Rodger Nishioka shares a story of a ninth grader who just finished confirmation at his church. Kyle and his family had attended Rodger’s church sporadically since they moved to the area when Kyle was in the fifth grade. But when the invitation to join in the confirmation class was given to Kyle, Rodger was surprised at the enthusiasm in which Kyle and his family gave in saying yes. They all came to the orientation and agreed to the covenant to participate in two retreats, a mission activity, work with a mentor, and weekly gatherings for study and exploration. And Kyle flourished! Kyle rarely missed a class and was always engaged in the conversations. He developed some wonderful relationships with the other youth in the group that he hardly knew. And since Kyle hadn’t been baptized, on that Pentecost Sunday that the confirmands came before the church, he was baptized. As Rodger puts it, “It was a marvelous celebration for all the confirmands, their families, their mentors, and the entire church.”
But then Kyle disappeared. The party was over and he was gone. Rodger knew something had gone wrong. After a bit of time, he checked in with Kyle and his family. They were all a little surprised that they were receiving a check in from the pastor. Roger recalls the mother’s words, “Oh, well, I guess I thought Kyle was all done. I mean, he was baptized and confirmed and everything.” And Rodger knew something had been missed. He realized that for Kyle, and many people, they think that the baptism of the infant or the young adult or the adult is the culminating activity of faith, and that we are all done.
Jesus’ baptism gives us a chance to exam and explore our own baptisms. In our day and age, typically baptism has been boiled down to dealing with our sinful nature. We hear the radio preacher cry out, “Repent from your sins and be baptized!” But Jesus clearly had no need to repent from his sins. John loudly cried out “Repent!” to those crowds on the banks of the Jordan River. “Repent because the kingdom of God was at hand.” John is proclaiming something bigger than just sins. The Greek word that we see just previously before this passage to describe John’s baptism is the word metanoia, and it suggests a transformation or turning of the whole heart and mind and even of the body. This turning can and does involve sin, but it is more than just that. For Jesus, there is a turning from one direction to another. Up to this point, he had been a carpenter in Nazareth, and that was his identity in the eyes of that community. But Jesus had another identity, an identity given to him before the foundations of the world, an identify God affirms at Jesus’ baptism when we hear the voice from the heavens boom and Spirit descend like a dove. “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” In his baptism, Jesus was turning toward this God given identity of Beloved Son and embracing his relationship with God the Father through the Holy Spirit.
In Matthew, the baptism of Jesus is not the end. He didn’t go back home and tell his mom, Mary, about his swim in the Jordan with Cousin John and then head back for the workshop. It may have marked the end of his identity as a carpenter in Nazareth, even though I can imagine he may have picked up a hammer now and then, but it marked the beginning, the launching, of his ministry. It is his commissioning to begin the public ministry for which he was created and to which he is called. Surely, Jesus’ identity is confirmed in his baptism, but we know that personal identity isn’t a static thing. Identity is also about purpose. Being claimed as God’s beloved means that Jesus has been called to be and do the will of God in the world. And we even see this in Jesus as his identity as God’s Beloved grows throughout his public ministry.
Friends, whether you were baptized as a squiggling baby in the arms of a preacher you don’t remember, as a young adult on a Pentecost Sunday after weeks of a confirmation class, or as someone who has years of hard living showing in gray hairs and deep lines in the face, you have an identity given to you by God. Whether you are a student, a cook, a farmer, a doctor, or lawyer or retired, if you have no letters of credentials after your name, or a whole trail of them that you have to use the back side of your business card to list them, you have a deeper, truer identity. That identity is from God and given by God and is formed by God. Friends, you are the beloved children of God. (Here I think I will stop and say, “__________, you are God’s beloved daughter.” “_______, you are God’s beloved son.”) And this identity as God’s beloved supersedes any titles you have earned or degrees that it took years to get. Because you don’t earn God’s love. You can’t earn it. It is freely given as a gift of grace from God because God is more interested in a relationship with you than he is in the titles and accolades that the world my push you to get.
In his baptism, Jesus receives both affirmation of his identity and receives his commission for ministry in the world. Jesus gives everything—his dreams and deeds, his labors and his life itself. Jesus gives himself to God’s people, taking his place with hurting people. And so do we, both as individuals and as a community. Our commission is different and the same as Jesus’ commission. We are not Jesus, we are his disciples. In following him and his example found in his baptism, we cannot make ourselves comfortable, cannot do only what will be appreciated, and cannot be satisfied with the way things are. Our baptisms demand that we struggle with what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s important and what’s not. The children of God tell the truth in a world that lies, give in a world that takes, love in a world that lusts, make peace in a world that fights, serve in a world that wants to be served, pray in a world that waits to be entertained, and take chances in a world that worships safety. The baptized are citizens of a community where financial success is not the goal, security is not the highest good, and sacrifice is a daily event.
And that means there will be no guarantee about what will happen next. For Jesus, he spent the next 40 days in the wilderness, I believe, discerning what it meant to be God’s child, hungry, lost, and being tempted. Coming out of the water’s of baptism does not provide a special protective layer from the powers and threats of the world. If anything, being claimed as a child of God will make us more of a target of the pain and suffering the world can throw at us. That can be seen in the life and ministry of Jesus. He spends all the days and years that follow that afternoon in the Jordan discovering the meaning of his baptism as he lives into his relationship with God the Father as he heals, preaches, teaches, and shares the love of God with those he meets. And that journey leads him to a cross. He dies because he takes his baptism seriously. When Jesus cries on the cross, “It is finished,” it is at that moment that his baptism is complete.
When Rodger Nishioka had a chance to sit down with Kyle and his parents, he tried better to explain what had been missed, how Kyle’s baptism wasn’t the end, but just the beginning. He shared with the family that not just Kyle was missed by the church, but that people wondered what happened to the entire family. He explained that Kyle’s mentor hoped to be able to continue the relationship they had built and his friends hoped to continue doing ministry and having fellowship with him. Roger apologized for himself and the entire church community for not doing a very good job of conveying what baptism was. “Kyle’s baptism and confirmation was not simply about his profession of faith,” Roger shared. “It is about his continuing to grow in his understanding of what God is calling him to do as he lives out his identity as a child of God.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, if you are not baptized, I’d invite you to come talk with Laura or me about being baptized and acknowledging your true identity from the one who has claimed you. Let the journey begin. I can’t guarantee that it will be safe, but I can tell you it won’t be boring. And if you are baptized, I invite you to remember your baptism and where your baptismal journey has brought you so far. The journey isn’t over. It continues every day of your life.
 This story of Kyle is shared in Rodger Nishioka’s commentary in Feast on the Word, Year A, Volume 1, pages 236-240.