Have you ever been to a full immersion baptism? I experienced my first a little over a year ago right here at St. George’s, when Tim Sanborn was baptized. I experienced my first a little over a year ago right here at St. George’s, when Tim Sanborn was baptized. Some of you here may remember….
Our pews were lined up length-wise along the side walls that morning. In the very center of the church, on an oriental rug stood a huge galvanized metal horse trough full of water. Tim is a grown man. When it was time for the actual baptism, he climbed into the tub, sat down in the water, and then, Calvin leaned over, tipped him backwards into the water, so that his head went all the way under. As I recall, it was not a gentle motion! He plunged his brother’s head under the water and then lifted him up again. And Tim emerged from the water sputtering—and laughing!
It was a new beginning. It was an unforgettable, life changing moment for Tim, and for those of us who witnessed it. I know I saw baptism in a whole new light that morning.
Jesus was baptized like this, but in the murky water of the Jordan river, along with the mobs of ordinary people who were drawn there by the charismatic words of John the Baptist. Jesus’ baptism marks the beginning of his public ministry in all four of the Gospels. It’s a pivotal moment for Jesus—it was transformational for him, too. Here, in this very public moment, as he allows his cousin John to tip him back into the river, heaven meets earth. Jesus joins us in our full humanity—the incarnation is made real for me not the Bethlehem stable, but right here, in the muddy waters of the Jordan River. Here, Jesus empties himself. He lets go of his own pride and his own identity. He surrenders to God’s mission for him. He lets go of his ordinary life as a son, a brother, a neighbor, a carpenter…. In this moment, he takes on the identity of the servant described today in the reading from Isaiah. It’s a larger life—a life that would change the world—a life that still changes the world.
The two baptisms I have lifted up this morning – Jesus’ long ago immersion in the Jordan and Tim’s right here in a horse trough are easy to remember. Most of us here have been baptized, too, but we may not remember it because we were babies or young children when it happened. And chances are good that we had just a few drops of water sprinkled on our heads—enough to get the job done without starting a flood of tears!
Whether we were babies or adults, sprinkled, dipped or fully immersed, for Jesus and for each of us, at our baptism, God’s Spirit of peace and wholeness descended and we were transformed. In baptism, we get our real identity—no matter who we are or where we are in our lives. We become beloved children of God. We are transformed by God’s love. Baptism is just the beginning—it’s the beginning of a lifelong adventure in relationship with God and God’s people in community. It’s the first of all the transformations that may happen along the way as we grow deeper in our relationship with God and our commitment to follow Jesus. And at the heart of each of those transformations is still the power of God’s love.
Let’s not forget the water—in a river, a horse trough or a simple, small bowl – you can’t have a baptism without it! Here at St. George’s, pitchers of it pass through the congregation during a time of prayer before a baptism. And then Calvin holds the pitchers of water high over the font so we can hear the water splash as it’s being poured.
Bishop Jake Owensby invites us to think of God as the water that is so much a part of our human bodies. He notes that water comprises up to 60% of our bodies. The percentage is even higher in our brains and our lungs, 73% and 83% respectively. We are infused with water. Without water, we’d simply collapse into lifeless dust. Like water, God gives us life.
Some have explained Baptism as a bath that washes away our sins. The bishop invites us to consider instead a dry sponge like this one. As it is now, this hard, stiff block won’t clean pots or wipe counters very well. But think what happens when you place it under running water. It gets bigger and softer, and most importantly, as it absorbs more and more water, it can do what it’s meant to do—clean things!
So it is with us. We are the dry sponges. God is the running water. We were made for this kind of intimate relationship with God in Christ. Transformation happens as we soak up the love of God in our hearts and souls, when we truly believe that we are each God’s beloved sons and daughters. Then we are able to become the people we were created to be in the first place.
Transformation. Look for it—maybe it’s easier to see in others than to recognize it in ourselves. You’ll notice that these individuals seem to glow with an inner fire. They have a courageous and fearless energy for doing good. For reaching out to others. For showing God at work in their lives in large and small ways. There is joy at the heart of all they do. At a deep inner level, they have heard again and again those words of identity and affirmation—words like the ones Jesus heard: “You are my beloved son.” “You are my beloved daughter.” “With you I am well pleased.” They are realizing their baptism. With God’s grace and God’s help, whether they were sprinkled, dipped or fully immersed, they are living out their faith.
This is what God wants for each of us.
This is what is needed in our world.
Baptism made real.
By God’s grace, may it be so for each one of us.
 Jake Owensby. Reflection: “In our very bones” Jan. 7, 2017 https://jakeowensby.com/2017/01/07/in-our-very-bones/