Sermon – Sunday, Jan. 8 2012
Paradise Lutheran Church, Thomasville, PA
The water was calm and cool that day. So calm you could see your reflection. And though the sun was hot, the water was cool near the banks of the Jordan River. There, surrounded by the lush trees and shrubs, John the Baptizer was performing the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This strange man who dressed in odd clothes and ate bizarre food had developed quite a following. He preached a message of repentance for all to prepare themselves for the powerful One who would soon come. He told the crowds present that he was baptizing with water but One greater than he would soon come and baptize with the Holy Spirit. And that One – that One was so great – that John wasn’t even worthy enough to untie His sandals. John was preparing the way for this powerful One, yet little did he know that on that day The Way had arrived.
One by one John baptized the people who came to him in the banks of the Jordan River. As each one came up out of the water, he saw the reflection of the next one. As John gazed into the water that day in preparation for the next person he saw a special reflection. He turned around and there was Jesus. John recognized him. He knew this was the One he had told everyone about. I imagine that John’s mind must have raced. Was he seeing things? Why was Jesus coming to John? John knew it was he who should be baptized by Jesus. I’m sure John protested for a few minutes, but Jesus would insist. Jesus was about to begin his public ministry and this baptism was necessary.
It was so necessary that Jesus came down from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized. He came a long way. The Jordan River is a long winding river. It’s less than 100 miles long if you measured it straight, but because it is such a meandering zigzag it measures almost 200 miles long. When John spoke about making the crooked places straight, I’m sure he thought about that very river. The name Jordan means descender and the river descends from 1000 feet above sea level from its beginning North at Galilee near Mt. Harmon to 1300 feet below sea level into the Dead Sea. That’s a long steep descent, but not as long as the descent God made to become Flesh. There’s no place too deep that God won’t go to bring us salvation.
That’s why Jesus went down into the Jordan River that day. This marked the beginning of his public ministry. Jesus knew what His calling in life was and it was time to make that known. And as Jesus rose up out of the water that day He saw the heavens torn apart. The clouds didn’t just move aside; the heavens were ripped open, torn apart. Later in Mark’s gospel we will hear this same language when the curtains of the temple where God was believed to dwell would be torn apart immediately after Jesus died. Baptism reminds us that birth and death are inseparable. Jesus willingly descended into the Jordan river to be baptized not because He needed His sins washed away – for He was sinless – but in obedience to His calling to fulfill God’s covenant promise of salvation for all people. Jesus plunged into flesh to transform our flesh. Jesus plunged into darkness to transform the darkness into light. Jesus plunged into death to transform it to life – a life that is filled with power through the gift of baptism.
Through baptism our connection with God is sealed. We become children of God. And just as the Spirit of the Living God descended on Jesus like a dove, through baptism we are forever sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. Just as Jesus heard the words, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased,” God speaks to us and pours grace upon us in the waters of baptism. We are strengthened just like Jesus for the task of public ministry and like Jesus’ ministry, it won’t be easy. Immediately after Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. It didn’t suggest or guide Him; it drove Him – compelled Him – into the wilderness to face temptations.
Our life as a Christian drives us to battle with the forces of evil too. A life of a Christian is not a guarantee of a life of ease. On the contrary, it is a guarantee of a life of struggle, for we are called to stand up for justice no matter what the cost. We are called to stand up for the truth even if it causes us pain. We are called to stand up for peace even if it brings us ridicule. We are called not only to love our enemies, but love them so much that we no longer see them as enemies, but see them as children of God. There will be opposition, but we do not struggle alone. God is with us. And while the water and the word of baptism free us from a life enslaved to sin, we are still human and sin is a part of our broken world, but sin no longer dominates us. That is why we need to be reminded of our baptism daily. God, through baptism, has given us a new hope and not one that is merely in the future, but part of our present day reality.
Martin Luther called baptism the most priceless treasure. It’s told that when he was filled with discouragement and anguish that he would yell out loud “I am baptized!” He did this because it brought him peace during those difficult times. Let us proclaim, I am baptized! when we find ourselves shaken to the core. In the face of financial oppression – I am baptized!. In the pain of illness – I am baptized! In the face of ridicule – I am baptized! In the face of doubt – I am baptized! In the face of mistreatment – I am baptized! In the face of depression – I am baptized! In the face of loneliness – I am baptized! In the face of heartache – I am baptized! In whatever situation we find ourselves in – there is no place that the waters of baptism cannot restore and transform us.
And once renewed and transformed we are compelled to share this Good News to the entire world – in our schools and in our jobs, our neighborhoods, prisons, the grocery stores, the banks, the movie theatres, the laundry mats, the local pub. Every day there is someone we meet that needs to hear that God has come to set them free. The voice from heaven is waiting to speak to others through us. I’m not talking about lengthy sermons; I’m talking about responding with a word of kindness and love when someone says they hate us. It’s speaking a word of forgiveness when we have been wounded. It’s speaking a word of hope to someone who questions the value of their own life. It’s speaking a word of compassion to someone who has made a mistake knowing that we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. It’s speaking a word of grace when someone is speaking evil of another person. It’s speaking a word of love when someone is speaking a word of violence. We are baptized and we must descend on the world like a dove and be instruments of God’s peace and love; a love that tears open the darkest places and reveals God’s glory and light, a love that plunges into the depths of humanity with a light that cannot be stopped, a hope that cannot be squelched and a fire that cannot be put out. Amen.