Baptism: A Gift of God

“Baptism: A Gift of God”

luke 3-21 african depiction baptism

Luke 3:21-22 – January 13, 2019

When I was a small child, I remember being so excited about gifts. Christmas gifts, birthday gifts, it did not matter. I remember how wonderful it was for me to receive gifts. I also remember when I was in middle school, when I first bought my mother a birthday present, a little vase from a gift store. I believe it was the first birthday present I had ever bought and given to anyone. I really hoped she would like it.

I also remember when I was a little older, being so excited to share my newly-opened gifts with one of my best friends. I would bring over to her house the sweater or special socks or wonderful book I had received, and be so happy when she rejoiced with me over my awesome gift. Can you think of any wonderful gifts that you wanted to share? Perhaps a brand new bicycle, or an engagement ring, or some extra-special news from far away. The wonderful joy of receiving the gift was made even more special by sharing the joy.  

One very special gift-giver is God. God gives wonderful gifts to God’s people. We can hear about that gift in our Gospel reading from Luke 3. “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too.” When John the Baptist urged people to come forward and be baptized, Luke’s Gospel says all the people were baptized. That means all of them. All who heard John’s message and invitation came forward to receive God’s wonderful gift of grace through baptism.  

Who among us is perfect, here? Who never sins? Who never does anything wrong or never says mean or angry things, or never steps out of line? Not me. I know I fall short of where God wants me to be. I am hesitant to accept this free gift of God’s grace, at times. I know I sin, I know I miss the mark of God’s righteousness that is set for me in the Bible.

This is the case with you, and with everyone in the world, whether they admit it or not. Romans 3:23 tells us “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” This is a heavy burden to lay on anyone. Yet, what does the Apostle Paul tell us in Romans 6:23? Yes, the wages of sin—our payment for sinning—is death. Yet, the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

As we watch in the baptism service, some may wonder. As we see, in Luke 3, some wondered there, too. Luke tells us they were questioning in their hearts whether John the Baptist might possibly be the Messiah. John redirected their questioning and their gaze by pointing to one who would come after him. John pointed to Jesus.

The Rev. Jeff Campbell relates, “A loving God is constantly reaching out, wanting to be at the center of our lives. And although we might still have questions, we are directed to Jesus, just as John directed those gathered who were seeking a Messiah.” [1]

Baptism is a sign of this marvelous, free gift of God. God’s rich and abundant grace is poured out. As we can see from our reading today in Luke, all the people present received this marvelous gift. Jesus was an extra-special case, since He already had an intimate relationship with His Heavenly Father. Looking at today’s reading, we can see what happened, from Luke’s account: “And as [Jesus] was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Jesus showed, in part, that by being baptized He was dedicating His whole life to following His Heavenly Father. The Holy Spirit descending on Jesus was a visual sign of the gift of grace freely given that descends upon each one who is baptized. What a marvelous visual sign for all of us to treasure!

Then, as a sign of love and response, we strive to love and to serve God in Christian fellowship and service, all the days of our lives. Freely and without obligation.

I want to caution everyone here. Baptism is not something we do on our own, not some rung of the ladder we are building to get into God’s heaven. No, us building a ladder of good works will never work. God’s grace covers everything, and the free gift of God is given on our account. It’s not us at all. It is all God. God’s amazing love and indescribable gift.

When a baby is baptized, the parents tell God and the church, “Our child belongs to the Lord.” When an adult is baptized, he or she tells God, “I belong to you. I trust you with my whole life.” At Jesus’s baptism, God’s voice said aloud that Jesus is God’s beloved Son. Jesus is God’s well-loved Child. It pleases God that Jesus trusts and obeys God. That makes God glad beyond measure. [2]

Rev. Janet Hunt, ELCA pastor from DeKalb, relates the following: “Jesus’s life did not measure up to much by those standards you and I often hold dear. He never married or had a family. From all we can tell he owned no property, had no wealth to pass on once he died. The results of his work were awfully hard to measure: unless you kept track of the numbers healed and taught and fed. A whole lot of the time the crowd he hung around with was not the sort that could help him ‘get ahead.’ In fact, they were those most respectable folks then and now might mostly avoid. In the end, Jesus died a painful, shameful death, abandoned by his closest followers….being claimed and loved by God brings power and purpose — to Jesus, yes, but also to each and every one of us who have heard even a whisper of the promise Jesus hears today: “You are my Child, the beloved…” But that power and purpose are not only for this life alone. Oh, these must be promises which extend far beyond the physical and must carry us not only through this life but into life eternal, don’t you think? And isn’t it ours to begin and end each day wondering at the meaning of having been called by name… and belonging to God.” [3]

What wonderful gifts, to all of us. What an indescribable gift of grace, given freely in baptism, to us all!  

