January 13 2019 First Sunday after Epiphany

Sunday January 13, 2018 Baptism of Our Lord

          Every year at the start of the season of Advent which always falls at the beginning of January we get these texts on the baptism of our Lord.  While the focus is on Jesus’s baptism and the beginning of his earthly ministry, I always like to use it as an opportunity to look at what baptism means not just for Jesus but for us as well.

          Baptism, that simple bath of water and God’s Word, is a huge seminal part of the Christian journey.  Why is something so simple as water and word considered so important to Christians?  In a way similar to the deceptively simple equation E=MC2, when you understand its implications, even if you have trouble fathoming all the mechanics behind it, you recognize its impact on your life.  E=MC2 is Albert Einstein’s great scientific mathematical breakthrough that brought humanity into the nuclear age.  And we can certainly understand that the nuclear age has placed its stamp on life as we know it today.

          In a similar way baptism, that simple equation of God’s Word and the application of water is supposed to put a noticeable stamp upon the life of a believer, a follower of Christ.  Yet too often we forget, we take the baptismal certificate and we shelve it.  We let it collect dust rather than let it stamp us, change us, and direct us in Christ.

          For Lutheran’s the first and foremost ingredient in Baptism is God’s action.  In the waters of baptism God claims us, God forgives us, God promises to love us, to love us for a lifetime and beyond.  That’s fantastic stuff. We all grow up in dysfunctional families of one sort or another.  We all get caught up eventually in relationships that aren’t healthy, that insist on conditional love (if/then) rather than unconditional love (Because/therefore) and here we have God proclaiming his undying, unconditional love for us.  If that isn’t something to hold fast to, celebrate joyfully and share loudly I don’t know what is?

          The second part of baptism is our action, our response.  Now when we make our action the primary mover, we once again make God’s love conditional- if/then.  Sunday morning, we have this awesome epiphany and proclaim; “God I claim you today, I promise from this day forward to walk in your ways all of my days.”  Great Awesome Wonderful Promise…just one question…How long does that promise last?  Till the Monday morning commute, when we’re thinking less than godly thoughts about our neighbors on the road?  Maybe shorter if our specific sports team loses on Sunday night and our thoughts aren’t so charitable about the opponent or for that matter our sports heroes? 

          No for Lutherans baptism is not an if -then equation it’s a because therefore equation of God’s love.  Because God is a God of love, therefore he reaches out in love to sinners like me.  Because God is a God of Love, therefore he sent his son to live, die, and rise for me… to give me life today and eternally.  There’s no condition on that it’s simply a statement: Because Therefore.  This is God’s promise and unlike humans, God doesn’t break a promise.  There’s no expiration date on God’s love.  Too many televangelists -make God’s love conditional “On sale now for a limited time only!! IF…”  I’m here to tell you if you’ve been baptized; God still stands behind that promise:  100% guaranteed to love you for a life time and beyond.

          If you’ve not been baptized?  Why not?  Who doesn’t want to know they are loved unconditionally??  Who wouldn’t want to have the stamp of approval of their creator for a lifetime and beyond? 

The great theologian Martin Luther would often get very depressed and anxious during the trying times of the Reformation and his conflict with the Pope and Heads of State.  He’d have so many doubts about; is he doing the right thing, the right way, at the right time.  He’d get frozen in his fear and the one way he found to consistently break free of that paralyzing guilt and doubt was recognize it as Satan’s way of defeating him and separating him from God’s unconditional love.  He’d stop and shout, “Be gone Satan I am a child of God!  You have no claim on me!!  It allowed him to go on with life in a positive way despite not a single thing changing with his situation in life, other than his attitude because he knew he was a beloved child of God.

          As we begin a new year, wouldn’t it be great to know we have God’s unconditional love.  As we face a new year of possibilities, conflicts, and dangers wouldn’t it be great to have the assurance of God’s unconditional love.  The greatest part of the baptismal equation is God’s action for us in Christ.  The second great part of the baptismal equation is our response to this great act on God’s part.  Living out our life in God’s promises is the second part of baptism.

Jesus took that loudly stated seal of approval from God at his baptism “This is my beloved son, with you I am well pleased” and used that to power him forth in mission for God.  That’s why the six-week church season of epiphany begins with the baptism of Jesus, it explains where the following weeks that look at Jesus’s works start from.  We too should allow God’s Word in this water of baptism to not only cleanse us and claim us but empower us to Go forth in mission for God. 

Too many people have never heard a word of unconditional love for them in their entire life!  Every moment of their existence they’ve heard an If- Then love.  If you were better looking then people would love you.  If you change who you are to please me then maybe I could love you.  We’ve heard a word of grace, we’ve received the promises of God and God’s unconditional love.  How can we hoard that to ourselves in a hurting world?  BECAUSE God has shared this great unconditional love THEREFORE I will share it.

Yet, you and I know while God’s love is unwavering our love can be so wishy washy.  God’s love can be so everlasting and ours can be so ever fading.  What can we do about this dichotomy of difference?  Many Christian say we have to start over, go back to baptism and redo our promises to God.  Lutheran’s ask: Whygo back to baptism? Did God break his promise?  Did God’s promise expire?  The most important thing in baptism is what God does not what we do.  What we do is important but not to the level of what God does. 

So then what should we do?  How do we start over?  How do we make it right?  Go forward not backward.  That’s where Lutherans point to that other important sacrament the Lord’s Supper where Jesus promises for every broken and contrite heart a new start.  Its why we move that baptismal font front and center on communion Sundays.  We bump into the baptismal font to claim and confess.  We remember we come because God has claimed us, named us, invited us as God’s children.  As we touch that water it’s a physical reminder of the day that water touched us and God’s promises washed over us. 

We come not because we can claim we deserve this awesome gift of eternal life but because God claimed us in these waters and Jesus claimed us by his cross.  Its kind of like saying “I know I’m a total screw up God but I remember something you said at this font that I would forever be your child.  I’m here to claim that and I’m here to confess I fall so short of that.” 

“Claim and confess,” our baptism leads us into our celebration of God’s Supper.  Here we remember and celebrate that while we were still sinners, enemies of God, God sent his beloved son to die for us to save us, reclaim us, and send us forth as his ambassadors to a lost world, his shepherds to find the lost sheep.  Its no longer an IF/THEN thing with God, it’s a BECAUSE/THEREFORE and that makes all the difference.  Go into this new year a baptized Child of God, let the words of God- “you are my beloved in you I am well pleased” echo in your ears and empower you to live a life worthy of your calling in Christ Jesus.  Amen.