Too often too many of us act as though we have been baptised with John’s baptism only. That is, we accept we have been redeemed from the past, but somehow we don’t believe we are empowered for the future. We sometimes forget that as Christians we have also been baptised with the Holy Spirit. One of the basic definitions of Christian baptism is that it be done “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The service for Holy Baptism in many traditions includes this or a similar line, “Name— you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.”
To be baptised by the Holy Spirit is to have the dove of God’s peace descend upon us as it did upon Jesus. It is to have love penetrate fully into your being. It is to be claimed, adopted, as one of God’s many beloved children. To be baptised by the Holy Spirit is most especially to be empowered to be a follower of Jesus, to be an effective member of the priesthood of believers.
Desmond Tutu often tells a story about his early days as a priest in South Africa. He gave a Bible test to a group of young teenage boys. One of the questions was: “What did the voice from heaven say to Jesus after his baptism?” Most of them got it right, but one boy got it wrong in a very creative way. He wrote, “The voice from heaven said ‘You are the Son of God; now act like it!’”
We need to hear two things in the story of the baptism of Jesus. First he did not drown in the water. But it did mark the beginning of a journey, the point of his setting out on a journey into the chaos of the human condition and heart. This bought Jesus into contact with the suffering of humans which he may have not been aware of on that day of his baptism.
And second that amazing word comes to Jesus when he steps into the water: you are my “beloved.” Have you ever weighed the risk of ministry against the reward? Jesus did and chose to go on that life journey of ministry. If we wade into the water of life and follow the path of Jesus we too are faced with risk. But in that risk we meet God and feel God’s favour along with the joy that comes from hearing the word, “Beloved,” and sharing it with the world.
Many of those who listen and read this, especially those sisters and brothers in Christ, will have been baptised. Remember in that act you have been forgiven your sins; they have been burned away in the fire of God’s love. You have been redeemed. You have received the Holy Spirit. You are a beloved child of God. Dare I say it? Go forth into the world and act like it!