+ A sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on January 13, 2019 +
Texts: Isaiah 43:1-7; Luke 3:15-23
Grace to you and peace from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Here we are again.
Just about a month after John the Baptizer interrupted our Advent with these words about wheat and chaff, inviting us to dig to find the joy, we’re back.
After the Christmas revelry, after the New Years celebrations, we’re back on the banks of the Jordan with John.
Once again, the people are filled with expectation and John is pointing us to the one that is coming.
Except, this time, he appears!
Jesus comes and is baptized in the river. And the skies are opened, the Holy Spirit descended like a dove and a voice came from heaven.
Now, I imagine that on the face of it, Jesus’ baptism bears very little resemblance to our own baptisms.
Granted, I am also guessing that few of us remember our own baptisms.
I know that I was baptized when I was one month old, not 30 years; in a church in Puyallup, not in a river in Palestine; with a few drops of water, not by full immersion.
And I’ll have to check with my parents, but I don’t remember them saying anything about the roof opening and a dove descending upon me.
But one thing remains the same—at my baptism, my God came to me and said, “You are my son, my beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Now, I don’t know the details of each of your baptisms, but there is this one constant—at each and every one of them, God came to you and said, “You are my son,” “You are my daughter,” “You are my child, my beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Just as happened at the Jordan River, God has come to each of us in our baptisms to proclaim that we are beloved, to lay claim to our lives, to mark us with a sign of that love—a cross on our foreheads, and to give us an indelible identity that will never wash away.
This is the very definition of grace; because there is nothing that we have or could ever do to merit such an identity.
No matter if we’re a newborn or a teenager, or an adult; no matter the color of our skin, our sexual orientation, or our gender identity; no matter what we’ve done or what the world may say about us, in these waters we are proclaimed as beloved by God, a precious child, something beyond our control or choice any more than we can choose who our biological parents are.
Our God has claimed us and through these waters proclaims us as beloved children, an identity that can never be taken away from us.
I almost want to end my sermon right there, because how else could I possibly express the unimaginable gift of love we receive in these waters?
But, sorry, I’m not going to.
Because baptism isn’t the end, it’s a beginning.
The start of a new life rooted in Christ.
It can be easy to forget this, that baptism is a start of something new.
Maybe it’s because we so often baptize infants who are already new.
Or maybe it’s because we have a difficult time understanding our baptisms, especially when we literally cannot remember them.
Baptism becomes ritualized, something that we do when a baby is born, almost out of a sense of necessity.
Parents, or grandparents, insist that newborns be baptized—even if they’re not really connected with a church—out of some idea that it must be done or maybe even a sort of insurance policy to protect them from what may happen.
This gives baptism the feeling of a box that has to be checked, a one-and-done requirement that we have to do to earn something.
But if we look at Jesus’ baptism, we can see that this is not an end, but a beginning.
This is what starts Jesus’ ministry.
And this is another way that our baptisms mirror Jesus’, because our baptisms are not meant to be the end of anything, not something that completes a divine requirement for our life, but something that starts our life of ministry, something that inaugurates a new phase of our life when we can be confident in our identity and our purpose.
This is why, in our tradition, we ask those who will be baptized, or their parents and sponsors, if they are ready and willing to live into the covenant of baptism; to live their lives in response to the grace they have received in this sacrament.
And since most of us were too young to understand these questions and what they entail, and because we could all use a refresher, in a few minutes, we will affirm our baptisms and renew the covenants that were made.
We will be asked if we will worship and live among God’s people, if we will proclaim the gospel in word and deed, if we will serve all people following Jesus’ example, and if we will “strive for justice and peace in all the earth.”
No small tasks to be sure, but a reminder of the immensity of the gift that we have received and the opportunities we have for bearing those gifts.
A reminder that these waters washed us up into something much larger than ourselves.
Something we can remind ourselves of and renew each time we touch these waters, each time we wash our hands, each time we take a shower and let these waters flow over us.
Because in these waters we have been baptized into Christ’s life, death, and resurrection and joined to the body of Christ.
We have been united into a family of fellow children of God—that we have gained sisters and brothers and siblings far beyond our biological family.
Or, as one of my late seminary professors, Rev. Dr. Pete Pero often said, “water is thicker than blood,” because baptism unites us with people that we’ve never met, with people we may not want to hang out with, with people we wouldn’t choose to connect with, and it makes us family.
And by uniting us to Jesus’ life and ministry, baptism calls us to live our lives following Jesus, loving our fellow children of God following his example.
Until the love of God that has claimed us inspires our every action.
Or as another of my seminary professors, Rev. Gordon Straw, who recently fulfilled the promise of life that was in his baptism, said, “how we live our lives every day honors God and those around us, as well as ourselves.”
Yes, beloved, baptism invites us into a beautiful, holy, and extraordinary life—the baptismal life.
A life rooted in love and oriented to service.
But the baptismal life is also risky, because of where following Jesus will take us.
Because if we follow Jesus, we join his ministry that we will see unfold in the coming weeks, that stems from Jordan’s banks.
Following Jesus will have us live our lives where he did, among the poor and the outcast, the hurting and dejected, the hungry and the homeless, the marginalized and those forgotten by the world.
Following Jesus will have us at odds with the establishment, going against the keepers of tradition and the preservers of “how it’s always been done” to find something new.
Following Jesus will have us challenging the powerful, criticizing the political rulers who oppress our siblings and the wealthy who profit from their labor.
Following Jesus will have us empty ourselves, to be servants of all, to give and our lives for the life of others trusting in the new life we have, rooted in these waters.
And we don’t do this because we have to.
We don’t follow Jesus it’s required.
We don’t model our lives on his because we think it’s necessary to earn God’s love, because nothing we do can ever earn this love any more than our baptism can earn it.
We follow Jesus because we have received such a gift as this—the love of God that knows no boundaries.
The love that proclaims you and me as beloved children of God.
The love the splashes onto our brows as water, filled with such abundant grace that it overflows until it floods the whole creation.
Yes, living this baptismal life asks a lot of us, but it also gives us so much more.
A love that endures.
An identity that will outlast the challenges and guide us through the adversities—beloved child of God.
And we know that we are not alone in this work, that we have this community and the communion of all the baptized as co-workers and partners.
And we have a God has spoken to us through the Prophet Isaiah, “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.”
This baptism is a gift of grace, my friends.
This is uniting us into the life of Christ and a God who will never abandon us.
This is the inclusion into a family that stretches beyond our wildest imagining, spanning all people.
But most of all, this is an identity that will never fade but is forever marked on our brows when our God said to us, “You are my child, my beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
How will you respond to this gift?
How will you show this love?
How will you live this baptismal life?