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The Baptism of Jesus - Year C
Water is a force of nature. We are born with a need for it. We cannot live without it. About 70% of the earth’s surface is water and as much as 60% of our bodies is water. But we don’t have what each person needs.
Less than one percent of the water on earth is fresh and suitable for human consumption. About 1 in 3 people live without safe drinking water, and the global water demand is expected to increase 50 percent or more by 2040.
Water is mentioned 722 times in the Bible as a metaphor for life, death, cleansing, and purification. Today’s Psalm 29 affirms “the voice of God is over the water, vast waters.” If, according to these sacred texts, God is the architect of the primal forces of nature, why is water an endangered element? Surely God is not to blame.
The gospel for today is Luke’s version (3:15-16, 21-22) of the baptism of Jesus. Baptism with water is a customary way to initiate someone into a group. While John baptized his followers with water he said that his cousin Jesus would baptize with the “holy Spirit and fire.” There is no mention in the New Testament that Jesus himself baptized anyone with water.
If fire and Spirit are pivotal why baptize with water? According to New Testament scholar Shively Smith, the word fire is “an image for the purifying work of God’s spirit.” Baptism by water only, without an intense experience of the fiery indwelling of the Spirit, is not enough to change a person. The Spirit takes center stage in Luke’s gospel because this text does not state who actually baptized Jesus.
John the Baptizer could not have been present at the River Jordan. He was incarcerated by Herod a first century example of an insecure politician who craved dictatorial power, shamed and persecuted innocent people, and was paranoid about someone else becoming head of state. Both John and Jesus were threats to Herod’s totalitarianism.
What is the connection between baptism and climate change? While water sustains life it can also destroy life. Think of how floods, typhoons, and polluted water kill. Millions die daily due to diarrhea and one third of them are children under the age of five. Food production suffers because of droughts and rising temperatures.
Humans may never completely control natural disasters but we can work to stymie the root cause of them — climate change. Baptism is a call to discover ways to do such that.
Immersion in a large pool of water represents a symbolic “dying” with Christ and marks a change in the way a person chooses to live.  Dipped in the water the candidate is cleansed of an old life, lifted up anew and clothed with the life of Christ. Because baptism is a communal action the person then participates in a spiritual cooperative and is sustained by it as together they seek justice for all.
Biblical scholar Jerome Creach asserts that the synoptic gospels “present Jesus’ baptism as a revelation of his cosmic role as God’s servant who ushers in the kingdom of God.” That kin-dom is unfinished. The cosmos and all of its creatures are suffering. While some are waiting for the Creator God to come to the rescue, others see themselves as partnering with God to repair the earth.
A person who has faith in God, a relationship with Christ, and is energized by a holy Spirit, commits to standing with others who will boldly advocate for what is true and just. This is why so many followed John the Baptizer and then Jesus of Nazareth. The underclass of the Roman Empire yearned for someone to lead them out of subjugation to liberty.
Today, Christian cohorts unite with other faith traditions to change social policies and government legislation that, for example, deny people equal access to healthy food, decent housing, living wages, the right to vote, and, yes, clean water.
Isaiah (42:1-4, 6-7) affirms this call to action: “He [sic] will be bring forth justice to the nations.” Some scholars suggest the pronoun “he” is a reference to an individual while others claim it refers to a nation summoned to bring about a just world.
Although there are many examples of injustice in the world one urgent issue affects everyone. The future of this planet and humanity depends on reducing and eliminating the causes of climate change which in turn impacts our water supplies.
Scientist Sonja Klinsky points out: “To reduce climate change and protect those who are most vulnerable, it’s important to understand where emissions come from, who climate change is harming and how both of these patterns intersect with other forms of injustice.”
While water reclamation and reuse solutions are helpful they will not eliminate the problem of climate change. Dr. Klinsky explains: “The majority of greenhouse gas emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels to power industries, stores, homes and schools and produce goods and services, including food, transportation and infrastructure, to name just a few.”
We Christians are reminded, during these unpredictable times, to change our hearts about the way we live and to join others in accepting responsibility for the apocalyptic impact climate change has on the future of this planet and every creature on earth.
What does baptism have to do with halting climate change and other global atrocities? Everything.
1. Baptismal fonts are shaped like crosses or tombs to represent the death of Jesus. Some are designed as octagons symbolizing the eighth day of the week, Sunday, when Jesus was raised from the dead.