4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “After me the one who is more powerful than I is coming; the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
10 And just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Please pray with me this morning, church:
You drew near and named Jesus as your “Beloved”.
In our baptism, you name us, too, as “Beloved Child”.
Make us instruments of your love.
Help us and guide us as we seek to share your love with our world.
Preachers all know that we are just one big news story away from having to edit our sermons. Sometimes the breaking news fits nice and neat into what you’ve already written. Other times, a complete rewrite of the entire sermon is needed.
Under normal circumstances, it’s the Saturday night news stories you want to watch out for. In these pandemic times, when I’m writing my sermon on Wednesday and Thursday, and preaching it on Thursday afternoon (night…), I don’t get to include those late-week stories, but the Wednesday afternoon ones…
Like many of you, I was glued to the news watching the events that unfolded in Washington D.C. on Wednesday afternoon, January 6. A day when the church officially celebrates the Festival of the Epiphany of Our Lord. And certainly, this Epiphany, on January 6, 2021, we certainly had our own eyes opened…
It’s not my role to stand here and say this thing or that thing about what you should think about what happened on Wednesday afternoon, but it is my role to stand here and talk about where our faith intersects with the world around us.
Hopefully, you’ve heard me quote the great Lutheran pastor and theologian Karl Barth who said that the preacher must always preach the Gospel “with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.” That is, our faith always has something to say to the goings-on around us. Our faith is the lens through which view, and move, and live, and exist in the world. If our faith doesn’t have something to say to our actual, real-life, shared experiences…what good is that faith?
Our faith informs how we understand and act in the rest of the entire world.
Our faith is that foundational principle. Above all others.
Which is why when folks ask me why I get political in my sermons, my question in response is “How do you even separate the two?” If politics is simply the structures and norms that guide our shared life together, how is that different than the Gospel which sets out, through the teaching and ministry of Jesus, how we are to live together? It’s the exact same thing. How do we live together?
It’s the fundamental question asked of you in your baptism.
Who are you—what role do you have—in this Christian life, this life you share with all others and with all of creation?
Who are you?
What role do you have in this life we all share?
(I told you, sometimes they fit nicely…)
The gospel writer of Mark tells us, John the baptizer was out in the wilderness outside of Jerusalem by the Jordan River baptizing people for the forgiveness of their sin. This has largely been understood to be a form of washing associated with Jewish purity rituals. But John is careful to draw a distinction between his baptism and the baptism of the one coming after him: “I baptize you with water, but the one coming after me, the one who is more powerful than I, will baptize you with the holy spirit.”
For a really really really long time it was taught that our Christian baptism had something to do with forgiveness of sin, also. But even here in the gospel, we have John drawing the distinction between the baptism for the forgiveness of sin and Jesus’ baptism, a baptism with the holy spirit. For so many—honestly, myself included, for a really long time—baptism had some sort of implication on our salvation. Like, we needed baptism to make sure we got into heaven or something like that. Even Luther hints as much in the Augsburg Confessions, so we got the idea honestly, but the thing is, in the very same document, and in our theological understanding, as Lutherans, we believe and we confess that we ourselves have nothing to do with our salvation. Salvation is God’s work, and God’s alone, and we are recipients of that salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ, justified and made to be in right relationship with God, a gift that has been given to us as grace, undeserving and unworthy as we are. (By the way, this is like, almost the entire thrust of Lutheran Confirmation…Congratulations, you’re all basically Confirmed Lutherans now if you weren’t already…)
So then, what use is our Baptism?
Well, as we do in our Rite of Holy Baptism and in the Affirmation of Baptism we do occasionally, we make promises, either ourselves or have promises made on our behalf. Things like promising to worship and pray and study scripture and participate in the Lord’s Supper… And learn; we promise to be nurtured in faith and to nurture faith in others. And we make promises to proclaim Christ through word and deed…to care for others and the world God made…and to faithfully work for justice and peace in all the world.
And it’s these last few that I think we hear so often at church that we honestly kind of gloss over them. Because they sound so familiar to, like, everything else we talk about at church. But I want you to really hear these promises because I think they speak really profoundly to this moment that we’re all in.
In your baptism, you promised to proclaim Christ through word and deed.
In all you do and in all you say, your life is to point to Christ. A Christ who, as we just sang about not 3 weeks ago, whose law is love and whose Gospel is peace.
How are you doing there?
In your baptism, you promised to care for others and the world God made.
In all your interactions with others and with creation, your posture is to be one of care and compassion. In these divisive and so highly-charged times, you are to be a voice of healing and unity.
How do you receive and interact with others who view things differently than you? How do you treat others who look, speak, think, act, vote, and believe differently than you? Do you seek out common understanding? Or do you write people off as nothing more than their voting record? (I’m especially convicted by this one, by the way… I can do this so much better…)
In your baptism, you promised to faithfully and tirelessly work for justice and peace in all the world.
In situations of oppression and injustice, your call is to stand and work with those who are vulnerable, oppressed, and marginalized. Those on the outsides. Those who do not have power and privilege. Those whose power and privilege and voice are trying to be taken away from them. Your “side” is to be with God, doing the work of lifting up the lowly, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, visiting the lonely, releasing the captive, and proclaiming the peace—the shalom—of God.
Where do you stand in situations of injustice?
The truth is, church, in all of this, our baptism most clearly shows us just how connected and how dependent on each other we all are.
Church, baptism is belonging.
The heavens were rent apart and the Spirit descended like a dove, and voice from the heavens said, “You are my child…my beloved…with you, I am so so pleased…”
Words not only reserved for Jesus. In your baptism, too, dear one…God drew near…the very same voice that swept over the waters and called forth life proclaimed you “Beloved”……a beautiful child of God……in you God is so so pleased……
And if that’s true of all of us, how does that change how we receive and view and interact with all those other people…all those folks we disagree with…? Are they, too, Beloved? Are they deserving of your love and care and compassion?
Baptism is belonging.
We are given to and for one another.
We are responsible for one another.
Perhaps if we understood this better, scenes like this past Wednesday might not have happened.
Perhaps if we understood this better, wearing a mask and avoiding gatherings wouldn’t be seen as a political statement, but rather as an act of care and concern for our neighbor.
Perhaps if we understood this better, we might more easily be able to overcome this pandemic because we would see that what is best for our neighbor is ultimately best for us. We would see that our lives really are tied up together, caught up in that inescapable network of mutuality.
Baptism is belonging.
And in this belonging, who are you?
What role do you have in this life we all share together…in this belonging to one another?
And you are called…to love.