The Baptism of the Lord
Reading I Isaiah 55:1-11
Psalm 29:1-4, 9-10
Reading II Acts 10:34-38
Gospel Mark 1:7-11
When were you baptized? In what church were you baptized? Who baptized you? Who are your godparents? I hope all of you get an A+ on your test. It’s something we do in the church and in our lives, but don’t think about it all the time. But it’s important and what we remember is, “Well, I was a baby and I don’t really remember anything.” Or, “I was an adult and it changed my life.”
Whether it is as an infant or an adult — baptism is just the beginning. It’s bringing us into God’s family, and during turbulent waters in our life it is that spirit that keeps washing us clean, over and over again, and always making a difference. It’s nothing stagnant.
And that’s our challenge every year. Jesus was baptized — he didn’t need to be because he was God — but he was baptized so that all the Scriptures would make sense. John was gifted to say, “I really can’t untie your sandals,” and says to Jesus, “I shouldn’t be baptizing you — you should be baptizing me.” Jesus just says, “Shut up and do what you need to do. This has to be done because unless I experience this in the presence of all people, the Spirit cannot be passed on. And this water is going to take me to some day to be blood on the cross, and on that day, John, you’re going to have your answer.”
It was a tremendous, emotional experience of faith from one man to another, from one cousin to another. And it is the only experience that has changed people and events in the past, and continues to change the world today.
That is why we are baptizing the children this morning. And that’s why we baptize in all churches, all the time. It’s so that God’s Spirit will be kept alive. And being with the Spirit means that life never stays the same. We are who we are at six, we are who we are at twenty-six, we are who we are at fifty-six, we are who we are at ninety-six — same person, same body, same faith. But the experiences of life just keep changing and God keeps saying to us, “Are you with me? I’m giving you all I have, so it’s only fair that I ask you to give me — all that you have.”
There is a little story that puts a twist of humor with this and tells us how sometimes when we deal with God we don’t always hear what God is saying.
It was at an Easter Vigil and someone was being baptized by immersion. This man got into the pool of water and he just got in so far and stopped. As the minister was getting ready to immerse the man three times he whispered into his ear, “Jim, just remember one thing. When you go under the water everything goes to God.”
Instantly the man reached under his baptismal garment and pulled out his wallet and held it up, and when he went down the wallet stayed up. The man was immersed the second time, and the man went down again and the wallet stayed up. When the man was immersed for the third time, he went down again and the wallet stayed up. Then the man said, “Thank God, that’s over. I’ve still got my money.”
Sometimes you and I hold onto things and God says, “I’m ‘gonna get you’ at the end. Hold on to anything, but ‘I’m gonna get you.’ Because you don’t know when I am going to say, ‘It’s time for that ride home. All I ask is that you be ready because in your baptism I gave you everything. You never have to worry about a thing.’ ”
So you and I have to ask, “How is that changing my life?”
We are not perfect. Somebody could say, “I was raised Catholic, I was raised Baptist — and I just walked away. I don’t know why. I don’t go to church. I do pray and I know there is a God. But I’m a busy man, or, I’m a busy woman. I have a career, I have a life. I’ve got a family.”
And God says, “I know all of that. Now what else? Why don’t you have time to spend time with me, and to trust me.”
This plays out in our ordinary lives. If husbands and wives don’t spend time together they could be married for 60 years and one of them might say, “I can’t tell you what my wife or husband has done during the last 15 years.”
Or sometimes we are so busy we think, “If God is God, I don’t really have to take an interest in my children — God will take care of them, God will raise them.”
One of the hardest things for me to hear, and if I was married I don’t know if I would be doing it perfect at all, but when I see young girls and boys in their teens come in to see me and they are plagued with some problem — they are on drugs, they got arrested, whatever — and as you sit down and you start talking about home and their family and I say, “Do you know that you are loved.”
And they will look right at me and say, “I’m not sure.”
I ask, “Haven’t your parents ever told you that they love you?”
Sometimes they will say, “No. I’ve never heard those words from my Mom and Dad.”
I sit there and think, “Is my life all screwed up, or what? I knew I was loved, and my parents showed it in many different ways with those words but in actions as well.” But for somebody to say, “I never heard the words, ‘I want you to know how much I love you and I am extremely pleased with you.’ ” Saying those words is like giving a kid a half a million dollars.
We need to realize that’s where our faith kicks in, and that’s where this baptism kicks in, and that’s why we keep coming back to church. We need this communion. The Spirit draws us into this communion. And even though we don’t do it perfectly, we know that, “Jesus died on the cross and I know he will forgive me. I don’t have to carry any baggage in my life. I know I am a free person because God is God for me.”
And so I come back. Do you know when you were baptized? Do you remember the church, do you know the priest or deacon, do you know your godparents — because this simple ceremony of pouring water is going to change these two children for the rest of their lives. They are really saying to us, “If you are going to do this to me, then make sure you stay with me.”
And they are also saying to the rest of us, even if they grow up and live in this parish for a hundred years, “You told me on the day of my baptism that you all would stay with me. Or if I move to Alaska, or travel to Europe and go to another church and am in communion with another group of people — I will know they experienced the very same thing.”
So this is not Mickey Mouse. This is not reaching for the wallet. This is simply saying, “Wow. How could I be so lucky that my parents thought to have me baptized.”
It’s very powerful.
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Monsignor Michael Kuse is pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Quincy, Illinois.