Sermons

pastorEric aug2014Sermon for 1st Epiphany/The Baptism of our Lord

Chosen by God
By The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer -

Today in the church year is a Sunday we call “The Baptism of our Lord” on which we remember Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist.

 

Yesterday was the Day of Epiphany, the day we celebrate the visit of the wise men to the baby Jesus. Now, just one day later in our church calendar, we move rapidly thirty years later, to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist.

 

Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River. This got me thinking - Why was Jesus baptized in the first place? How is our own baptism connected to Jesus’? And, why, especially if God already loves us and saves us through no action of our own, why does our baptism even matter?

 

I suspect this is not something most of us, any of us, think about.

 

And, even if we wanted to think about it, we all have a lot of other things to worry about just now: the economy, a divided government, an increasingly polarized culture, wars and rumors of wars – and that’s just on the global front. At home, it is easy to be preoccupied by concerns about our kids, or their jobs, or getting into college, or losing a loved one, or a parent struggling with memory issues, a sibling struggling with addiction, the prospect of finding a life partner and more.

 

All that is to say that there are probably a lot of things that feel more pressing than commemorating Jesus’ baptism or remembering our own.

 

Why was Jesus’ baptized? That is not a new question - Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist was one of the early and rather thorny questions the early Christian church had to address. They asked, if baptism is about forgiveness, why would the sinless Son of God need to be baptized? And, further, what does that mean about Jesus’ relationship to John the Baptist?

 

Jesus’ relation to John the Baptist was easier to resolve. Each of the Gospel writers goes out of his way to report John’s own clarity about Jesus’ superiority: “I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals.” John may baptize Jesus, but Jesus is clearly more important.

 

But, why would a sinless Son of God need to be baptized? St. John’s Gospel doesn’t even report Jesus’ being baptized, but instead has John the Baptist report seeing the Spirit descend on Jesus. The other three Gospels share an account of Jesus’ baptism, but they do not resolve that question. In fact, when you listen to the essentials of Mark’s terse account, perhaps what is most striking is that Jesus does not really do or say much of anything that sheds light on what is going on.

 

As Mark writes, “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’”

 

Jesus is rather passive in all that happens.

But, maybe that is just the way it should be. After all, this is the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. This is the start of his long and difficult journey toward Jerusalem and the cross. So, at his baptism, Jesus doesn’t have to do anything, but rather simply receives the gift of the Holy Spirit and of God’s favor.

 

Indeed, it is a powerful word of acceptance, identity, blessing, and commitment: “You are my beloved Son. With you I am well pleased.” How might Jesus have longed to hear such words? And how much strength might he have drawn from them at various points in his ministry? No, Jesus does not need forgiveness. But to know who he is – indeed, whose he is – for Jesus to hear that he is accepted, loved, pleasing. I suspect these were powerful words that shaped not only that day but also Jesus’ entire ministry.

 

And here, I believe, is the connection to our own baptism and a reminder of why that event – which, since it happened for most of us when we were infants, which most of us cannot even remember and have not often thought much about – this is why our own baptism still matters.

 

Each of us also longs to hear words of acceptance, identity, blessing, and commitment. Acceptance, identity, blessing and commitment - the gift of baptism. In baptism, we do not have to do anything to receive God’s promises. Indeed, the beauty of infant baptism is that we cannot do anything – not even make a decision for Jesus, let alone commit our lives. Rather, we are passive recipients of God’s blessing and favor. We are called God’s beloved children not because of something we do but because of who God is – a loving parent who wants nothing more than to see us flourish.

 

quote godiswithusthroughitallIn Holy Baptism God chooses us. In Holy Baptism, God says that we are enough. Already. That we are pleasing to God and deserve to be loved. And that identity of being God’s beloved child – precisely because it is established by God – cannot be taken away from us or, for that matter, lost by us. Rather, God continues to come into our lives to call us beloved and blessed and promise once again to be always both with us and for us.

 

That promise and blessing, in turn, helps us face all the challenges I mentioned earlier. Problems at home or in the community, concerns about the world or our personal lives. We can face whatever might be plaguing us with greater confidence knowing that God is on our side.

 

Think, for a moment, of all that will happen in 2018 – the decisions that will be made, relationships started (or ended), careers changes, schools entered, illnesses endured, challenges surmounted, risks taken, adventures dared, love shared. So much will come down the pike for all of us in the coming weeks and months. Some of it we may anticipate and be prepared for, but much of it we simply cannot imagine. It all can seem rather daunting. Daunting, until we remember that God is with us through all of it. That God is on our side. That God will not abandon us but will walk alongside us, strengthening us, encouraging us, granting us grace sufficient to become the people God wants us to be.

 

“You are my beloved child. With you I am well pleased.” Powerful words. For Jesus and you and me and for everyone.

 

You and I are beloved children of God. And that, sometimes even that alone, will get us through all of the ups and downs of 2018 and beyond.

 

Amen

(With thanks, once again, to the Rev. Dr. David Lose.)

The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
Jan. 6&7, 2018


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