by Erika Marksbury
Scripture Reading: Luke 3:15-16, 21-22 (NRSV)
15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
21Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Thoughts on Scripture
My family and I recently moved from Kansas to Oregon. We’re now only an hour from the ocean – as opposed to, say, twenty-six hours – so we make that trip a lot. Maybe once a week. We just went last week because they gray whales are migrating, making their way south toward Mexico, and we stood on a bluff and watched as their spouts shot up water every couple of minutes. Some days when we’re down on the shore we see sea lions paddling toward us, like they want to be friends. There are giant rocks that jut out of the shallow water, their bases covered with old, empty shells and anemones that still wave. The rivers that we cross on our way to the ocean – they’re full of life, too. Salmon jump and salamanders are born and beavers build their dams. So much happens in the waters that I wonder if baptism is one way of reminding us of abundant life.
It’s about a new beginning, about being washed, to be sure. But we are washed in a habitat. We are washed in what serves as a home for so many. Baptism, for a moment, submerges us in a home that is not our own and says: life is everywhere. It is deep and mysterious and playful and immense. You are part of it and so is so much else.
And then, dunked into that reality (or sprinkled with it, depending on your tradition!) – the harshness and the wonder of it – God sends another baptism, the Holy Spirit, to say to each of us, as to Jesus, “and you are beloved.”
Questions to Discuss
– Have you ever witnessed a baptism? Have you been baptized? Share the stories of what you remember from these occasions.
– If God were to say something to you to let you know how loved and accepted you are, what words would God use to say it?
– How do other living things around you – in the rivers or oceans or your own backyard – help you to think about your own life? What do they make you curious about? What do they teach you?
Maybe we could baptize one another the same way the Holy Spirit does Jesus: by calling him beloved. What generous words could you pour over your friends and family this week? What grace-filled way could you speak to strangers? Practice.
Thank you for the stories of Jesus.
Thank you for the waters that baptized him
and that teach us about life, too.
Thank you for calling all of us
your beloved ones.