Baptism of the Lord: A Beginning: Baptism and Mission

Can you recall a time you began something new? Perhaps it was a course or a career? Perhaps it was a trip or a journey. Maybe it was a new relationship, a friendship or even a marriage. We set out on many adventures in our lifetimes. Each of these beginnings are marked by anticipation,… and anxiety. What will we achieve? What will be the risk? What will it cost us to reach our goal? Can we even achieve our goal? Baptism can be seen in this light. It sets us out on a journey or an adventure. A better word might be a mission.

This weekend we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. It marks the beginning of Jesus’s mission to bring the Reign of God into our world. The Gospel writer Luke tells us, (Luke 3:15-16, 21-22) Jesus walks to the Jordan River with others. All are filled with expectation and asking John the Baptist for baptism. John indicates someone was coming who would fulfill their hopes. After his baptism, Jesus comes up from the water. Luke tells us: “Heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon [Jesus] in bodily form like a dove.” With this gift of the Spirit, Jesus begins his mission.

What is this mission? The short answer is that Jesus received the call to proclaim and make present the Kingdom or the Reign of God in our world. The whole meaning of the Incarnation, what we have just celebrated in the Feast and season of Christmas, is that in Jesus God shares in our humanity and our experience. There has been an entry of God into our world and our lives. The point of this entry of God is that God’s Reign takes root and grows in the midst of creation and our human history.

And now the “So what” question. What difference does this make to us and our world? Fr. Richard Rohr in his online reflection for Jan.3, 2019 can help us here. He quotes theologian Brian McLaren: “For centuries, Christianity has presented itself as an ‘organized religion’ – a change-averse institution… that protects and promotes a timeless system of beliefs that were handed down fully formed in the past. Yet Christianity’s actual history is a story of change and adaptation. We Christians have repeatedly adapted our message, methods, and mission to the contours of our time. (e.g. Vatican II)”

McLaren asks: “What might happen if we understood [Christianity] as creative, constructive, and forward-leaning?” In fact, this was the mission given to Jesus at his Baptism. It is the mission handed on to us at our own baptism. Our call is to be a faith community, an “organized religion” that models Jesus as we share his mission. And what is this model?

McLaren again: “Of the many radical things said and done by Jesus, his unflinching emphasis on love was the most radical of all. Love was the greatest commandment... – love for God, for self, for neighbour, for stranger, for alien, for outsider, for outcast and even for enemy.” This was what we find in Jesus himself as he carried out his mission.

Our mission, received at baptism is to be an “organized religion”, a faith community in this model. Like Jesus himself, we are to speak of love, live in love and plant, grow and nurture a world of love, mercy and compassion… for all.

What a reign, what a Kingdom, what a world! What a hope for our faith community!