As the Holy Spirit descends like a dove from heaven, we all can hear the voice of God, whispering to each of us, “You are my son. You are my daughter. My beloved one. With you I am well pleased.”

Each of us can say, “I am God’s beloved.” Remember our baptismal vows, and rejoice!

[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/season-after-epiphany-2019-part-1-worship-planning-series/january-13-baptism-of-the-lord-sunday-year-c/baptism-of-the-lord-2019-year-c-preaching-notes

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/season-after-epiphany-2019-part-1-worship-planning-series/january-13-baptism-of-the-lord-sunday-year-c/baptism-of-the-lord-2019-year-c-preaching-notes

[3] God’s Claim, God’s Protection…

http://dancingwiththeword.com/gods-claim-gods-protection/  January 6, 2019

Water Drop Words – Star Words

Marci Auld Glass is the pastor of Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho. She wrote a post several years ago in her blog Glass Overflowing where she said, “The premise is this: the magi followed the star to find baby Jesus, bringing their gifts. We are also seeking Jesus, trusting God can/does use many signs [or gifts] to guide us closer to the Divine presence.”

Marci says, “People are invited to take a star in worship. On each of the stars is a word. I invite people to trust the word that selects them, but we do not police the star choosing, so if people need to trade out a word, they are free to do so. When we first started doing this, people weren’t sure they wanted to trust the words they drew. Now it has become an important part of our congregation’s liturgical year.”

Here at St. Luke’s Church in Morton Grove, for the past few years we have been celebrating a Reaffirmation of Our Baptism on the second Sunday of January, the Sunday after Epiphany. Instead of star words, some churches have used water drops, and passed out water drop words to their congregations. That is what we are doing today.

The water drop gifts are passed around to the congregation using the same offering plates that we use later on in worship to gather up the tithes and offerings. As people help themselves to a water drop word (without looking—just reach in and grab!), the significance is not lost. In this moment, people are not asked to give; they are invited to receive. It reminds us that this is always the order of things in God’s kingdom—God always gives first, and then we are invited to respond with our gifts and ourselves.

As the Holy Spirit descends like a dove from heaven, we all can hear the voice of God, whispering to each of us, “You are my beloved one. With you I am well pleased.”

Each of us can say, “I am God’s beloved.” Remember our baptismal vows, and rejoice!

 

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

 

 

Well Pleased

“Well Pleased”

Baptism of Jesus Coptic icon

Baptism of Jesus
Coptic icon

Luke 3:22 – January 10, 2016

It’s a joyful day indeed when we celebrate a baptism in church.

We follow the command of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, showing to all an outward sign of an inward change. Here in this church, we often celebrate infant baptism, showing the sign of God’s grace to all who are present. The congregation has an important part, too. They promise to teach the little one the ways of God, and to help the family bring up the child in a manner pleasing to God. Truly, a joyful, grace-filled sign and sacrament!

Well, that’s today, here and now, a long time after the first century. That’s one common understanding we now have of baptism.

Our Gospel reading today features John the Baptist, baptizing people in the wilderness. John was a prophet of God. He was set apart for a special purpose, to give out a special message from God. Here John the Baptist preaches to the nation of Israel, before our Lord Jesus has even started His ministry.

This message ought to be familiar to most of us. We heard some of John’s prophetic message read as our Gospel lesson only a month ago. Doom and gloom! He identifies everyone in the crowd as part of the brood of vipers—as sinners! Exactly what John the Baptist has been saying to the people of Israel for some time.

Another way of looking at John’s message is: “You are dirty, inside and out! Come get clean, both symbolically and physically!” Through God’s grace, John offers the people the opportunity to be obedient and to clean up, to show God and to show others that they repent and turn from their sinful, wicked behavior, speech and thinking. Many people respond. It’s a mini-revival going on at the River Jordan. Amen! Hallelujah!

