Sermon: January 8, 2023

Whether we call ourselves Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Mormon, Sikh, Agnostic, Atheist, Consumerist, Secularist, Humanist, or whatever, we follow a religion. All human beings are innately religious. We are made to be religious.

The dictionary defines religion as, “1. the belief in and worship of a superhuman power or powers, especially a God or gods.” 2. A particular system of faith and worship. 3. A pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance.

It is this third definition that I am referring to today in my sermon. “A pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance.’ Even people who don’t consider themselves religious in the more common definitions of the word as found in the first two definitions (belief and worship of a God or gods or a particular system of faith and worship) are religious. Every human being in their capacity to make choices chooses something in their lives to which to ascribe supreme importance. Part of what makes humans human is our innate need to choose something by which to live our lives, something to stake our lives on.

So, even those who do not subscribe to a belief in a particular God or gods or follow a particular system of faith and worship, are religious. Perhaps you put all your interest, trust, and energy in money. Your religion is money. Perhaps your first allegiance is to your country. Your religion would be nationalism. Maybe you put all your interest and energy into your family. Your religion is your family. Maybe fame, or beauty, or success, or security, or reason and rationality, or power or control are your religion. Maybe living the good life is what you pursue above all else. I think you get my point. Your religion is whatever you give supreme importance in your life. And this is a particularly human endeavor. It seems to be part and parcel with having a big brain. It seems to come with being made in the image of God. We are free to choose what we will make of our life and who our god will be. We aren’t free to choose whether or not we are religious, but we are free to choose our religion.

I think this is why Jesus chose to be baptized by John in the Jordan river so many years ago. Presumably Jesus did not need John’s baptism for the same reason that the others who came to John to be baptized did. Just a few verses before our reading for today, John announces the reason he is offering baptism, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Mt. 3:2). And “Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region around the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the River Jordan, confessing their sins.” (Mt. 3:5) John’s baptism was for repentant sinners.

And who are sinners? Well sinners are those who have not used their God-given freedom well. Sinners are those made in the image of God who chose not to act as God would act. So, in other words, sinners are everybody, because every human being makes choices from time to time that are not from a place of love, that are not as God would act. Every human being that is except Jesus. For Scripture tells us that Jesus, being God’s son, was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). So why would Jesus need to be baptized by John? Surely Jesus didn’t have anything to repent. Surely Jesus didn’t need to ask for forgiveness.

And, indeed, he did not. But, Jesus was fully human. And as a fully human creature, Jesus must have had full freedom to choose how to live his life, what to make his religion, his object of greatest importance, that every human being has. As a fully human creature, Jesus had to choose his god. And that day, standing before John in the River Jordan, Jesus made his choice. He also stood in solidarity with all the other human beings who were being baptized that day and making their choice. He chose his religion. He chose his identity. He exercised his full humanity.

But it is a funny thing about this human freedom of choice. It isn’t a onetime thing. It is a journey. Every day we wake up and have to choose again. Every day we have to decide again what we will make the ultimate purpose of our lives. And the same was true of Jesus. He is baptized and then immediately led (or some translations say driven) by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by the devil. His baptism was only the beginning, now the real journey begins. From his first choice flows a lifetime of choices informed by his choice to be baptized, his choice for God. In being baptized he chose to enter a particular story and to follow a particular script. He chose to renounce the scripts of his culture and to enter fully into the story of God’s grace. He chose to enter God’s story rather than the world’s story.

Or perhaps the words of another preacher, Kevin J. Adams, will make more sense to you:

Jesus’s baptism was his “first miracle.” Standing in line, waiting his turn, dunked into murky water, Jesus forever identifies himself with the shadowy reality of humanity’s brokenness and our human need for repentance. His baptism miracle was his first step of humble obedience, setting him on a course to his death and resurrection. . . . At the very first Christian baptism, Jesus identified with sinners. It’s what he was ordained to do. Baptism, not Christmas, starts the story. Baptism is the set of glasses through which we can see all of Jesus’s life. His other miracles, his teachings, his friendships, his loving or tough words to broken people, his death on the cross—all are a working out of his baptism.”[1]

And this is why we choose baptism or why it was chosen for us. We too need a religion by which to live our lives. What will be the ultimate purpose to which we ascribe? What script will we follow when we get up each and every day? In this sense, baptism is not an event but an identity. Baptism is not a naming ceremony or fire protection against hell and eternal punishment, but instead baptism is a way of life. A baptized life is a life lived with God at the center loving our neighbors as ourselves, amidst a community of people striving to do the same.

And this is very different from the way baptism functions in most of our lives. Again, in the words of Kevin Adams:

Most of us, especially in North America, live by a script that promises to make us safe and happy. We play or research or purchase or collect experiences until we’re satisfied. To such a life, baptism can function merely as a custom, a formality, a tacit approval of the status quo, an endorsement of the majority lifestyle. . . To be baptized is to renounce even the most comfortable alternative scripts of our culture and to enter fully into the story of grace.[2]

Baptism should be a reality that shapes our identity and all our decision making. In our baptism we were bound to God and God will not let us go. We can reject our baptism, but our baptism cannot reject us. It is forever. We cannot get unbaptized. We may lose faith in God, but God will never lose faith in us.

And this is why we remember Jesus’ baptism today and our own baptisms. We need to remind ourselves and each other of the true and ultimate purpose of our lives, our true identity, as given to us in our baptisms. We are the beloved of God. As God’s beloved, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. And we don’t do this alone, but with God’s grace and Spirit and with the help and support of our Christian family, to which we were forever joined when we were baptized. And when we mess up, as we will, and forget our baptism, forget our primary identity and purpose, forget that we are God’s beloved, we are to repent and return to God, and God and our community will welcome us back with open arms and hearts. This is the baptismal life. This is an ultimate purpose worth getting up for each and every morning.

So let us now remind ourselves of our baptisms and the identity and life we have chosen for our ultimate purpose as we turn to page 304 in the Book of Common Prayer and renew our Baptismal Covenant:
The Baptismal Covenant
Do you believe in God the Father?
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and
fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the
I will, with God’s help.

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever
you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
I will, with God’s help.
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good
News of God in Christ?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving
your neighbor as yourself?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all
people, and respect the dignity of every human
I will, with God’s help.


[1] Adams, Kevin J. Living Under Water: Baptism as a Way of Life (p. 106-110). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Kindle Edition.
[2] Ibid., p. 37.