A Presbyterian pastor tells of a 10-year-old boy named Cameron who walked into her office and said he needed to talk to her. He began, “We were learning about Jesus’ baptism in Sunday School. The teacher asked the class who was baptized, and all the other kids raised their hands. I want to be baptized too.”
Using her best pastoral tone of voice, she said, “Cameron, do you really want to be baptized just because everyone else is?” His freckles winked up at her and he replied, “No, I want to be baptized because it means I belong to God.”
She was touched by his understanding. “Well, then,” she said, “How about this Sunday?” His smile turned to concern and he asked, “Do I have to be baptized in front of all those people in the church? Can’t I just have a friend baptize me in the river?” A little startled she asked where he came up with that idea. “Well, Jesus was baptized by his cousin John in a river, wasn’t he?” Caught off guard, she conceded, “You have a point. But, if a friend baptizes you in the river, how would the church recognize it?” “I guess by my new way of living” he said. (paraphrased from a sermon by Sarah Jo Sarchet at Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago)
This simple story reminds that baptism requires a new way of living and being. After the events of last week, we are faced with many challenges as we confront the evil in ourselves and our world. We are a nation in need of repentance and a change of heart. The violence, confusion, anger, hatred, destruction from the insurgents at our nation’s capital threatened our democracy and call for a response. 4,000 deaths in one day from the corona virus call us to responsible contacts with others. Daily racial injustices, white supremacy that keeps showing its ugly head, environmental destruction by greed and carelessness, call for us to deepen our prayer life and to live more intentionally.
John the Baptist was confronted with a world filled with evil, misuse of power and greed. Humanity was in need of the forgiveness of sins and a change of heart. He preached a baptism of repentance as a prayerful and humble man who knew who he was and desired to do what God was asking him to do.
Jesus baptism was unnecessary because Jesus was without sin. He made the decision to say yes to God and to immerse himself totally in our humanity, to take on our sins and to become one with us.
Jesus heard a voice: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” I think Jesus really needed to hear those words of affirmation, to know in the core of his being that he was loved by his Father, who was pleased with him and would be with him. He needed to hear this voice to give him the strength to carry out God’s will.
We need John the Baptist today to preach his message of repentance, of a change of heart, of turning away from sin and evil. Can you imagine him at the capitol steps with those thousands of people? What might he say to them, to us?
Each of us are called to receive the Spirit of God. Hopefully, each of us have heard God say: “You are my beloved; you have found favor with me; you are precious in my eyes, unique, glorious and I love you.” Hearing “with you I am well pleased” gives us the strength, courage, and energy we need to live our baptism to the fullest. We are indeed beloved and, like Cameron, may we be recognized by our new way of being.