January 8, 2023
Baptism of Our Lord
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who loves us and sends the spirit on us. Amen
“Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.” (Matthew 3:13)
All of the gospels agree
that Jesus starts his public ministry
by coming to John the Baptist
to be baptized in the Jordan river,
and we might wonder as John certainly did,
why Jesus needed to be baptized.
Of course when we wonder this
we’re probably thinking about baptism as forgiveness of sins (which is part of it)
and if Jesus was without sin….
it’s an easy theological rabbit hole to end up going down
especially if we focus on Jesus’ divinity over his humanity,
but here by the Jordan river
Jesus’ humanity comes to the forefront,
he comes to be baptized by John
because he is human
and humans need baptism,
especially the part of baptism
that affirms our identity
and relationship with God.
That’s what happens for Jesus,
he clearly knows who he is and what he must do,
when John hesitates to baptize him
Jesus tells him it’s what needs to happen,
but the big moment comes
when as he’s coming up out of the water
“the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘this is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’”
Now Jesus can have no doubts
about who he is, and his relationship with God,
and certainly as a human he had doubts,
maybe not with his head but with his heart.
As humans we can know something to be true with head knowledge
but still be unsure in our hearts,
heart knowledge, that deep feeling of the truth of something
often takes more of an experience,
like an experience of being washed in water
and hearing God’s voice as the spirit descends.
We humans need these tangible experiences,
this is why sacraments are a physical sign
combined with the promise of God,
we need something to cling to
when the doubt begins to creep in.
Even if we know with our heads
that God loves us,
we also know in our hearts
how clearly unworthy of God's love we are,
we continue to sin,
we turn away from God and neighbor,
we struggle with relationships.
Even as we know with our heads God loves us,
our heart tells us that there’s no way
that God who knows us could love us.
And in the battle between head and heart,
the heart almost always wins.
Which is why we need baptism,
that moment in time, once and for all
when water is poured over our heads
and the words are spoken
like we just heard spoken over Cooper,
“I baptize you in the name of the father and of the son and of the holy spirit,
and now you have been sealed by the holy spirit
and marked by the cross of Christ forever.” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, pg 231)
This is something we know with our heads
and have experienced with our hearts,
and if we start to question,
asking: “is it real?”
we have the answer:
“it is as real as water.”
Water that is necessary for life
And though baptism happens only once,
Again and again we are called to remember
Who we are and whose we are
now every time we encounter water,
it is a reminder that God has claimed us once and for all.
drink a glass of water,
God has claimed you,
wash your hands,
you are a child of God,
take a shower
God has forgiven your sins,
feel the rain on your face,
God renews life each day
and not just any life
but your life,
It is so easy to think
that because of the imperfections in ourselves
that we live with every day,
like a bruised reed or a dimly burning wick
we’re not much use,
and because we’ve been trained to believe that our worth
comes from our usefulness
we come to the conclusion
that because we are damaged,
we are unworthy.
But the bruised, damaged and dim,
that’s who God treats gently,
who God uses to work God’s agenda in the world.
As we heard God say through the prophet Isaiah
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.” (Isaiah 42:1-3)
We as Christians see Jesus as that servant,
Jesus who wherever he went
drew broken people to him,
healed them, fed them, forgave them,
and sent them out to share the good news of God.
We are not perfect, it is true,
but God takes us, bruised and dim as we are,
and sends the Holy Spirit on us.
And where the Holy Spirit is,
it’s hard to argue with God,
we do it but it’s harder.
Look at the story in acts,
Peter who has his whole life tried to remain perfect
and thereby worthy of God
by eating the right things
and associating with the right people,
has a vision
telling him to break these rules
and when he comes out of his vision
the spirit leads him to the house of Cornelius,
a gentile, someone he’s not supposed to associate with,
and tells him to share his experiences of Jesus,
Peter tells the story and message of Jesus
and “while Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word…Then Peter said, can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10)
and no one could
and the whole household was baptized.
Baptism isn’t about worth,
being a child of God isn’t about usefulness.
It’s about love.
God’s love for us,
love that is as present in our lives as water,
love that descends on us
and claims us for God,
love that goes straight to the heart
as the voice of God says,
this is my child, the beloved,
with whom I am well pleased.
You are that child.
Sealed by the holy spirit
And marked with the cross of Christ