Our Baptism - Sermon on Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

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Baptism is a means of entry into Christian community. But it is not only that. Remember your baptism? I don't. 

Please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The delivered sermon is often considerably different than the sermon notes which are included for convenience below.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

January 10, 2016 - Baptism of our Lord

"Our Baptism".  Text is from Luke 3:15-17, 21-22


Good morning to you my sisters and brothers in Christ, saints and sinners, children of God. 

Well, it feels like we've gotten out of the wondrous Christmas season and no sooner are have we finished with the accounts of Christ's birth that we jump full force into Jesus's ministry. With a hearken back to part of an account we read in Advent, one in which John the Baptist makes his important prophecy about the coming Messiah, we come full circle, because that reading was, in fact what brings us to Jesus's own baptism.  Which is a baptism like no other baptism. 

Like many others, we see that Jesus was baptized in the midst of a time when other people were being baptized, putting Jesus in the midst of humanity, and emphasizing the fact that Baptism is a community event. However, it's important to emphasize once again that the baptisms that were done by John, in fact all of the baptisms done in those days were done out of repentance to declare a human being free from sin. It was done in order that their enmity be washed away and that they become new persons. 

But Jesus is by his very nature free from sin, even though he was fully human, he remained yet fully divine. His baptism therefore took on a wholly different dimension. And so, when Jesus became baptized he changed the very nature and definition of baptism. The immersion in water becomes a sinking of the body into the holy spirit, whereupon one is baptized by fire and one's shortcomings become burned away. 

Although we read the account of Jesus' baptism in all four Gospels, nowhere else but Luke do we read this description of the spirit's actions, for which Jesus had prayed, in which the heavens opened and the spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.

Water Flow 2When we say that the heavens opened, I know what first comes to mind, particularly in this, mercifully wet El Niño year. Heavens open and the rain comes pouring down and we are all at once drenched. But heavens opening for the Jewish people was a lot more significant because it meant the constantly sealed division between the realm of God and the earth was open if only a crack. It was all at once perilous and frightening and awe-inspiring.

And the physicality of the spirit is also all at once quite telling. Luke pulls no punches, he wants us to understand without a doubt that there was upon this awe-inspiring experience a beautiful pure white dove that alighted on the body of Jesus and in some way stayed with him or merged with him, and this voice from above declaring to all those present that this was the voice's Son, the Beloved. And this man, Jesus of Nazareth, was well pleasing to the voice from beyond and. The anticipation was over. The mission and ministry of the Christ was finally begun. 

And yet, while Christ's baptism was like no other, we find many similarities between his and ours. We have the communal nature of them, and whether or not others were baptized at the same time as you, nevertheless our baptism took place within a fellowship of people of God.  And our baptism, like Jesus's, was the start of something new and different, an entry into a life of expectations and deliverance.  But there was probably a bit more ceremony in ours, and maybe some candles and lighting and possibly singing and certainly more clothing and maybe just a bit of oil and for most of us, much less water. 

We in the church have come to understand baptism as membership. That in receiving a baptism one is automatically entered into the rolls of a congregation and thereby earning the rights and privileges that membership in the church conveys. And there is, in fact truth to that, as some valued and beloved members here of Lutheran Church of the Cross can attest to. And more than that baptism joins one to the community of Christ, the church at large. It provides a means to be seated at the table to share the Eucharist with any congregation, although certain denominations may require specific declarations as well. It is a choice that we make in our lives to align ourselves to Christ and the way of life that he draws us into. 

Baptism is, indeed more than simply community building, because it is the start of a brand new way of life.  As we see in the Gospels and Acts and the letters, baptism has little to do with membership at all, but is the washing away of an old life and the donning of the holy garb of God's mission and ministry in the world. When we are baptized we become by virtue of the power of the holy spirit called to serve others in love and commitment rather than reign over them.  And it is in call to remember one's own baptism that we regard that moment that God called us into the world to engage in the good ministry of living a Christ centered life. It matters not whether we can actually recall being baptized, because if you're like me, and many of us who grew up in Christian homes that was a moment that took place not too long after birth. 

And so let me give you some insight into my own baptism and maybe it can provide you with a memory. My mother and father were a very young couple of 23 and 25, who had two children already, age 3 and 4, and they had brought the infant Cary to their new congregation in Omaha, Nebraska. This little baby looked in wonder at his Mom and Dad as they held him in their arms, bearing him forward for the ceremony to take place. The pastor reads, my parents respond in words I've yet to comprehend that actually convey meaning to one another. Suddenly there is water poured over my bald head and I have a surprised look on my face! A second time!  And I begin to scowl. Finally a third time and my lungs pour forth a burst of crying, my embarrassed parents hushing me and the pastor rushing through the end, trying to be heard over my screaming. 

And there this child has been baptized, and what occurred? Any dove of the Holy Spirit which alighted over me would have done so in secret, using the opportunity of the child's distraction to enter silently. Any calling out of God's pleasure by virtue of the heaven's opening up drowned out by the scowl of the infant's piercing moans.  At least that's how I imagined my baptism went, and that's how I choose to remember it.  

But the spirit entered in, and by the promises that the community made on that day, we eventually learned something of what it meant to live out a life of Christ, of what that moment gave to us. 

And so when we are called to remember our baptism we are called to discipleship and ongoing revelation. We are called to take on the mantle of what being a follower of Christ entails and to bear witness of the intentional interruption and interference of God in our world.  

By the strength and guidance of God's Holy Spirit propelling us forward, we are able to do our lives and day-to-day activities in a God-oriented direction of servanthood, witness, help and healing, and giving hope to the needy, all the while being the good news that Jesus Christ calls us to in the world. 

Amen.

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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on January 10, 2016 3:06 PM.

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