Let’s pull back for a moment, and consider the larger situation.

At that time, the nation of Israel was an occupied country. Under the boot of the Roman Empire, the people of Israel were oppressed and subjugated. Many people in Israel were looking for the promised Messiah, the Anointed One of God, who would be a Savior for Israel. We can see from our Gospel reading today. Verse 15: “The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah.”

John does not mince words. He does not pull punches. John identifies his listeners as a brood of vipers, as sinful and separated from God.

Just think about identity today. How do people identify themselves? In an excellent commentary on this Gospel passage, David Lose says many of the traditional elements of a person’s identity have been diminished. Think about it. The majority of people today change jobs and careers frequently. The majority of people live in multiple places and different residences rather than growing up and living for their whole lives in a single community. He comments, “fewer families remain intact – there is a craving to figure out just who we are.” [1]

John tells the people of Israel straight out, ““I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” John the Baptist responds with a clear message: he offers the people baptism to remedy that flawed, sinful, separated identity. They can identify themselves with God, and be identified as God’s beloved children.

And then—and then—Jesus shows up. Jesus is about to begin His public ministry. But before that happens, He comes to the River Jordan to listen to His cousin John the Baptist. And, to get baptized.

Lo and behold, the companion Gospel accounts of Matthew and Mark tell us that John is surprised to see Jesus there. But Luke’s account makes Jesus’s appearance natural. The next right thing that happens. Verse 21 says, “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too.” At first, John is the star actor, the one doing the main action of baptizing. Jesus is the next one baptized, along with many others. However, what happens next?

The spotlight shifts in the following sentence. Dr. Luke turns his focus on Jesus. “As [Jesus] was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove.”

Can you see this on a movie screen? We open to a wide shot of the River Jordan. Large crowd of people on the river bank, and a number lined up in the water, waiting their turn. John the Baptist in a rough woven tunic with a leather belt around his waist. John is doing his thing—baptizing people who have repented of their sin. And—Jesus is one of them.

The camera pans in to a close-up shot on Jesus. Next in line. John slowly takes Jesus, baptizes Him. We are not sure whether John dunks Jesus in the water, or whether he pours water over Jesus’s head. (I prefer the idea and the image of pouring the water.) Regardless, everyone gets pretty wet. Next thing we all know, the heavens open wide.

Can you see it? The bright light from heaven? Perhaps sound effects, too? Heavenly music? Maybe even a low rumble of thunder? Dr. Luke paints a show-stopper of a scene. He tells us the Holy Spirit appears as a dove, descending on Jesus. The capper of the scene is the voice of God. Quoting from Luke’s account: “A voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with You I am well pleased.’”

Just in case anyone was not sure, God’s own voice tells us the identity of Jesus.

Jesus is God’s own beloved Son. Not only that, but God is well pleased with Him, too. Plus, the Holy Spirit as a dove is a visible and physical sign of the presence of God.

Here in this act of baptism, we find out about identity. As the commentator says, “The voice from heaven is addressed to Jesus in the first person: “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Baptism teaches us who we are – God’s beloved children – and confers upon us the promise of God’s unconditional regard.“ [2]

God not only proclaimed Jesus’s identity, on the banks of the Jordan River, God also proclaims our identity. We belong to God. It is not our doing, but God’s, instead.

Did you hear? Do you understand? No matter what happens, or how often we fall short, we cannot erase or eradicate God’s love. We love God because God first loved us. God has given us that sign, that seal of baptism, sealed by the Holy Spirit.

It does not matter whether we have been brought to baptism as a baby or a child, or have come as a young person or an adult. Perhaps there are people here who have not been baptized yet. God calls for all to be baptized. God calls for all of us to remember our baptism, as well.

God’s arms are open wide. God’s grace is abundant, for you and for me. God’s grace is poured out freely upon us in baptism. We are cleansed to do God’s gracious work in the world. Can you hear God’s voice talking to you? Telling others about you? “This is my beloved child. With you, child, I am well pleased.”

Alleluia, amen.

[1] Preaching a More Meaningful Baptism – David Lose, https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1624 .

[2] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my sometimes-blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!