+ A sermon preached for the Baptism of Our Lord (Year C) at Christ Chapel at Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, MN on January 10, 2016 +
Texts: Isaiah 43:1-7, Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Before I get started, I would like to thank you all for welcoming me to worship with you this morning. And a special thanks to Chaplains Siri and Brian for inviting me to preach and to Cantor Chad for his help in preparation for today’s worship.
Today, much of the church celebrates the Baptism of Our Lord as we remember when Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan, and many take this opportunity to celebrate and remember our own baptisms, as we did here this morning. But, I’d bet that the majority of us here do not remember when we were baptized. I’m guessing most of us were too young to remember the actual event of our baptism. We may remember the date we were baptized – August 16, 1987 for me, in case you were wondering (though I admit, I did have to double check that date) – but for many people, baptism is just something that happened when we were babies. And many parents want their babies baptized quickly just in case something were to happen to them – they may see it as an “insurance policy” to make sure that their child will go to heaven. So what does it mean to remember our baptisms?
There are many theological arguments that surround the sacrament of baptism – whether it should happen as an infant or as a believer, if sprinkling or dunking is the better method, what words does the pastor ‘have’ to say, who can baptize someone, what actually happens when someone is baptized. But what if baptism is less about the event of being baptized – not a box to be checked, not a theological hoop to jump through, not just a cute photo opp with a baby in a white dress – but instead, what if baptism was something greater? What if it’s about being claimed and called by God for a life with God? What if baptism isn’t about what happens when we die? What if baptism is for life?
Judging from today’s gospel reading, I’m not convinced that the action of baptism is the focus of the lesson. Listen again to Luke’s depiction of Jesus’ baptism. “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus
also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened.” Luke doesn’t even bother to include the actual baptism of Jesus! Unlike Matthew and Mark, there’s no depiction of Jesus in the water being baptized by John – in fact, if you read the verses omitted from today’s lection, it’s not even clear if John was the one who baptized Jesus in Luke’s gospel. Rather than focusing on the actual act of baptism, Luke is more concerned with what happens next, “And the Holy Spirit descended upon [Jesus] in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’” Jesus is declared “beloved”, claimed as God’s own Son, and, as the Holy Spirit descends upon him, called into ministry. And in the very next verse, Luke records that Jesus “began his work.” And as he gets started, Jesus returns to his hometown synagogue and reads a section of Isaiah as a sort of ‘inaugural address’: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” It seems clear to me that in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ baptism serves as the prelude and call to his work on earth.
And this is why I think specific theological arguments regarding the action of baptism are far less important than how we respond to our baptism. If we allow our baptisms to simply be a one-time event that likely happened when we were babies, the impact of that action on our daily lives is minimal. But if we remember our baptism as a time where God claimed us as God’s beloved child and called us into ministry, our baptismal identity can reshape our entire lives.
When we were baptized, I’m guessing no one present heard a voice from heaven declaring, “You are my child, my beloved.” And yet, just as it was at Jesus’ baptism, we too were publically proclaimed to be God’s beloved children through the waters of our own baptisms. Now this isn’t to say that people who are not baptized are not beloved children of God, because I believe all people are God’s children and loved by God. But through our baptism, God takes an opportunity to declare to the world that ‘this is my child, my beloved; this child is special to me. You are special to me.’ And like Jesus, God calls us through our baptism to join in a life with God and into our own ministries.
So what does it mean to be called into ministry by God? And no, the seminary has not sent me to say that God is calling all of you to become pastors – though we sure would love to have you! I believe that God calls each of us to be imitators of Christ’s own ministry on earth in our daily lives and our vocations – to bring good news to the poor, to care for the sick, to welcome the outcast, to love your enemies, and to work towards justice and peace throughout the earth. I don’t know what that call looks like in your life – that’s between you and God. In my life, I find the root of my call to pastoral ministry in the waters of my baptism. But I do know that God calls each of us to lives of service. And no, this ministry isn’t easy. This isn’t work that is generally welcomed by everyone, especially those in positions of power. If we truly follow Jesus’ example, we know that the world responded to his ministry with the cross. Our call by God does not mean that we will not face obstacles or difficult times in our work. But hear again the word of God through the Prophet Isaiah, “Thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior… you are precious in my sight…and I love you.” God knows that our calling is not easy, but God promises to be with us. God knows that we will be derided and hated, but God promises to love us. God knows that we may be rejected by the world, but God claims us as God’s own precious child.
Martin Luther once suggested that each of us should wake up each morning, make the sign of the cross, and proclaim, “I am baptized” as a daily remembrance of God’s love and our call to ministry. It is said that when he was facing troubles in his work or doubting his own self-worth, he would touch his forehead and say, “Martin, you are baptized.” And through this physical and verbal act, he could remind himself of God’s claim on him and love for him. I’d like to invite you to join me in this act now. Touch your forehead, trace the sign of the cross, and say, “your name, I am baptized” or “I am a beloved child of God.” When you face difficulties in your own ministry or when you are feeling defeated or discouraged, remember your baptism and your call by God. And may you always remember that you are God’s own special and beloved child.