Epiphany 1A 2005 Matthew 3:13-17
It seems a big jump doesn’t it? A big jump from the Three Wise Men and Christmas Carols and Christmas pageants and
Baby Jesus with Angels flitting around all over the place making big pronouncements that shake and stir up the lives of people.
And here we are almost 20 years later just a week later and Baby Jesus has disappeared, almost as though he had been kidnapped
and spirited away and in his place is this older young man about thirty years older coming to the river Jordan to be baptized
by John the Baptist, that strange cousin of his straight out of the desert hurling threats and condemnation right and left
at every one.
Everyone except Jesus that is. It is a very short passage of Scripture for something that establishes the most important
sacrament of the Church. And the most important event in all of our lives. Baptism. The sacrament of Baptism.
It is always a very wonderful thing when someone is presented to God and before this congregation for baptism. Usually we
baptize infants and small children. There’s nothing more wonderful to see the faces of the babies and their parents
while they are being baptized. If ever there is a time when the light of Christ is shining on and from the faces of people,
it is then.
Today we don’t have a baptism. Usually when a baby is to be baptized I speak very briefly, for obvious reasons. But
today those reasons don’t apply and we have a little more time to examine some things about baptism that are worth reviewing.
Our prayer books, which contain the essence of what Episcopalian Christians believe about God and the faith, have a few things
to say about baptism.
In the rubrics concerning the Order for Holy Baptism, the first thing is this: Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and
the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church. The bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble. (BCP, 298)
In short this means that nothing can unbaptize the baptized. It is once and for all. While it is true that there are some
denominations that accept as legitimate only those baptisms done by them, we Episcopalians believe that there is one Lord,
one faith, and one Baptism. One only. It doesn’t hurt a thing to be rebaptized if you change denominations but it
doesn’t mean a thing and doesn’t do a thing. No power can snatch you from the arms of the God who loves you.
In the Thanksgiving over the Water of Baptism and its consecration, there is this: We thank you, Father for the water of
Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the
Holy Spirit. …Now sanctify this water, we pray you, by the power of your Holy Spirit, that those who are here cleansed
from sin and born again may continue for ever in the risen life of Jesus Christ our Savior….you are sealed by the Holy
Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.
This is powerful stuff and it is good to reflect on them without the distraction of a beautiful and cute little baby and a
crowd of doting parents and grandparents and godparents, as wonderful as they all are. Just to listen to the power of those
words and think about what they mean.
The word itself, Baptism – Baptizo in the original language of the Gospels – is powerful in itself. It is true
that the term before Christ related to both pagan and Jewish cleaning rituals and sacral baths. But its absolute theological
definitiveness comes into being only with the Baptism of our Lord. To get very theological for a moment, let me put it this
way: Because God is the only source of real life and because God alone is holy, whose holiness excludes sin, baptism for
Christians means to be washed clean of sin. The significance of Christian baptism therefore is that baptism is the real action
of the holy God in relation to sinful man and therefore excludes any concept of baptism as superstition or mere symbol. It
is a real act of God, God acting through and in and with the Holy Spirit, toward and upon a real human being. (TDNT, I, 540ff)
It is the presence of God in Baptism that makes it both Holy Baptism and a sacrament. At the Thursday morning lectionary
Study Group this week, much of our discussion of our Gospel passage for today revolved around a discussion of the nature of
a sacrament. The general agreement was that whenever God was manifestly present acting in the moment of the life of one of
his children, a sacrament had occurred, was present. Sometimes we call these holy moments, sometimes aha moments, sometimes
mountaintop moments. But it is clear that both God and humanity are involved.
I had to admit I thought that perhaps was stretching the idea of sacrament a little too far, but as I was writing this sermon
I turned to the Catechism in our Prayer Book, and looked up the section on sacraments. So, let’s look together. Please
turn to page 857, to the section entitled “The Sacraments” and read responsively that section and the following
sections on Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist.
Q. What are the sacraments?
A. The sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by
which we receive that grace.
Q. What is grace?
A. Grace is God’s favor towards us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs
our hearts, and strengthens our wills.
Q. What are the two great sacraments of the Gospel?
A. The two great sacraments given by Christ to his Church are Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist.
Q. What is Holy Baptism?
A. Holy Baptism is the sacrament by which God adopts us as his children and makes us members of Christ’s Body, the Church,
and inheritors of the kingdom of God.
Q. What is the outward and visible sign in Baptism?
A. The outward and visible sign in Baptism is water, in which the person is baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the
Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Q. What is the inward and spiritual grace in Baptism?
A. The inward and spiritual grace in Baptism is union with
Christ in his death and resurrection, birth into God’s family the Church, forgiveness of sins, and new life in the Holy
Q. What is required of us at Baptism?
A. It is required that we renounce Satan, repent of our sins,
and accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
Q. Why then are infants baptized?
A. Infants are baptized so that they can share citizenship in
the Covenant, membership in Christ, and redemption by God.
Q. How are the promises for infants made and carried out?
A. Promises are made for them by their parents and sponsors, who guarantee that the infants will be brought up within the
Church, to know Christ and be able to follow him.
The Holy Eucharist
Q. What is the Holy Eucharist?
A. The Holy Eucharist is the sacrament commanded by
Christ for the continual remembrance of his life, death, and resurrection, until his coming again.
Q. Why is the Eucharist called a sacrifice?
A. Because the Eucharist, the Church’s sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, is the way by which the sacrifice of Christ
is made present, and in which he unites us to his one offering of himself.
Q. By what other names is this service known?
A. The Holy Eucharist is called the Lord’s Supper, and Holy Communion; it is also known as the Divine Liturgy, the Mass,
and the Great Offering.
Q. What is the outward and visible sign in the Eucharist?
A. The outward and visible sign in the Eucharist is bread and wine, given and received according to Christ’s command.
Q. What is the inward and spiritual grace given in the
A. The inward and spiritual grace in the Holy Communion is the Body and Blood of Christ given to his people, and received
Q. What are the benefits which we receive in the Lord’s
A. The benefits we receive are the forgiveness of our sins,
the strengthening of our union with Christ and one another, and the foretaste of the heavenly banquet which is our nourishment
in eternal life.
Q. What is required of us when we come to the Eucharist?
A. It is required that we should examine our lives, repent of our sins, and be in love and charity with all people.
And now let us turn to page 292 of the Book of Common Prayer and renew our own Baptismal Vows.