GOSPEL READING (Luke 3:15-17, 21-22)
15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
21Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Sermon for The Baptism of our Lord Sunday, January 9, 2022
In the Lutheran Church, we have two sacraments: baptism and holy communion. These are places where God has promised us grace, belonging, and the forgiveness of sins. Certainly, we meet God other places – and have important rituals as community, such as confirmation, marriage, Christian burial, ordination, and in the commendation of the dying.
The whole Church pressed pause on these rituals and sacraments for a time, in order to protect the vulnerable and to decrease the spread of COVID-19, with the utmost assurance that our rituals and practices to not limit God’s action and presence in our world. But I feel it has deeply affected our communities and our ability to gather. We missed and longed for those promised places where we were used to weekly meeting us with the holy spirit, those events both joyous and sad, where God’s promises were spoken and received. We yearned for a time when we would return to sanctuary to sing – which could be very well considered a sacrament by many Lutherans. Singing the liturgy and lifting our voices together for a hymn seemed like such a normal thing before – but I vividly remember the emotions I had when I sang with a congregation this year for the first time in I don’t know how long.
With so much still to worry about in our world, we now at least have the abilities to return to these basics of our faith practices. To gather for what God promises. We had two baptisms this past summer, welcoming small children into the family of faith, and confirming our faith right along with them. Martin Luther regularly wrote about being strengthened by remembering his own baptism. Not remembering in the sense that he recalled the details of his infant baptism, but remembering that baptism meant that he was beloved, forgiven, and claimed by God eternally.
The practice of sprinkling a congregation with water in remembrance of their own baptism is both liturgically appropriate and a bit playful. I remember turning to a page in the hymnal of my home congregation years ago, only to notice that page was marked with old water stains, the remembrance of baptisms of a generation of believers who participated in that liturgy and got their hymnals splashed regularly.
Sacraments are places we are promised that God shows up for us with grace and mercy. But they are not the only places God shows up. These readings for the next few weeks in the Sundays after Epiphany are all about where the glory of God shows up. Where God is revealed. Where Jesus is revealed to be God’s beloved son, and savior of the world. They are not individual revelations – but to a gathered crowd. Many will question, ponder, or even outright disagree with Jesus – but the witness of scripture gives us these revelations so that we may more clearly see God at work, here and now.
The first of these epiphanies is at Jesus baptism. All the Gospels each have a bit of a different spin on how it happened but Matthew, Mark and Luke, all confirm that a voice from heaven introduced Jesus “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased. Luke gives less detail about the baptism itself and more about who Jesus is. Jesus’ identity as God’s son. Jesus hasn’t done anything yet within the narrative, except the incident in the temple when he was twelve, and yet God claims him and loves him. It is only after this that Jesus begins his work, his public ministry. His baptism provides solid foundation for his identity as a beloved child. God shows up – in the form of the holy spirit and with an assurance and love and identity.
The church must live into its mission and do a better job at clarifying for the young and old alike that God loves them, regardless of what they do or do not do. And really mean it – and show it with our actions, not just with the words of Jesus love me this I know. The world tells you that your value come from how much you can produce, or what you look like, or how good you are at something. The world tells you that your value and and worth – your status is dependent on it. God’s word promises that you have value, you are of infinite worth to your creator – the prophet Isaiah reminds us of God’s intentions – Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you. This is the identity of God’s people – saved by grace through faith, beloved and valuable.
The Epiphany season is a time to carry on the business of being the church, to explore what being a part of God’s family means for us, and to attend to the church’s call and mission in the world. We look for those everyday moments and epiphanies when the light of Christ illuminates our dark times, when God’s love encounters us, and when the presence of the Spirit overwhelms us with joy. We aren’t just moderately connected to a distant God. We have a God we can cry out to in our need and can turn to in our confusion. Our relationship with God has been intimate since before our birth. God is a parent, in every good sense of the word. God has adopted us as sons and daughters in our baptism and has claimed us as his own. Amen.