While ritual cleaning was a common practice, baptism took on a new meaning when Jesus was baptized by his cousin John on the river Jordan.
In today's scripture reading from the book of Acts we are reminded of the radical act of reaching beyond the ethnic traditions to include the 'other' into the family of God.
The scripture lessons for Baptism of Christ Sunday are:
Rev. Kerry Bart
Barboursville First United Methodist Church
Like John the Baptist and many disciples since then, I have wondered Why was it that Jesus needed to receive baptism? After all, isn’t baptism for forgiveness of sins, for incorporation into the Church, the body of Christ? Jesus had no sins to forgive, and Jesus was already as incorporated into the body of Christ as a being could be!
One reason I think Jesus “came from Galilee to the Jordan River so that John would baptize him” was that Jesus was teaching and leading by example: “If you want to be my disciples, follow me. Here’s where to start: start the journey of discipleship with baptism. No one is above it. You’re not so educated or so faithful that you don’t need baptism.”
I think that where Jesus sought baptism is also important. Jesus came from his home in Galilee, about a hundred miles north of Jerusalem, to the place where the Jordan River empties into the Dead Sea. At 1,400 feet below sea level, the Dead Sea is the lowest place on the surface of the planet. Jesus started his ministry in the lowest place on earth. Think about that. Think about Jesus saying by his actions as well as his words that he was willing to go to the deepest depths to lead humankind to redemption. “You’re not so educated or so faithful that you don’t need baptism, and you’re not so far-removed from God that you are not worthy to receive baptism. I will meet you at the lowest point. That’s where we’ll start. Follow me.”
On September 30, 2019, some two hundred United Methodists from the West Virginia area gathered on the banks of the Jordan River, near where it empties into the Dead Sea. Close to the lowest point on earth, we committed ourselves to following Jesus. Many of us touched the water and remembered our baptisms, and some even received the sacrament of baptism. How appropriate that on our first full day in the Holy Land, we began our “Walking With Jesus” journey at the Jordan River, where Jesus himself was baptized.
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, thank you. Thank you for putting on flesh and becoming fully human so that we could better follow you. Thank you for meeting us even at our lowest points, for cleansing us of our sins, and for inviting us to follow you on the journey to redemption. We are yours. Amen.
Rev. Randy Mitchell
Little Kanawha District
When Jesus arrived at the Jordan River to be baptized by John, John protested that Jesus should be the one baptizing him. But Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." Then as John poured the water over Jesus, scripture recalls what happened next: “And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on Him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."”
We often read of this and think, “Why did Jesus have to be baptized? After all He was sinless. John’s baptism was of repentance. Why then did Jesus go to John?” Jesus had walked at least 15 days to get there from Jerusalem, the same distance it was to Nazareth from Jerusalem. That effort in itself, speaks of the desire for Jesus to fulfill God’s plan. But the answer we discover is so that John could witness the Holy Spirit alight upon Jesus and to hear God claim Him as the Son of God. A promise we rely on.
I was baptized as a toddler. I don’t remember that far back in my life. Each time I have had a chance to “remember my baptism and be thankful,” I hear those words written about John’s experience again. Being at the historic place that Jesus’ baptism took place was ultra-special for me. It put scripture into reality.
The tour buses carrying the over 200 pilgrim tourists from West Virginia Annual Conference turned off the highway that had taken us to Jericho, only a few miles away. We were warned that the corridor that was made to the parking lot, was safe for us to travel but the fences on either side enclosed countryside that contained live minefields left from recent wars.
As we approached the site, dozens of people were wearing similar robes for those entering the water. Walking to the river, a buoyed rope down the middle of the river (which was barely as wide as the creek my father and I fished during my youth) told us that Jordan began on the other side of the rope. This was definitely not the scene I imagined when Jesus walked here. His presence was all around us. It was palpable in the excitement we felt and witnessed in others present from all over the world.
As it became my turn to wade into the river, a wonderful feeling came over me. I heard those words “this is my son…remember your baptism and be thankful.” The water swept over my head and I arose giving thanks for the mighty gift of God’s grace that had been given me so many years before. I could not contain my emotions. I raised my voice in praise for that gift of the Spirit and being claimed by God as a child.
Each time you hear those words spoken to you or witness a baptism, remember the gift that God provides for all of us. God loves us. God anoints us with the Holy Spirit. We are blessed and marked as God’s child. So, remember your baptism and be thankful.
Prayer: Loving, Creator God, we thank you for your gift of grace we receive upon our baptism. You declare us your child and you provide your Holy Spirit to protect and to guide us in our calling. May we always be thankful. Amen.
Rev. Shari Dawn Stilgenbauer
Johnstown, Lost Creek and Rockford UMC's
Matthew 3:17 And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."
Stepping into the Jordan River to remember my baptism was a "new" life long dream. I wanted to be in the place where Jesus' 'new' life began, his call to active ministry — followed by temptation and trials not too unlike my own — being claimed by God in a new way through water and the Spirit.
As I was preparing to step into the Jordan River, a flood of emotions enveloped. I was looking at my surroundings, pondering what the area would have looked like when Jesus walked up to John. Today, there were groups from various places, speaking different languages all coming to this place, the place where Jesus had been baptized. Some came to be baptized, some came to remember our baptism, and some came to see, but all of us came looking for a refreshed encounter with God.
Upon stepping into the water, the physical features of the area filled my senses. There were three locations where groups gathered for their experiences. Tallgrass surrounded the river. You could not see the bottom of the river; the water was dark brown. It was a hot afternoon; the water would be refreshing. As I stepped into the river, the cold water began to surround me. The overwhelming realness of God's presence rushed over me. My excitement became visible for all to see.
I have often said that the Lord, Jesus, ‘didn’t’ need to be baptized. Baptism was a ritual for others to see. I have since learned, Jesus’ baptism was and is for us to see; to see God’s claim on our imperfect lives. God’s claim on Jesus, “this is my beloved,” also speaks to all who claim Jesus as Lord and Savior.
This claim that God has on us leads us into a life of fullness in Christ. We are chosen for this time. To share the claim that God has invited all the world to be a part. Take this time to remember your baptism and what this means for your life.