Jan. 7, 2018 (Baptism of the Lord)
Now You Belong to Me
There is one thing about the American college life that I have come to learn that was new to me because it is not a part of the Korean college experience. I’m talking about the sorority and fraternity clubs. I know the basic concept of the boy’s and girls’ clubs, but I don’t truly understand what they are about, partially, I presume, because the spirit of the creation of these clubs and what is being practiced nowadays are different. I learned about these clubs from comedy movies, so I don’t believe that how the movies portray them is completely real; but one thing that intrigued me about what I saw in the movies is the initiation process. Not everyone can be accepted, of course. New students/ freshmen move into these fraternity or sorority houses as “pledges”, and then after a grueling process of tests and what looks like a boot camp training, some will be initiated into the brotherhood or sisterhood. In one movie I remember, those who passed the test were initiated at a welcome party, with the senior sisters or brothers giving them the house pin; they put the house pin on your clothes and you’re in. But these college clubs are not the only groups that have a distinctive initiation process or ceremony. They are distinctive because it is a public statement that the new member now belongs to the group.
I have participated in the ordination ceremonies in three different countries now, but the one that had the strongest impression on me was the ordination ceremony of the Korean Methodist Church. Probationary ministers are not allowed to wear stoles, so the candidates show up in a plane robe. They kneel before the bishop, who lays his or her hand on the candidates heads and ordain them into the ministries of the Church. Then as the candidates stand up, the bishop places a stole on their shoulder, which is the ordination gift in the Korean Methodist Church. It was a touching scene to witness; kneeling as a candidate, and rising as an ordained minister. This is the initiation ceremony of the clergy.
In today’s gospel story, we meet John the Baptist who lived in the desert with very humble clothing and food. It is strongly believed that John belonged to a Jewish sect that lived in the desert separately from everyone else. They were one of the apocalyptic groups of the time; they didn’t belong to the mainstream Judaism, and believed that their group was chosen by God to receive the esoteric knowledge about their history, fate of the humankind, and the final judgment that will bring only them to a heavenly glory and their enemies to an agonizing eternal punishment. They believed in extreme purity and had specific purifying ritual in a ritual bath. According to their rule book (although it was a scroll and not actually a book), before they went into the ritual bath their sins had to be forgiven. It sounds like John’s baptism, doesn’t it?
John proclaimed the baptism for the forgiveness of sins, so traditional Christians were confused and disturbed that Jesus subjected himself to such a baptism. Let’s indulge for a minute the traditional Christian belief that Jesus was divine, therefore without any sin, and hear what else this event of Jesus’ baptism means. For Jesus, his baptism was the moment of decision. He proclaimed his “coming out” with his baptism before starting his public ministry. This was also a moment of identification as God’s anointed one to proclaim God’s reign of love and justice and to lead its followers. It was also a moment of approval from God when he heard God’s voice saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Lastly, it was also a moment of equipment, as the Spirit descended upon him. This
Spirit will lead him to the wilderness to be temped and to be prepared. The baptism of Jesus was an official initiation moment for his public life.
As it was an initiation rite for Jesus as the Son of God proclaiming God’s reign, baptism is an initiation rite for Christians. Infant or child baptism is an expression of the parents’ or guardians’ vow that this child will be raised as God’s child and be taught the teachings of Jesus. As an adult, the decision to be baptised is a statement that he or she will live as God’s child and follow the way of Christ. In turn, as we are baptised, God says to us, “You are my child, my beloved; I am pleased with you.” God proclaims that now we belong to God. What a loving proclamation! We’re in! We’re accepted!
We are at the beginning. It’s the New Year in our society. We just started a new Church year with Advent and Christmas. It’s Epiphany now and we are experiencing God’s light revealed to us. That is why we read the beginning of the first creation story in Genesis chapter 1. In the beginning, out of darkness and chaos, God created the light. Contrary to the assumption of some, or many, creation is not a one-time event. The climate changes, and we know that there have been different creatures living on earth in different eras. Some go instinct and some appear along the way. God is never done creating. Just like with ddforms of commitment to God are like the creation process. The power of God’s voice gives strength to God’s people and blessing of peace, as we read in today’s Psalm. The moment we commit ourselves to God and God’s reign, God’s voice starts hovering over our souls and in our lives, constantly creating us anew.
This is not only the beginning of our new personal year, but also a new year for our congregation. We belong to God. We are loved by God. We are a community. Let us be grateful and joyful. As a faith community, we have common goals in bringing God’s kingdom to our world. At this beginning of the new year, I am thinking of Matthew 9:37 where Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” God’s kingdom, God’s reign always needs workers to sow the seed of the gospel of Jesus, and to harvest. Today and this week as we remember the baptism of Jesus and our own baptisms (if we can remember it, for those of us who were baptised as young children), let us listen for God’s voice that hovers over our souls calling us to serve, and guiding us to living the kingdom lifestyle. As we prepare for the Annual General Meeting of our congregation, which will take place next month, let us ask God, “How do you want me to serve your kingdom? Here I am Lord; send me.” I ask you to spare some time to pray on our church committees and contact list and see if God’s Spirit guides you to join any of our committees, or to serve as greeters, readers, or counters on Sunday. Now that we have been accepted in God’s kingdom and made a commitment to live as the children of God, let us quiet our minds and listen for God’s voice creating us anew and guiding us.
Rev. Sunny Kim