Narrative Lectionary Reflection
January 13, 2019
Today’s passage reminds us that baptism isn’t all sweetness and light. God wants people to live changed lives and when John baptizes these people, they are saying they will live a changed life. Baptism is a wonderful experience, but it’s also asking God to come into our lives and God wants it all.
John talks about the coming of Jesus as the One who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. That’s important to remember because too often, people see John as an old fashioned prophet who instilled fear while Jesus was all about love. Nope. Look at Matthew chapter 23 sometime. Jesus calls the religious leaders…a brood of vipers.
Matthew 4:17 has Jesus beginning his ministry by saying “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!” (Common English Bible) Matthew 11:21 issues woes for the towns that refused to repent:
How terrible it will be for you, Chorazin! How terrible it will be for you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles done among you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have changed their hearts and lives and put on funeral clothes and ashes a long time ago.
-Common English Bible
So Jesus and John were not saying different things, they were preaching the same message; asking people to change their lives.
Our baptism is a reminder that we are loved by God and there is nothing we can do about that. In gratitude, we go from these walls to serve others: our neighbors and strangers in need.
It was Alexander Campbell, one of the founders of the Disciples of Christ, summed up what baptism is. He said, “baptism is sort of an embodiment of the gospel and solemn expression of it all in a single act. In baptism, we are passive in everything but giving our consent. We are buried and raised by another. Hence, in no view of baptism can it be called a good work.”
Many traditions including Lutherans, Catholic and Anglican have Easter Vigil. People gather on the Saturday before Easter and hear the salvation story from the Creation to Jesus’ resurrection. At some point during the service, the pastor takes a tree branch and puts in the baptismal font. He or she then will throw the water into the congregation, telling them: “remember your baptism and be thankful.”
Now, it’s a little hard for the traditions to remember their baptisms since they practice infant baptism, but that’s not what the pastor means. What it means is to remember that it was at these waters that a person became part of God’s family and that God loves cares. Remember that baptism and repentance means your world has changed.
Peter Morgan, the past head of the Disciples Historical society said this about baptism: “We rose from the water to manifest the presence of Christ. We are the laos, the people of God born from the water of baptism into a sacramental ministry, manifesting the presence of Christ.”
This is an excerpt from a Bible Study from the Chronicles of God series. You can learn more by going to the Chronicles of God website.
Dennis Sanders is the Pastor at First Christian Church of St. Paul in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. He’s written for various outlets including Christian Century.