A long-running and popular show in musical theater is “Joseph and the Amazing Technical Color Dream Coat” by Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber. This musical is based on the Biblical life of Joseph, son of Jacob, in the beginning parts of Genesis. Joseph was a man who could interpret dreams, and this made him a man who was envied by his eleven brothers. Through a series of tragic events, he is sold to be an Egyptian slave, and then ends up in prison, where he meets up with a couple of Pharaoh’s servants. When Joseph interprets the servants’ dreams for them, word quickly spreads that Joseph is a seer, and Pharaoh requests an audience with Joseph because he is having some troubling dreams that he is unable to understand. And it is toward the middle of this show that Joseph is taken to Pharaoh to interpret the Pharaoh’s dream, and as Joseph comes into his presence he sings, “My service to Pharaoh has begun. … Tell me your problems … mighty one.”
Baptism is the time when you are brought before God and you utter the words “My service to God has begun.” And so, baptism is an extremely important event in anybody’s life, because that is when your service to God began.
This morning, we heard Saint Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River by John. Buy why did Jesus do this? It was not to cleanse the stain of sin off his soul, but rather He did it for four very specific reasons. First, Jesus’ baptism marked the official start of His ministry here on earth. Second, He did it to show His, and God’s, support for John’s ministry. In a sense, this was God’s way of endorsing this type of ministry. Third, by being baptized in this way, Jesus is able to identify fully with our humanity. And finally, it was to give a lasting example to His followers.
Not only was Jesus’ baptism a turning point in His life, it marked the beginning of His ministry. And just like our Lord and Savior, our baptisms too are much more significant than simply having someone pour water over our heads while uttering the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
So what happens to us, the followers of Christ, when we follow in His footsteps? What happens at our baptism? You see, baptism is bigger than a simple ceremony that your family and friends come into a church to witness. And it is much bigger than the huge celebration afterward. At the moment of baptism, there are a number of things that take place, things that are beyond our sight.
First, you are adopted by God as one of His children. It is through this adoption that you become an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven. This is the moment when you become a citizen of heaven, when the gift of salvation offered through Jesus Christ is bestowed upon you.
The second thing that happens at baptism is that you are titled. A person can go to a university and spend upward of twelve years studying in a particular field. At graduation, when they are presented their diploma, they are titled. No longer are they John Smith, they are now Dr. John Smith. The same thing happens at baptism. Before your baptism, you were simply John Doe, human being; but as soon as you were baptized, you became John Doe, Christian, son or daughter of God.
The third thing that happens at baptism is that you are made a priest. Yes, you heard me correctly. You become a priest of God. The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of priests, and you joined these ranks the moment you were baptized. You are charged with spreading the Good News of God’s love to all people, to live your life in accordance with the example given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ, and to be a beacon of light in the darkness of the world.
The fourth thing that happens at baptism is that you join Christ in His death. At the moment of baptism, you partake in Jesus Christ’s death. You join Him on that cross and you die. Your death is not a physical one, but rather a spiritual death. You were born alive to sin, and at baptism, you died to sin.
The fifth thing that happens at baptism is that you are resurrected with Christ. After your spiritual death, you are resurrected as a new person, with a perfect soul. The power of sin no longer has control over your life, and death can no longer contain you.
A popular form of baptism among some denominations is full immersion. This kind of baptism takes place within a body of water; some churches have pools that are just a few feet deep, some use streams or rivers, and some use lakes or oceans. The congregation meets at the edge of the water while the person who performs the baptism, the vicar or another ordained person, stands out in the water, close to waist deep. The person being baptized walks out in the water to the baptizer, and after affirming his or her desire to be baptized, the one receiving baptism covers his nose and mouth, while the baptizer puts one hand at the base of his neck, and the one being baptized leans backward into the water. The one being baptized is fully immersed in the water three times as the baptizer says, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
That kind of baptism really illustrates the fourth and fifth things we were just talking about: death and resurrection. You are submerged into the water as a symbol of your death, and you surface as a symbol of your resurrection. You are buried in death, and raised in life.
The final thing that happens at baptism is that your service to God begins. Just as Joseph is brought before Pharaoh, we too are brought before God to begin our service. As Christians, we are servants not just of God, but of God’s people. We are called to serve the needs of our communities, to help the poor, to heal the sick, to comfort the grieving, and to save the lost. In essence, your baptism is the day when you were officially hired by God to work in His household.
Baptism is not the end-all-be-all of Christianity; it is only the first step. As Christians, it is our responsibility to learn from our Lord, it is our responsibility to create a firm relationship with Christ. If you were baptized as an adult, the full responsibilities to learn and grow would be on you; but when baptized as an infant, the responsibilities lie with all of those who stood witness to it. The parents and godparents shoulder the bulk of the responsibility and accountability; however, everybody who witnesses also shares in that responsibility and accountability. The newly baptized Christian needs to be raised to know Christ, to learn His teachings, and to serve the needs of all people.
Attending weekly worship is important for all Christians, as it allows us to refresh our weary souls, replenish our ammunition against the forces of darkness, and to bask in the Love of God and hear His word. Sunday school is a great way for young Christians to learn about the Glory of God and to know His Son, Jesus Christ. Summer youth camps are designed to help young Christians learn how to apply their faith to their daily lives and the camps offer a collaborative community of like-minded people.
Reciting daily prayers is extremely important, as this is the cornerstone of our relationship with Christ. It is communication, and as we all know, communication is the foundation on which all relationships are built. As Christians grow, their prayers, their conversations with God, also grow. Many of us started with a very simple “Now I lay me down to sleep” prayer, then we slowly progress to a free-form, no-holds-barred prayer that we recite daily – and very often many times a day. As we grow, so does our ability to converse with God.
But Jesus did not identify with our humanity just by being baptized. He did it also by His willingness to enter the desert and face temptations. In His forty days, he was tempted and He overcame the challenges that often trip us up on our journey. Jesus knows from firsthand experience how difficult these temptations can be, and it is through this shared experience that we have found some common ground for our conversations with God. He has “been there, done that,” and so we don’t need to spend much time explaining to Him how it feels when we are challenged. Instead, this allows us to spend the bulk of our time talking about our specific challenges and how to overcome them.
So as we embark upon our Lenten journey this year, let us all take stock in what God has provided for us. Let us take on the yoke of Christ, let us face our temptations, and let us focus our eyes on the promise of what is to come. In order to prepare our hearts, minds, and bodies for the promise of the resurrection, let us take stock of the gifts that He has given us, and use our gifts to support one another, our church, and our communities. Our service to God has begun, and we are now officially “on the clock.”