than with this very important reminder?  And today, being that it’s a first Sunday of the month too; we’ll re-affirm the baptismal covenant, then move into the joyful feast of the people of God.  In the Lord’s Supper we’ll do what biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann calls a “regular re-performance of what we claim in baptism.”  We’ll partake of “concrete, tangible signs of the generosity of God” (www.theworkofthepeople.com, “Faithful Practices,” Walter Brueggemann).  We’ll eat of the food and drink of the cup that proclaims, in Brueggemann’s words, that we “belong to the narrative of Jesus and not the narrative” of the world (Ibid.).  We will taste and know our names:  beloved children of God who are “sealed as Christ’s own forever” (Ibid.).  . . .  It’s very good news!  News that changes how we understand ourselves, how we interact with our neighbors, and how we resolve to live our lives this day and forevermore!

Happy Baptism, brothers and sisters of Christ!  Come now, to the font.  Again, let us know our names!

© Copyright JMN – 2018  (All rights reserved.)

Needed by the Kingdom

A Sermon for 8 January 2017 – Baptism of the Lord

A reading from the prophet Isaiah 42:1-9. Listen for God’s word to us.

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.   Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: ‘I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the Lord, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.’”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the fifth of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia; Eustace stands out. He’s the sniveling cousin of Lucy, Edward, Peter, and lil Susan too. In case you’re unfamiliar with Narnia, you need to know that the four siblings Lucy, Edward, Peter, and Susan live in parallel worlds. In the real world, they’re bored, commonplace kids. But in Narnia, they are royalty. They’re the queens and kings the kingdom frequently needs. Without their valor and courage, their trust and love; the kingdom is held captive by the evil forces of the snow witch; or in the case of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by a mysterious, demonic mist that takes captive those who encounter it. Cousin Eustace doesn’t believe. Not one bit. He hates having Lucy and Edward in his home in the real world and finds all their talk about this mystical Narnia place, in which they are something other than a total pain to him, absolutely rubbish!

It would happen, of course, that one day, Eustace falls into Narnia right behind Edward and Lucy. Despite the sights all around him – including a talking, sword-wielding mouse – he still doesn’t buy into the notion of a Narnia kingdom where their help desperately is needed. . . . Over the course of events, Eustace becomes a flying, fire-breathing dragon. And as the dragon, Eustace takes on the unique qualities needed to combat the devilish mist. Of course royal Lucy and Edward are needed too. But without fire-breathing, dive-bombing, scaly-skinned Eustace; the mist which holds its prisoners captive cannot be defeated.

Baptism of the Lord Sunday seems a good day to remember Narnia. For today we are confronted, not only with Jesus’ baptism, but also with our own. It’s been a while since we’ve had the joy, in Baptism, of pronouncing a new child as God’s very own. And when last have you experienced the excitement of watching an adult bow to embrace the reality of Christ’s royal mark? Every time we celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism, we all are reminded of who we are and to whom we belong. The purpose of all our lives is re-affirmed again as we, the church, rise refreshed for life in the world. That’s why we do baptism the way we do as Christians of the Reformed Theological Tradition. Baptisms are public, with vows taken both by the individual (or as in the case of infant baptism, for an individual) AND by the congregation. We believe baptism is a sign and seal of what the Sovereign God already has done in Christ. Though we might live in the real world where too often we feel like boring, commonplace Lucy and Edward; the truth of it is for us that we too are royalty – children of the most high God who are needed in the kingdom.

It would be really helpful if we did a better job as the church in remembering and marking the passage of our baptism dates. Do you know yours? Do you light a candle on that day or get out a keepsake bulletin? I urge you to. And parents and grandparents: if you don’t yet, begin this tradition with your children. Because on the day when you were baptized – whether you were a baby so you can’t remember it now or maybe dunked as a teenager in this or another tradition – our baptisms are a very BIG deal! . . . So many want to focus on baptism as an assurance of God’s gift of salvation. But honestly that’s not the purpose of baptism in the Reformed Theological Tradition. For us, baptism is not a form of dispensing God’s grace to us – nor is our other sacrament, the Lord’s Supper. Rather each act is a reminder to us of what God already has done – the crucifixion and resurrection are over. We are set free for abundant life now! Let the ritual – let the act of feeling water on your head and tasting bread and juice in your mouth – let these rituals remind you of who you are, to whom you belong, and how you are to live each day in the world.

Consider Isaiah. It may seem a bit odd to read this Old Testament Servant Song as the focus of Baptism of the Lord Sunday. Because, who really is the servant? Historically some have said the prophet was writing while the Israelites were in exile. Cyrus was the exalted servant (Feasting on the Word, Yr. A, Vol. 1, Stephanie A. Paulsell, p. 220). After all, he was the great Persian king who would defeat Babylon and pave the way for the people to return to Jerusalem. Others think Isaiah is speaking of Israel itself. Thus the whole community is God’s servant, chosen to protect the weak and gently cup their hands around any dimly burning wick so even the littlest light will not be snuffed out (Feasting on the Word, Yr. A, Vol. 1, Stephanie A. Paulsell, p. 218). Much like Matthew’s author does, many Christian commentators have read Jesus into the Old Testament to insist that Isaiah’s servant refers to our Christ. As the Messiah, he is considered the fulfillment of such prophecy. Indeed we know Jesus to be one upon whom the spirit of the LORD rests – the one whom God called Beloved, with whom God is well-pleased (Matt. 3:17). The one who would not faint nor be crushed until justice is established on the earth (Is. 42:4). . . . All options are viable in thinking about who this servant is in whom, according to Isaiah 42, God’s soul delights. . . . And so too are you. As the church upon whom God’s Spirit has been poured out, we can hear the first of Isaiah’s Servant Song as a gift to us. Blessed words spoken by God to us: “Here you are; my servants, whom I uphold, my covenant children, in whom my soul delights” (Is. 42:1). I love the way the version of the bible called The Message lays out these marching orders from God. Listen: ‘I’ve bathed you with my Spirit, my life. You are to set everything right among nations. No need to call attention to what you do with loud speeches or gaudy parades. You won’t brush aside the bruised and the hurt; you shall not disregard the small and insignificant. But steadily – firmly – you shall set things right. . . . Open blind eyes – if not literally then figuratively – release prisoners from dungeons, empty the dark prisons in which too many are caught’ (Is. 42:7).

Can you see how the words of Isaiah are words that give form to our baptismal vows? We are the royal servants that the kingdom needs. Our valor and courage, our trust and love are the unique qualities needed to combat the forces that still seek to take captive whoever they can. . . . I know sometimes it’s hard to remember. I know sometimes life in the real world can push us down until with Narnia’s Eustace we don’t believe. But remember, children of the covenant, remember household of God: we are the royal servants the kingdom so desperately needs.

As we prepare to reaffirm our baptisms, remember who you are, to whom you belong, and how you are to live in the world each day.

© Copyright JMN – 2017  (All right reserved.)