January 10, 2016 Sermon "Baptized with What?!"

posted Jul 6, 2016, 3:56 PM by David Hawkins
Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 43:1-7

But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my sight,
and honored, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you;
I will say to the north, "Give them up,"
and to the south, "Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
and my daughters from the end of the earth —
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made."

*New Testament Reading: Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

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."

Sermon: "Baptized with What?!"             Rev. David Hawkins

I hope that some of you took advantage of the opportunity to dip your hands in the water of the baptismal font as you came in this morning. I know that it can seem a little ‘Catholic’ to do that, but it really is a lovely reminder of our common identity with Jesus. It reminds us that Jesus was real, that he was really baptized, and that we really share in that baptism with him. Whatever happens to us in life, that central fact can never be taken from us. 

We are baptized. And it means things. It meant things to John. It meant things to Jesus. It means things to us.

For John, baptism was a sign of repentance, a sign of change. As the children and the youth can tell you, the Greek word for repentance does not carry the baggage of shame and guilt and sorrow that we have come to associate with it. 

Rather, for John, and the earliest Christians writers of the Bible, the word repentance, or as they might have said, ‘Metanoia” meant changing everything about your life: your attitude, your feelings, your thoughts, your actions. It was a wholesale re-working of how you thought about life. For John, this is what Baptism was all about.

But, we really can’t say that this is what it was for Jesus, can we? Jesus, we assume, didn’t need a wholesale re-working of his life. He was actually pretty much on the right track already. So, what did baptism mean for Jesus? Did he need to be baptized? 

For Jesus, baptism goes back a little further than John’s interpretation. For Jesus, baptism is the fulfilling of promise made by God to his people long ago, a promise we hear in Isaiah, a promise to be with us in the midst of chaos, a promise to see us through the fires of life. A promise that, no matter what, God has redeemed us, called us by name, that we are his.

And so, Jesus is baptized, not in order to be cleansed of sin, or in order to change his life, but in order to claim and to proclaim his identity as a child of God. Jesus is baptized because he is about to begin his ministry, and he knows that it’s going to be a rough ride, and that there was no promise that he would make it through unscathed, and yet, he trusted in the steadfast love of God. 

Jesus is baptized because baptism was the doorway through which the people of God walk as they make and receive promises of faithfulness. 

Jesus did not need to be baptized. And yet, Jesus was baptized. 

And that means things. 

In our modern day and age, some of these ancient rituals have taken on a magical significance, a sort of totemic power over God. If we do them, we think, God will do these other things. If we do these things, if we say these things, then God can’t help, we think, but do these other things. That we have the power, somehow, through our actions, to force God into doing stuff for us. 

But, if we sit back for a moment, and think about that, we really don’t. Our actions don’t force God into doing anything. There is no quid-pro-quo, there is no contractual agreement that we can wave in God’s face to force him to accede to our terms. That’s not how it works. 

And so, baptism is not a magic talisman that will protect us from harm. In fact, John tells us, warns us, really, at the same time that he baptizes us, that baptism is just the first step. More is coming. The Holy Spirit is coming. Fire is coming. The winnowing fork is coming. 

Life after baptism is not guaranteed to be easy. Just the opposite. Life after baptism will be further baptism, with increasingly higher stakes, in increasing uncomfortable situations. In other words, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the river. 

Baptism does not guarantee a life of ease. The authentically lived Christian life never was, is not, and will never will be, simple, uncomplicated, stress-free, or profitable. 

When John says that we will be baptized with fire, he’s not describing some sort magical thing that has to happen in order for us to become 7th level Christians. He just describing real life. All of us will face the trial of fire at some point in our lives as Christians. It’s inevitable. Some of us have already done it. Some of us are in the middle of it. 

But baptism reminds us that through it all, we remain precious in God’s sight. We are created for God’s glory, we are formed and made by God simply because he loves us. 

Baptism means lots of things to lots of different people. It means promise, it means declaration, it means sign and seal of salvation. It means repentance, it means rededication. Few things in life have so many layers of meaning as baptism. 

But today, we remember the baptism of Jesus, and we can focus on this: in his baptism, he brings all humanity with him into the waters, he brings you and me with him into the waters, and he reminds us that we are claimed by God, and that he is with us. Though we might walk through fire, we are not alone in our struggles. He is with us, and he will see us through the worst the world can throw at us. 

And in the house of the Lord, 
the people said, “Amen”

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