Baptism: Torn Apart

Matt 3:13-17 (This is the multi-generational version of similar sermon preached in 2011)
Epiphany 1A – 1/12/14
Epiphany Church, Odenton
The Rev. Dr. Rosemary Beales

It’s wonderful to be home again – how I’ve missed this place – how I’ve missed YOU. Even those of you I haven’t met yet, you are part of me as a “daughter of Epiphany.” Every fiber of fabric, every grain of wood in this place are dear to me. I love these walls and windows.

One of the things I’ve always appreciated about our windows is that we don’t have one that depicts the scene in today’s gospel. Many churches do, including one that I served right after seminary. There was the scene, in lovely pastels: Jesus – you could tell he was Jesus because of the long white robe — standing ankle-deep in a clear stream, while John, in camel skin, stands on the shore, pouring a gentle trickle of water from a golden pitcher. The scene is lovely, and serene, and . . . not at all the way I imagine the baptism of Jesus!

What happened at the Jordan was anything but serene. If there were a soundtrack, it would not be the peaceful, melodic rhythms of Pachelbel’s Canon in D. It would be more like Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, with its crashing cymbals and booming cannons – or perhaps like the blaring horns of a football halftime. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

No, Jesus’ baptism was far from quiet. It was, in fact, the END of his solo act,
and the BEGINNING of a symphony that resounds these 2,000 years later.

Just moments before today’s scene, John had been shouting to the crowds who flocked to him from Jerusalem and all Judea. We know why they came to the water —
They wanted forgiveness, washing away sins, wiping away mistakes;
they wanted repentance, turning away from their pasts.
But what did Jesus want?

John might be asking the same question. Here is The One, he was just telling the people, whose sandals he is not fit to untie. Yet Jesus demands that John baptize him, and John, protesting, not quite understanding, consents.

He consents not by pouring a stream of crystal water over Jesus’ head, but by holding him as he goes down, head and all, into darkness and chaos and shocking cold. Matthew tells us that as Jesus is coming up out of the water, he sees the heavens opened up;
but I like Mark’s version better.
In Mark, Jesus sees the heavens—‘TORN APART.”

Jesus’ life was torn that day — torn into two parts, the before and the after.
The life of serenity, and the life of servanthood.

That’s what baptism did to him, and what it does to us.

Why did Jesus come to the water that day? I have an idea, but first, I want to tell you about . . . a football game.
* * *

On a crisp November day in the city of Grapevine, Texas, two teams were facing off — the Lions against the Tornados. Both names sound pretty ferocious, don’t they? But these two teams were not evenly matched. The Lions, from Faith Christian School – a school a lot like the one where I work – had 70 players, eleven coaches, the latest equipment, and lots of parent volunteers. The Lions had won 7 games and lost 2.

The Tornados were Oh and 8 – they’d lost eight games and won exactly . . . none. Their 14 players wore second-hand, beat-up pad and helmets. No parents came to their game. Instead, they were escorted to the locker room by 12 security guards who took off their handcuffs before the opening whistle. These young men went to high school in a maximum-security prison, and they were there because they had made serious mistakes, done terrible things—robbery, rape, murder. Most people called them losers.

But a few weeks before the game, the Faith Christian coach had an idea — dare I say, a Christian idea. What if, he thought, just for one night, half the Faith Lions’ fans cheered for the OTHER team? The idea caught his students’ imagination. And so, when the Gainesville Tornados took the field that November night, they crashed through a banner made by Lions fans that read, “Go Tornados!” They were surprised by a forty-foot
“spirit line” of fans flanking them as they took the field, and even more surprised when they heard 200 people on the bleachers behind them, cheering for them by name, rooting for them as if they were the most important people on earth.

At the end of the game, the Tornados practically danced off the field, with their fingers punching the air, #1. They gave their coach his first Gatorade bath ever. They climbed back onto their bus in high spirits. You might guess that the Tornados had won the game. Actually, the scoreboard showed that the victory went to the Lions.

But those guys with their #1 fingers in the air actually had it right. They knew — perhaps for the very first time — that they were winners. It wasn’t just their coach that got drenched that night. Those players had been drenched, soaked, bathed, showered . . . with love. Perhaps, for the very first time, they knew that they were Beloved.

* * *
When Jesus went down into the water of the Jordan, he wasn’t washing away his mistakes, his sins. Jesus was perfect and without sin.

I think he went down into that dirty water to show that he belonged to the sinful human race, that he was willing to be one of us.

In a way, we could say that he was rooting for the other team. Our team.

When Jesus heard the voice that called him “my son, the Beloved,”
that voice, God’s voice, was not only for him. It was also for us.
We are all drenched, soaked, bathed, showered with love as children of God.
And that love is too strong to keep to ourselves.

In our own baptisms, our lives were torn in two.
Even if we were tiny infants, God’s action in baptism tore our lives into
the before and the after.
Before, when we could have lived self-sufficient, thinking only of ourselves.
And After, when we can only live as servants, to God and to all God’s children;
After, when we must love because we are Beloved.

It’s love that made the students at Faith Christian School do what they did.
It’s love that has helped you, as individuals and as Epiphany Church,
share the love of God with others –
even, especially, with those whom most people call losers.

Because of our baptisms, you and I know that, in the eyes of God, there are no losers.
In the eyes of God, there are only winners.
There are only Beloved children of God.


About threegreatdays

The Rev. Dr. Rosemary Beales is a Godly Play Trainer in the U.S.; an Episcopal Priest; Chaplain at St. Stephen's & St. Agnes School in Alexandria, Virginia; a Godly Play Practitioner since 1996; and a mother and grandmother. Every day I get to be with 400 children at school and on weekends when I'm lucky, with my four terrific grandsons and three lively granddaughters. As a Godly Play practitioner, I want to spread the word about this life-giving, Montessori-based way of nurturing children in the Christian story and life. Godly Play, the creation of the Rev. Dr. Jerome Berryman and his wife Thea, is used in many denominations and in many countries, and has been translated into at least seven languages. This blog is not an official publication of the Godly Play Foundation (see but seeks to be a clearinghouse for ideas and experiences of teachers, trainers, and parents. Join the conversation!

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