The Christ Story for this morning from St. Matthew 3.13-17 begins with John the Baptizer actually trying to prevent Jesus from being baptized. After all, this whole baptizing routine that John was up to was for people who needed cleansing – it was all about the ritual bath prescribed in the Law, the Torah. If one had somehow become unclean – and believe me, there were lots and lots and lots of ways to become unclean according to the religious tradition – including zits. And if someone had become unclean, it was off to the mikvah, the bath commanded in Scripture. Women, of course, became unclean every month – but, fear not, the Law was, you might say, equal opportunity. If you were a guy and sat down on a surface that a woman had sat upon during her time of being unclean . . . . well, there you were, in the same boat as she and you were going to have to go the ritual baths yourself. So – what’s Jesus done to get himself unclean? “This is all backwards, right Jesus? Right?” asks John. “It is absolutely necessary, that I, John, I be baptized by you, yet you ask me to do for you what I need done for me. Something’s up here.”
And Jesus answers: “Oh, but you’ve got that one right John. Let’s do this now John – that all righteousness be fulfilled.” “But Jesus – you’re already righteous, right?” We the listeners already know this – that Jesus is righteous because he is God from God, light from light, true God from true God, of One Being with the Father and all that jazz. So what sort of righteousness must be here fulfilled?
“ALL righteousness and FOR ALL TIME will be fulfilled here.” Jesus says it himself. I will hallow these waters, and from now on, all who enter the water where this promise is proclaimed – that here all righteousness IS fulfilled – well, those ones ARE righteous. It’s all done, it’s all finished – it’s what we say in the creed – we trust in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. No having to go to the ritual bath to be cleansed over and over and over. It’s done all righteousness fulfilled – once – and for all time – all sins, past, present, and yet to come. Forgiven. At the font. It’s the promise. Jesus’ in his baptism has hallowed the waters.
But it’s not just water! There’s that voice – “This is my Beloved with whom I am well pleased.” Righteousness fulfilled at the waters. Whenever anyone is brought to the waters of Baptism, all righteousness is forever accomplished as proclaimed by that voice – this is my daughter, this is my son, the beloved with whom I am well pleased. Not just today, but forever and ever and ever. Hear it again: all righteousness fulfilled – by GOD’S WORD, the Promise!
Now, if for some reason you really, really, really want to drive me stark raving crazy, start talking about the vows WE make in Baptism. The one who is being baptized does ABSOLUTELY NOTHING – which is why we embrace and urge infant baptism – it’s so we won’t have the opportunity to break our arms or tearing our rotator cuffs patting ourselves on the back for having “decided to accept Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior.” Infant Baptism – it’s so we don’t get any bright ideas about having to manufacture some sort of “conversion experience” that often has rather more to do with adolescent hormonal imbalances, combined with peer and or parental pressure than with God’s Promise. No – at the font all righteousness is fulfilled – and grammatically speaking “all righteousness is fulfilled” is a passive construction. No one who is being baptized is making her or himself righteous. The one being baptized is being made righteous – not making, not faking – but being made: that’s what the voice says – “This is my daughter, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” And please note – there is no “because” clause that follows. There is no “if” clause that follows. There isn’t any garbage about “I’m well pleased for the moment, but when you achieve the age of reason, that’s all going to go away and so you’re going to have to go to confirmation so that you can do something to call your own in this whole ‘beloved daughter, well-pleased’ business.” Some of you do know that one of the reforms made almost five-hundred years ago by the mad-monk of Wittenburg was doing away with Confirmation – a human-made rite that effectively made God’s unconditional promise something other than unconditional, something other than God’s true and lasting promise. And sheesh – we’re still monkeying around with that confirmation nonsense – nothing but a rite surrounded by bad theology.
Now, I will grant that there will be some promises that various and sundry of us will make this morning when Imogen Mae Fulford is baptized. Parents, godparents, and all of us in the assembly will promised to do all that is in our power to make sure that Imogen is brought to where she can hear the Promise, over and over and over again – for faith comes through hearing, through hearing the Promise that she, Imogen, is God’s daughter, the Beloved, with whom God is well-pleased. Oh, and that verb “is” – it would be best translated frorm the Greek something like – Imogen, you are and will keep on being God’s daughter – with whom God is and keeps on being well-pleased. And furthermore, my dear Imogen, you will not be able to mess that up – because if you were able, that would make you more powerful than God – and though you may become a powerful woman in your own right – well, God is even more powerful – and you won’t be able to overpower God’s love for you.
A couple weeks ago, a parent asked me if God loves the unbaptized. And if so, why do we need to get baptized? Well, yes, I do believe God loves the un-baptized. But why wouldn’t you want your children to receive the Promise that God loves them and will never, ever let them go? Oh, I suppose one doesn’t absolutely have to hear that he or she is loved by God – but . . . well, I think I’d should like that assurance – especially in the face of American religion and its absolute obsession with using the name of god to enforce whatever petty morality is being peddled at the moment by the purveyors of fear and intimidation. Trusting that God is the God of unconditional love comes through the constant reassurance of God’s Promise of love. Besides, as Martin Luther observes, the disciples are, by Jesus, by God, commanded to go out and baptize – commanded to proclaim the Promise – oh you, whoever you are being brought to the water – you are always God’s child, God’s beloved, with whom God is continually well-pleased.
Which brings us to the water . . . why water? Why not . . . hmm, why not with something a bit more impressive? A promise ring maybe with a diamond? Or, how about champagne poured over the head of the one being baptized? Water – it’s so ordinary – it’s so – it’s so absolutely everywhere. Precisely!! Yes, yes, and yes!! Ordinary and everywhere – water everywhere the reminder of God’s promise that you are indeed a child of God, as beloved as Christ, and you are always well-pleasing to God – just because that’s who God is.
What’s more, that’s who God showed God’s Self to be at Calvary – when someone is baptized she is marked with the Cross of Christ, forever – The Cross of Christ now and for ever the throne and judgment seat of God – from which God proclaimed on that Good Friday – not damnation, not a bunch of rules, not a bunch of “have-to’s” or “better-not-do’s” or “if-you-do-something-bad-I’m-