Sunday is the Feast of the Baptism of Christ. It is one of the days in the liturgical calendar when we renew the Baptismal Covenant. We do that from time to time so that we can remember that we are God’s beloved sons and daughters whom God has invited to live in a covenant relationship. A covenant relationship is one in which each party is bound to remain in relationship even when the other does not live up to the promises of the covenant. The most important thing to remember about our covenant relationship with God is that God always remains faithful to us, even when we are unfaithful to God. God is always there, calling us back into that unique relationship.
I suppose the most impressive thing about this God of ours is the fact that, instead of sitting upon a throne, aloof and disinterested in the affairs of the people God has created, our God has chosen to enter into a covenant with us. This is a difficult thing for some to believe. I even find myself sometimes asking, when I sense my own unfaithfulness and that of the world around me, “What's a nice God like you doing in a covenant like this?”
As God's covenant promises were declared and established in the Baptism of Jesus - so God’s covenant promises are declared in our Baptism. In our Baptism we, like our Messiah who has gone before us, are anointed and our identity as God's children is established. Through Baptism we become members of God's family and are ordained to the priesthood of believers.
Whenever Baptism is administered, it is a sign of God's action and God's intentions toward us. God gets involved with us in a covenant relationship because God desires to be in companionship with us and wants to work in and through us toward the fulfillment of our lives and the life of all creation. Who we are determines what we do, how we respond to the world and all the people and events of life.
Carl Sandburg once told a group of students at a Harvard commencement, “you need the spirit of Lincoln, who in the divided house of his day knew what to do because he knew who he was.” To be taught that we are children of God and to define ourselves in that way changes what we do with our lives. It is news we can embrace or resist. The fruit of our lives reveals which we are doing.
In Baptism we are marked as Christian disciples and heirs of God's grace. Few of us can actually remember our Baptism - its precise details. But we can remember that we are Baptized just as we can remember that we are born. In remembering our Baptism, we get back in touch with who we really are, God's children, called and set apart for a special purpose. We renew the covenant God has established with us so that there may be a renewal of forgiveness, faith, and ministry in our task as God’s own beloved people.
In Alex Haley's book, Roots, there is a memorable scene the night the slave, Kunte Kinte, drove his master to a ball at the big plantation house. Kunta Kinte heard the music from inside the house, music from the white folk's dance. He parked the buggy and settled down to wait out the long night of his master's revelry. While he sat in the buggy, he heard other music coming from the slave's quarters, the little cabins behind the big house. It was different music, music with a different rhythm. He felt himself carried down the path toward those cabins. There he found a man playing African music, his music which he remembered hearing in Africa as a child – the music he had almost forgotten. Kunta Kinte found that the man was from his section of Africa. They talked excitedly, in his native language, of home and the things of home.
That night, Kunta Kinte went home changed. He lay upon the dirt floor of his little cabin and wept. Weeping in sadness that he had almost forgotten, weeping in joy that he had at last remembered. The terrifying, degrading experience of slavery had almost obliterated his memory of who he was. But the music had helped him remember.
This is a parable about Baptism. It is a parable about how easy it is to forget who we are and whose we are. So the Church is here to remind us, to remind one another, that our freedom has been bought with a price, that someone greater than us has named us and claimed us, seeks us and loves us, with only one good reason in mind - to love us for all eternity. Whenever we see the water poured and each time we feast on the bread and wine of the Eucharist, let us renew the Baptismal Covenant, which we, from time to time, have broken. Each time someone is brought to these holy waters, let us remember our Baptism and be thankful. And each time we step back into the mission field at the Church’s doorstep, let us remember that we are beloved of God so that we can share that blessing with others.
I once had a small piece of one-way glass on my desk with an inscription that said, “Lord, make my life a window for your light to shine through and a mirror to reflect your love to all I meet.” That is exactly what God hopes will come of my Baptism, and yours as well.
Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River
Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him
with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his
Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly
confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy
Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
I’ll see you in Church!
The Very Rev'd Ron Pogue
St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church