Sunday Homilies with Pastor Wanda: The Baptism of Our Lord Sunday

Baptismatus sum, baptismatus sum

There is the story about a pastor and an embarrassing moment in ministry. He was in the middle of performing a wedding ceremony, just about to lead the couple through their vows, when, all of a sudden, he forgot the name of the groom. Trying to cover the awkward moment, the pastor asked the groom with great solemnity “With what name were you baptized?” The groom, a bit taken aback, paused. But then with great confidence, he responded, “I was baptized with the name of our Lord Jesus Christ!” This guy understood the meaning of baptism! And no, the pastor was not me…but those of you who have seen my bloopers know it could have been!

In the first three or four centuries of the Christian faith the people of the Roman Empire didn’t understand it. They didn’t know the stories of the Old Testament or the stories of Jesus. So over the first three or four centuries the church developed holy days – to teach the faith. To tell and retell the story to people that hadn’t heard it since childhood, to a culture that didn’t know the stories of the faith.

So today, on the Baptism of our Lord, we hear the story of Jesus’ baptism. Jesus came to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. In his baptism, Jesus was declared to be the Son of God, the only Son of God. “This is my beloved Son”. And the Spirit of God came down upon him. This Spirit was the very presence of God.

The same Spirit that was present in creation.

The same creative Spirit that came on the prophets.

The same Spirit that came on King David to help him to rule wisely.

These people were all filled with the Spirit.

And having the Spirit of God inside of him, Jesus had unusual power. By the power and Spirit of God in him, he turned water into wine, controlled the wind and waves of the sea, cured the lepers, healed the deaf and blind. And he had this unusual power to fight the demons, to fight the evil power and forces around him, to face the challenges.

This same Spirit gave Jesus unusual gentleness. When Jesus came to earth and was filled with the Holy Spirit, there was a spirit of gentleness to him in all relationships.

Sometimes those who are not fully absorbed in the Church have the most insightful observations about God. I love this story about the professor from Princeton Seminary who visited a high school youth group. As he was speaking about the baptism of Jesus, one teen-aged boy sat aloof in the back, slouched in a chair, staring at his shoes, seemingly blocking it all out. But after the professor finished speaking about Jesus’ baptism being a revelation of God’s presence in Jesus, the young boy suddenly said without looking up, “That ain’t what it means.”

Glad that the student had been listening at all, the professor asked, “What do you think it means?”

“The story says that the heavens were opened, right?”

“Right.”

“The heavens were opened and the Spirit of God came down, right?”

“That’s right.”

The boy finally looked up and leaned forward, saying, “It means that God is on the loose in the world. And it is dangerous.”

God is running loose in the world, and it is dangerous. Heaven is open. And it is risky in the world. It is risky because you have been baptized by the Spirit of God, and your life may take dramatic new turns.

Down through the centuries, Christians have been obeying the command to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. We baptize children and we baptize adults. We baptize in rivers, in churches, in hospitals, in kitchen sins, in fonts – large and in fonts like ours.  We baptize in the first months of life and on deathbeds. We baptize in the name of the Trinity. This is what we have been commanded to do.

The summer I traveled all over Israel I saw ancient fonts – a little larger than the size of ours, some round, some octagonal, some in the shape of the cross.  In the early church, on the day of the baptism, catechumens, or pre-baptismal converts, would process to the font, wearing typically a white, baptismal garb. At the font, the bishop would administer the rite. First, he would perform an exorcism on the and in some cases anoint the convert with oil before baptism itself took place. By the 4th century, the bishop baptized the naked candidate, and this ritual marked the moment at
which the candidate became a member of the Christian community.

Clearly, none of us is called to be the Lord, the Messiah, the Christ who reigns in glory. Yet through our baptism, we become one with the Christ.  As Jesus was baptized, so are we baptized — to become who we are called to be, to begin a ministry.

Luther had many times of doubt and despair in his life and he said that the only thing that kept him afloat during those times was to touch his forehead again and again and to repeat the words:  Baptismatus sum, baptismatus sum…I am baptized, I am baptized.

Remember your Baptism! All those other important things — family, home, health, jobs — they’re precious and wonderful. But your baptism is foundational, it’s fundamental, it undergirds everything else. No matter what changes in your life, God’s love in Jesus Christ for you will never change. Everything else can be taken away, but God’s love for us in Jesus Christ is a given. That’s what our baptism is about. And so you come and sing in the choir, you come to learn the stories, you come to teach the faith to our little ones. We do this through children’s sermons, through Sunday school, in vacation bible school.

Right now we have enough children to hold a one room Sunday school for all ages but we need teachers to be willing to do this. Right now, we have no nursery, and precious little space for our children to meet in.  Our present nursery has been ruined by a leaking roof.  The mold is clearly present in this room, rendering it useless to us…except for maybe storage.

Right now, we need to renovate our building, bring our restrooms up to par – they’re not even handicapped accessible, the galvanized pipes are corroded.  Have you tried to get hot water in our kitchen sink?  It takes a long time.  The wiring is ancient – don’t use the microwave, the coffee pot and a crock pot at the same time in the kitchen…the fuse will blow.

Right now, we are at a crossroads, asking for the Spirit’s direction for us.  We have been called to build up this community of faith and to share the good news of Jesus Christ with those around you and all the world.
Like the baptism of our Lord that happened long ago, we have been placed in the midst of all peoples and have been called to let Christ’s light shine for all to see.  In our baptisms, God has said to us, “You are my child, I love you, and I am so glad to be your parent.”

God has set us free to live out our call to follow Christ. This same Holy Spirit gives you and me power and gentleness to meet our daily challenges.  To face the challenges within your marriage that you are going through right now. …To face the challenges of loss. To face the challenges with your kids who may be driving you insane right now. … To face the challenges with your mother’s aging, your father’s aging, with their death. …To face the challenges with your own aging and with your death. … To face the challenges with all the injustices in the world that surround us, with the demonic in this world.   To face the challenges of an inadequate building, the challenges of a small and growing congregations, the challenges of economic difficulties but a huge and awesome mission. When the Spirit is on the loose, there is power and you might want to call it dangerous!

Walter Brueggeman says it this way in his beautiful poem, And we Are Different.

We are counted your people.

We are grateful to be called by you, and glad for our special way of faith in the world.

You have marked us and named us and signed us, and we are different, different memories, different hopes, different fears, different commands, different ways of being.

That difference we find glorious, but at times a burden too severe.

We yearn to be like the others, like the others in power, in money, in freedom, in certitude, in security, like the others, uncalled, unburdened, unembarrassed.

We come to you in that deep trial of difference and likeness.

Engage us in our difference, Give us courage for our different vocations, and energy for our different hope.

In the name of your crucified Easter One, so unlike all the others.

After we sing our hymn, Shawn, Dave and Alexa, Kathie & Steve, Billie, Joe, Karly & Cosby are going to come and lead us in the affirmation of our baptism.  They are coming from various churches and various places to join us in Christ’s mission here in this time and place. The same Spirit that descended up on Christ in his baptism has sent them to St. Luke – to lead with us, to support us, to encourage us, to inspire us, to teach us. Let us give thanks, let us welcome these who are our sisters and brothers in baptism.

God in heaven, your Spirit of power and grace is overwhelming. It is all around us, ever-present and all encompassing, and we are empowered and we are blessed. We give you thanks for the power of your Holy Spirit and pray that we honor it in all that we do in your name.

Amen.

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