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  • Writer's pictureFather Nicholas Lang

The Baptism of the Lord

“Christ is made the sure foundation, Christ the head and cornerstone.”


That was true more than one hundred years ago when a small group of believers met for prayer as the beginning of what would become St. Andrew’s Mission in Devon and when in 1924 the cornerstone was laid for the first church building and when in 1962 on January 15, at its annual meeting St. Andrew’s became a self-sustaining parish.


“Christ is made the sure foundation.” That was clearly established when more than two thousand years ago, in the waters of the river Jordan, when Jesus submitted himself to be baptized by John as a rite of passage to the beginning of his public ministry and just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”


Today is a day to recognize and celebrate and rejoice in beginnings. In a few minutes, we will all recall our beginnings as members of God’s family, followers of Jesus, a royal and chosen priesthood, the very household of God. We will do that by renewing our baptismal covenant as a community of believers who like the disciples of Jesus are the successors of those faithful ones who set the foundation and laid the cornerstone of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church. Whether we were carried in our godparents arms or got there as adults, we got into the river of life with Jesus and all our flawed kin in God’s household.


Today we are at the River Jordan. By his baptism, Jesus announces his presence, affirms his belief, and prepares to begin his life-work, one that would be a radical departure from the old time religion of the people of Israel.


What John was offering was not some innovation by a creative fanatic. It had its precedence in the practice of Jewish baptism that was known in John’s day. To receive converts to the faith, Jewish leaders would sometimes guide converts into a river as a symbolic cleansing of their souls. The baptizer would stand beside the person in the water and recite appropriate words from Hebrew Scripture. This was a sign of a person’s belief and of his or her reception into the faith.


The place that day was teeming with sinners –some of them criminals—who hoped that John could clean them up and turn their lives around so for Jesus to come seeking baptism must have seemed a surprise to John. He knew he was not worthy to stoop before Jesus, yet Jesus showed up and got in line with the rest of them. No one knew who he was. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’ life begins with his baptism. He simply showed up and waited his turn in line for the same ministrations that were given to all the others.


The Church throughout time has never been very comfortable with the baptism of Jesus Why would Jesus, the Son of God, come to be baptized? Yes, maybe to identify with us and our spiritual needs and to model for us what happens when we follow his lead and are baptized by water and the Spirit.


But the baptism of Jesus was an “aha” moment—an epiphany for all who were present, as well as for those who were not. God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were made manifest. There amid all those flawed people, there in the Jordan River, the source of salvation and eternal life was identified.


That mysterious Voice spoke that intimate term of endearment Beloved and that is exactly how God names each one of us. For most of us that’s probably a hard pill to swallow. We feel undeserving of that designation. Accepting the fact that God loves us so enormously, without condition and with no strings attached, is mind boggling to us flawed humans.


As I wrote in this week’s “E-News” edition, I’m struck by the words of liturgist J. Frank Henderson who tells us that “Baptism is entering into a community that is wisdom’s own household. Here we are all teachers and all are learners. Here members are bound to each other by ties of affection and fidelity.”


When we come together to baptize or to renew our own baptismal covenant it is really about togetherness. About which Archbishop Desmond Tutu said: “If we could but recognize our common humanity, that we do belong together, that our destinies are bound up in one another’s, that we can be free only together, that we can survive only together, that we can be human only together, then a glorious world would come into being.”

We are a lot different looking church from the various milestones we will recall during this centennial year.

From a small group of the faithful people who met over one hundred years ago for cottage services, St. Andrew’s grew into a viable, dynamic community.

Through the years circumstances have changed our demographics but we are still the church, the church of Christ which in every age, and perhaps more now than ever, in the words of what we will sing at the conclusion of this Holy Eucharist, “beset by change but spirit led, must claim and test its heritage and keep on rising from the dead.”

You and I are sent out into the world when we leave God’s table here, strengthened by Word and Sacrament and by one another, to proclaim the good news that God has come among us in the flesh. We have taken the risk to step into the river with Jesus. We are God’s beloved, marked as Christ’s own forever; bound to each other by ties of affection and fidelity. And Christ himself is our sure foundation.

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