No matter how contaminated we think we are

Photo by Kelly Sikkema

Welcome to my weekly ‘Layman’s Lectionary’ series where I stumble my way through the liturgical year and share my layman’s opinions, doubts, fears, and hopes about modern culture and daily life as it corresponds to scripture.

Baptism of the Lord
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Religion and spirituality can get too ephemeral and untouchable like a cloud of words that float over us just out of reach.

There’s something tangible and solid about baptism...

My daughter was baptized late last year. There was something about that ancient ceremony:

Pastors in robes. Candles lit. Incense filling the air. The oil on her forehead and the water pouring over her. The prayers, the affirmations, the hymns, the commitment of the parents and sponsors, and the witnessing of the community.

We all participated in something far larger than any one of us that day. It was an ancient tradition that goes back thousands of years.

I’ve missed ‘ancient’ for so long living in today’s postmodern world. Anyhow…

In the poems and stories selected this week — particularly the gospel reading from Luke about Jesus’s baptism (the baptism of Jesus is mentioned in all four gospels, so it seems to be a big deal for the writers). In these stories and accounts, the audacious love of God is shown in several ways.

God isn’t presented as one who waits for us to clean up our act before rushing in. Quite the opposite, in fact.

God metaphorically trades in the Porsche for the Pinto time and time again. God trades valuable things (in a worldly sense) for things that are worn, dirty, and broken.

We all feel broken in some way or another. How can God want us? God wants someone else who’s cleaner and has it together more — right?

Not in the least. God rushes in, no matter how busted life seems.

The tricky thing is, this God doesn’t seem to be a fixer, but a sustainer. Not one who waits for us to be clean, but one who cleanses us no matter how contaminated we think we are.

Jesus was eager to stand in solidarity of the sinners around him and receive his baptism from John the Baptizer. It was like a changing of the guard from the old-school, heavy-handed, wild-eyed wilderness pastor to a savior who operated on a deeper (softer?) and more profound level.

John is telling people they need something… else. Something that changes them from the inside-out. Something that ignites their spirit — the holy spirit within them. This is how it operates.

Yes, I’m writing about Christian baptism here — but I’d say this concept cuts deeper than any dogma. Because cleansing ourselves in the name of something more-than and knowing that the core of life itself deems us worthy as our birthright is something anyone can recognize. Jesus was the particular of this very universal concept.

The cleansing waters of God — the loving essence of life and creation itself — sustain us. God cleanses us in the midst of whatever captivity we happen to be in.

And we’re as fresh as day. Time and time again.

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