Sometimes, instead of preaching the obvious text of the day, I like to ponder the texts the characters in the obvious text knew and loved, and that may well have resonated with them on the day of the obvious text.
Isaiah 43:1-7. Jesus, and John knew their Scriptures – so did this eloquent moment in Isaiah occur to either or both as Jesus stepped into that stream, and a voice was overheard from heaven? “Do not fear, I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine.” So insistent! “When you pass through the waters, through the fire…” The Jordan waters were overflowing with historical memory as Jesus passed through – and there’s some fire in the way the Baptism is narrated! Then, Isaiah revealing God’s words: “You are precious in my sight – and honored! And I love you!” Pondering this, we realize the Baptism was super-special, but in full continuity with the heart of God for centuries, the latest chapter in a long narrative of “Don’t fear, I call you by name, you are precious.”
Acts 8:14-17. With no New Testament, no catechism, no books of theology, it’s no wonder the early Christians were baffled and utterly mixed up about Baptism. In the Holy Spirit? What? You only baptized using Jesus’ name? What an egregious error! I could theologize about Baptism, the Spirit’s role in it, etc., but this little text leaves me a little cold, and maybe baffled with the first guys standing around with quizzical looks.
The dove transports us back to the ark, the bird of redemption as the perilous floodwaters subsided, an airborne sign of God’s presence, and assurance. Notice this is the first, and maybe the clearest, mention or explication of the Trinity in Scripture. No wonder we use the Trinitarian formula in Baptism! No theological postulates or explanations about this Threeness in God. It’s a story, it’s all relationship, everybody else gets drawn in.
But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here.”