Sermon + Baptism of Our Lord + January 9, 2011 + Matthew 3:13-17
Today we mark the baptism of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, welcome a new child of God to the family of Faith through the waters of baptism, and reflect on how being claimed by God through baptism changes everything.
Today Matthew links Jesus with the Servant in the Song we hear from Isaiah. Even His name, Jesus, means the LORD helps. He will bring forth justice to the nations, heal the blind, set prisoners free, and give light to those who sit in darkness. His activities reverse the policies of the nations.
Today we hear about Jesus being baptized by John the baptizer. Seems simple enough, John is a baptizer, it is what he does, call people to repent and wash them in waters like the Jordan. But Jesus, the Word of God incarnate, God in the flesh, God dwelling among us, is sinless… why would he need to be, or allow himself to be baptized?
Today John and Jesus get into it a bit in Matthew’s Gospel. John tries to stop it saying, “I’m the one who needs to be baptized, not you!” But Jesus insisted and told him, “Do it. God’s work putting things right all these centuries, is coming together right now in this baptism.” So John did it.
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Things then calmed down, almost in slow motion allowing all who were there to soak-in the scene, absorb every detail and sense of how the world changed, how baptism changed.
Hear the rest of the story of the baptism of our Lord:
The moment Jesus came up out of the baptismal waters…
- The skies opened up and he saw God’s Spirit…
- it looked like a dove…
- descending and landing on him.
And along with the Spirit, a voice…
- THIS is my Son…
- And MARKED…
- With my LOVE… DELIGHT of my life.
For Jesus, this was his first public act. He had not healed, taught, preached, done anything miraculous, or anything in the way of ministry before his baptism by John. The first chapters of Matthew tell about what happened to Jesus, what happened around him… he travels to Egypt to escape Herod’s terrorism in Bethlehem, and on to Nazareth where he finds John and steps into the Jordan. It is this communal act, the ‘we’ of John and Jesus, not the action of one or the other, but working as community, being obedient to God’s word together pleases God.
God’s approval is voiced and Jesus is re-affirmed as God’s child and now begins his ministry and journey to the cross. God speaks to all people, not just to Jesus and John… THIS IS my Son. And in each of your baptisms, you become a part of the Jesus community, a part of the body of Christ Jesus, and…
- God is pleased, God voices approval,
- God chooses you, God marks you,
- God loves you, and you become the delight of God’s life!
Jesus’ baptism points to Christian baptism, rather than just repentance, or washing of sin.
- We as Christians are washed as John’s baptism did, but we also receive the Holy Spirit and begin our public ministry following baptism just as Jesus’ baptism did.
- We are sealed with the cross of Christ and baptized in the triune name of God the Father who created us, God the Son who saves us, and God the Spirit who sustains us.
Christian baptism is our initiation into the family of God. This morning Chloe Marie joins brother Cameron who was baptized two years ago, and mother Alicia, father Keith, godmother Liane, godfather Kyle, and each of you gathered as the community of Faith, baptized months, years, or more likely decades ago… as children of God, chosen, claimed, adopted forever. This is an important part of this sacrament:
- It tells us, it reminds us who we are…
- More importantly, whose we are…
- Precious children in God’s eyes.
This is historically a Swedish Lutheran congregation. Founded almost 60 years ago by immigrants from across the Atlantic and the sons and daughters of immigrants. Today we have a much more diverse congregation, but the fact remains that for most of us, we or families before us encountered a lot of water to get here. While some of you can sing and pray in your mother tongue, for most we have lost the language and traditions of our heritage. But in baptism we are in a sense all immigrants, something new happens when you cross the waters, you receive a new identity and are changed forever. We have all, in one way or another, come across the Baptismal waters forever change and given new identities as children of God.
The Gospel of Matthew this day reflects like a pool of water, the celebration of Jesus’ baptism and we celebrate the gift of baptism for Chloe and all the baptized. It also reflects other point made by the Gospel, like ripples that spread across the water…
- That Jesus is God’s Son and as God’s Son does not have a need for repentance.
- That Jesus identifies himself with us and the needs of all sinful people by participating in John’s baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
- That Jesus identifies himself with us and all who believe in him, even prostitutes, tax cheats, those who boldly live, serve and speak for what they believe, and those like the Roman Centurions who do their duty by ultimately leading him to the cross.
In light of the unspeakable act of terror in Arizona yesterday, Diana Butler Bass noted in her blog that in 1862 [during the bloody civil war], Episcopal bishop Stephen Elliot of Georgia said,
All nations which come into existence . . . must be born amid the storm of revolution and must win their way to a place in history through the baptism of blood.
Baptism as water? Baptism as blood? Baptism accompanied by a dove or baptism accompanied by the storm of revolution?
American Christianity is deeply conflicted, caught between two powerful symbols of baptism, symbols that haunt our political sub-consciousness. To which baptism are we called? Which baptism does the world most need today? Which baptism truly heals? Do we need the water of God, or the blood of a nine-year old laying on a street in Tuscon? The answer is profoundly and simply obvious. We need redemption gushing from the rivers of God’s love, not that of blood-soaked sidewalks.
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God’s love and mercy is so deep that Jesus, God’s only Son died on a blood stained cross so that we might share in a baptism like his, redemption gushing from the rivers of God’s love. This river is ours only as a gift, not by our deserving. We are God’s chosen people today, because he God chose us and we are washed and called to lives to reflect who we are and whose we are.
In our identity as followers of Jesus, baptized into a death like his, promised eternal life like his, the question for each of us is…
- How do you son or daughter of God, with whom God is most pleased, recognize and react to this presence and love in your lives as the baptized?
- How does this presence and promise of God, that you are a son or daughter with whom God is well pleased inform your individual unique baptismal calling?
A calling only you have received, a calling for which only you can live out in love.
Baptized sons and daughters of God, the waters have cleansed, the dove has descended, the presence and promise of God is with you always… You are freed and forgiven not because of anything you have done, not done, or could ever do own… The presence and promise of God is yours because God the Father who created you, God the Son who saves you, and God the Spirit who sustains you with gushing rivers, loves you! Loves you no matter what!