Sermon – Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013
Zion Lutheran Church, Hoople, ND
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and 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.’” Reading this passage in Luke, you have to stop and ask yourself, “what just happened?” Unlike the people at the time of Jesus who were not sure if John was the Messiah, we know that Jesus is the Messiah. And we profess that He was born without sin. We profess that He is the Word made Flesh. Last week we celebrated Epiphany, when Jesus was revealed to the Gentiles when the magi followed the star to worship Him. And so we ask ourselves why? Why would Jesus need to be baptized with all the other people? We know that we are sinful by nature. We know that we need baptism. But Jesus? Why would Jesus need baptism? He has done nothing wrong.
Those words echo the voice of Pontius Pilate when he asked the crowds why they wanted Jesus crucified. Why, when He has done nothing wrong? The reality is that this baptism and Jesus’ crucifixion are interwoven. You cannot separate one from the other. What happens at baptism leads to the cross. And something definitely happens at baptism.
I read a few articles this week concerning baptism that caused me to think very deeply. There were a couple of people – Lutherans in fact – who asked if anything really happens at baptism? Are we really changed? Does anything significant take place – for real? There are many people, maybe some of you here today, who may ask the same question. Does anything really happen?
Rene LeBovier in France and Edwin Kagin in the United States would answer most definitely yes, but not for the reasons you would suspect. Rene LeBovier, an atheist in France, has been trying for the past year to be de-baptized. Yes, I read in the news that he was baptized in the Christian faith – Roman Catholic specifically – as an infant and he is petitioning the courts to force the church to declare him de-baptized. He said it was done against his will. Edwin Kagin, now an atheist in the United States, is also behind a movement to declare himself de-baptized. These aren’t the only two. The movement is growing in Europe and the United States. You have to ask yourself the question, if something didn’t really happen at baptism, why would people be trying to have it reversed?
The truth is something does happen at baptism. In baptism we are “sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever” – not just for a day, or a week, but forever. For some, like those previously mentioned, this may be troubling news, for others it is nothing short of miraculous. You see in baptism, we are united with Christ. In the waters of baptism, our old sinful nature is drowned and we are buried with Christ with the promise that we will share in His resurrection. We become members of the body of Christ, the church and heirs in God’s kingdom. We receive the gift of God’s grace. We receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and the Triune God delivers us from the forces of evil, puts our sinful self to death and gives us new birth – a new identity as a follower of Christ. We are made new – reborn – into a life discipleship, a life of service for others. And all this is done not because of anything we do or believe, but as an unconditional free gift of God. That is why more often than not we baptize infants, to show how this is God’s work and not our own. No wonder Martin Luther called it God’s “most precious jewel!” And this is a gift that cannot be taken from us. The question I have is why would anyone want to have that taken away?
While baptism is a gift of grace and hope, it is also a responsibility into a life of discipleship. In our baptism we are united with Christ – united in His death and resurrection. Sin is a turning in on ourselves and baptism turns us away from ourselves and into a right relationship with God. We are forgiven and empowered to love our neighbors and bear witness to the Gospel. That is both a gift and responsibility. No longer can we live just for ourselves, but we are reminded daily to live a life of service for others. Baptism is forever. It is not just a one-time event. We are reminded daily through our baptism to live for Christ. Each time we confess our sins before God and one another, we receive forgiveness, the forgiveness first granted in baptism. The Holy Spirit given to us at baptism renews us daily on our journey of faith.
Does anything really happen at baptism? Yes! We know who we are and whose we are. We are claimed by God. Just as the voice of God spoke to Jesus at His baptism, God speaks to us as well. “You are my beloved son. You are my beloved daughter. With you I am well pleased.” Who does not need to hear they are loved, especially by God! So many people go through their lives not knowing if they are loved, and that can have serious consequences. Often people turn to addictions and lives of crime because they feel they have no one and no place to turn. Yet God repeatedly expresses to us that we are loved. We may give up on ourselves, on god, but God will never give up on us!
We heard in Psalm 29 that the voice of the Lord is powerful. It is indeed! The voice of the Lord speaks to us every day. When Martin Luther was frightened or distressed he would repeat the words “I am baptized” to himself. He would shout it out loud at times. He knew that his baptism was a powerful force against the forces of the enemy. The enemy outside and the enemy within himself. The power of the water and the Word spoken at baptism is the most powerful voice of God’s covenantal promise. We are God’s people. We belong to God.
Isaiah 43 echoes those words. “Because you are precious in My sight, and honored, and I love you.” Listen to these words again. “You are precious in My sight, and honored, and I love you.” The Powerful, Holy, Mighty God loves you, just as you are.Let that sink in. God knows we are not perfect. God knows we are both sinners and saints, but God loves us anyway. God loves us so much that God sent Jesus to save us and bring us back to God.
That is why Jesus was baptized. Not because He needed His sins forgiven for He was born without sin, but He took on our sins and was baptized to show that He would take away our sins. Jesus became one of us and was baptized for us, and in solidarity with us.
And at His baptism the Holy Spirit descended on Him as a dove and God spoke to Him. “You are my beloved. In you I am well pleased.” Jesus needed the power of the Holy Spirit to stay on the course necessary that would lead Him to complete His mission for our salvation. We need the Holy Spirit too to renew us daily on our journey of faith. We need the Holy Spirit to speak to us when we are too weak to carry on. We need the Holy Spirit to pray for us when our words fail us.
Through our baptism, the Holy Spirit is with us, living within us and renewing us daily. And for those who are not yet baptized, this gift of grace is available at any time for you.
This week when you wake up in the morning and when you go to bed at night say out loud, I am baptized and know what this means. This week, if you find yourself troubled say out loud, I am baptized. This week, take a moment to say thank you and say out loud, I am baptized. And hear the voice of God speak, You are my beloved. In you I am well pleased.” Live and walk in the joy and peace of that promise. Amen.