Jesus’ Baptism and an Epiphany

The first Sunday after Epiphany on January 6 always commemorates the “Baptism of the Lord.” Jesus’ personal epiphany came as he heard the voice from heaven say, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Wouldn’t it be an epiphany for each of us to hear that we are a part of the family, loved and appreciated? Too many children are seldom told how loved they are.

I grew up in a family that had a spectacular Christmas dinner. It helped that it was also my mother’s parent’s wedding anniversary. Everyone gathered, ate, and had a marvelous time. Uncle Lee, who was a meat-cutter, always gave the nieces and nephews some coin or $2 bill with his name inscribed, usually in red fingernail polish. He always wrapped the item in meat wrapping paper and usually with a pig’s tail to add ballast. There was caramel cake which was my favorite, and others enjoyed the ambrosia. I must admit that I dislike coconut to this day because of my responsibility in hammering open and grating the prime ingredient.

You might wonder what in the world this has to do with Jesus’ baptism and the way we treat children. God didn’t do what my grandparents did as they made sure we sat at the “child’s table.” Sure, we were loved, but it was also important to know the pecking order. The first-class folks sat at the BIG table that had the untouchable finery on it. We were relegated to paper and plastic.

In God’s pecking order, something interesting happens at Jesus’ baptism. Jesus didn’t need to be baptized. He never sinned. There was no need of John’s message of repentance for him, but he did what he always did – the right thing. Some would say that he did it to give us an example to do the same. Others would say that Jesus was modeling humility. I think that is more where my mind goes. Either way, with obedience and humility there’s hardly a chance to go wrong. Jesus was baptized and God spoke. Maybe that’s the clincher for us, too. If we do the right thing, God will speak!

You and I will receive our own epiphany if we’re obedient and humble, doing the things we don’t have to do and doing the things we ought to do, whether we need to or not. God loves each of us so much. He delights in us when we we’re like Jesus at his baptism. His baptism and ours are the same except we do need to repent and have our sins washed away. I guess the closest we come to the wonder of Jesus’ baptism is when we baptize infants. They aren’t old enough to have committed actual sins, though they, like all of us, have original sin, but God does a marvelous thing. Since they are as close to sinless as a human can be to his only begotten son, he puts his baptismal seal of approval and love on them. Even when they will never remember it, from before their first conscious thought that there is even a God, God says to them, their parents, family, and the whole gathered church, “I love you and you delight me!” Pretty darn special, an epiphany!

I remember using Baptism of the Lord Sunday as a special day in the church. This was a long time before any baptismal reaffirmation liturgy was written. What I did was use it as a time to renew our baptismal covenant. At the beginning of each new year we used Wesley’s Covenant Prayer and I literally called the church roll, one name at a time. I encouraged families to sit together and, yes, they answered out loud whether or not they were present. It was kind of like Christmas with my grandparents except there was only one table – the Lord’s Table. We ratified our covenant, renewed our vows through that sacred meal, and moved into a new year with a clean slate.

Interestingly, every year I called some name and would find out that the person had died. The word had not gotten to the church office, but somebody would always know. It became an opportunity to clean up our membership rolls, or, in my mind, we made some transfers from the church militant to the church triumphant. We always had a big church dinner afterwards, and I was amazed at how people always got to talking about how their family history intersected with the church’s. It was a great time of fellowship, reconciliation, and pushed us to be better people than we would have been without it.

I hope this Sunday will be a blessed time for you and your church family. I pray that you will have your own epiphany and hear God say to you, “You’re a part of my family; I love and delight in you!”

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Baptism of the Lord Sunday!

Yesterday our middle child and daughter-in-law texted us a sonogram announcing that they are going to have another daughter. Coming from a guy like me who had two brothers, this is absolutely great! I remember quite well my father’s repeated declaration, “I’d trade all 3 of you boys for one daughter!” Now Josh and Karen will be doubly blessed and Kaela will make a great big sister! This fits with this coming Sunday in my mind. As we commemorate Jesus’ baptism, we all can ponder our births and baptisms.

A little boy asked his mother where he came from, and also where she had come from as a baby. His mother gave him a tall tale about a beautiful white-feathered bird. The boy ran into the next room and asked his grandmother the same question and received a slight variation on the bird story. He then scampered outside to his playmate with the comment, “You know, there hasn’t been a normal birth in our family for at least three generations.”

No birth or baptism is normal. They’re better than that! What do we say about births? I can hear the voices in hospital rooms right now, “It’s a miracle!” or “Ah, the Miracle of Life,” and it’s so true. Epiphany season and each of its Sundays explores a specific aspect of how God has revealed God’s self in Jesus. This whole season is focused on miracles and Jesus’ baptism is a great kick-start.

This analogy might help. I’ve been in more than a few bishops’ offices. There are similarities and differences in each. Some bishops reveal their individuality in artistic tastes via the artwork on the walls. About some, one becomes quickly aware of their family or sports allegiances through photos or mementos.

One of the more unique items that intrigues me and gives cause for deeper thought are the “episcopal pedigrees” that I’ve seen. In several Bishops’ offices I’ve noticed these framed documents that give a historical lineage of which bishop consecrated which subsequent bishop all the way down the line to the bishop in whose office the document now hangs. More than as an apologetic to those who are concerned about whether United Methodist bishops have proof of “apostolic succession,” I think the documents reveal the wonderfully complex web of connected relationships from one generation of United Methodists to another.

United Methodist clergy and laity are linked in a mutually supportive way through one of the constitutive principles of our denomination. We call that principle “conference.” In our church we “conference” about everything. On the local level we have what is called a “charge conference” comprised of all the members of the administrative board meeting with the express permission/supervision of the district superintendent. Up the line we have “district conferences” that usually cover churches over several counties; “annual conferences” that usually comprise all or major portions of a state; “jurisdictional conferences” that are multi-state regions; and a “general conference” that is global. Conferring with each other about God’s will is a hallmark of Methodism. We are a connection of interactive relationships that positions us for more effective ministry.

On this coming Sunday we need to think about another kind of spiritual pedigree. Since the earliest days of the church, the first Sunday of Epiphany season has focused on Jesus’ baptism by John and God’s miraculous affirmation from heaven, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus at his baptism as he began his ministry. Therefore, at Christ’s baptism, and, I dare say, at our own, we see the interactive relationship of God’s personhood empowering our ministry.

Therefore, this Sunday should be our commemoration of our baptismal pedigree, our call to ministry. Wouldn’t it be spiritually enriching to think about who baptized us, and who baptized them, as far back as we can go? Wow! We are part of a community of faith that has a rich heritage of God’s mighty acts of salvation. This can be a personal epiphany for you, reminding you of God’s faithfulness to you and yours for generations. Answer the question, “How did I get here?” and be thankful!