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!
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