January 13, 2013 – Baptism of Jesus (Pr. Eric Bodenstab)

Baptism of Jesus, Cycle C
01-13-2012
Eric Bodenstab
Primary Text: Luke 3:1-22

Children’s Sermon
What’s inside here? (Water.) And what to we use water for? (Washing. Crosses.)

Water is a really neat thing because everything in the world that is living has water in it—including you. Did you know that you’re mostly water? So I’d like to tell you a story about a drop of water.

There was a drop of water, once, that was running down a river—a kind of dirty river, not really clean by our standards. But there was a dude who was standing in it. And all of a sudden, this drop of water found itself being lifted up out of the river. And then it fell! “Aaaahhhhh!” And it had a lot of friends, so they were all going “Aaaahhhhh!” And it was fun, because they were water, so falling doesn’t hurt them. And when it fell it hit on somebody’s head and then went on its way. That somebody could have been Jesus.

The really neat thing is that same drop of water, or one of its many friends, that fell on Jesus continue on down the river and made its way to a bigger body of water—like a sea—and then to a bigger body of water—like an ocean—and maybe even found its way up into the sky and became part of a cloud. Then, for a really long time, it did what water does, and then one day it ended up here. So, here you find water that might have been the drop of water or one of the drop’s friends that baptized Jesus.

Something you can do when you come forward for communion or to receive a blessing is to dip your fingers in the water an make a cross on your forehead. That way you can remember, one, that you are baptized, and two, that because of that your sins are forgiven.

Sermon

Well, Pastor Eric, that’s great and all. Water’s everywhere and I might have been baptized with the same water Jesus was baptized with, possibly, maybe. Yeah, whatever. So what?

You can be cynical. Go ahead. As a matter of fact, you won’t be the first group of folks who are cynical. In John’s day, “What are we going to do?”

Now, just a really brief synopsis. Does this sound like good news to you? God is coming, and you’re sinners, and every sinner is going to be caught up and burned. Really. Does that sound like good news to anybody? No? Okay.

Somehow this was interpreted as good news. Eh? But, there it was. And so, of course, they asked a really good question. “Alright, God is coming and we’re sinners and the sinners will get burt up in fire. So John, what to we do?”

Lutherans have continued to ask this question, and we’re not the first group of Christians to ask it, because if baptism really matters, if the grace of God is truly what saves us, and we are, in fact, those people who have been gathered and called and chosen and are kept by God through the power of the Holy Spirit because we are the church by God’s promises, and its God’s promises that matter—what are we to do?

Baptism is one of our two sacraments. Well, okay, two and a half, because confession maybe… but whatever, we’re not going to go there. Two sacraments. And the two sacraments have to things in common. For those of you who have not discovered, yet, the Evangelical Lutheran Worship contains the Small Catechism in the back of it. And if you bothered to study the Catechism beyond confirmation—because you’re really bored, I don’t know, you just need something to read as you watch the crops grow, I don’t know, take you pick—but if you bother to study it you will discover that baptism give you three things: forgiveness of sins, redeems from death and the devil, and grants you salvation. And that communion gives you three things: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

So there is something here that matters, in these sacraments, about baptism. And it probably has something to do with the two things that they have in common: forgiveness of sins and salvation. Just a guess.

But then there’s this question: why was Jesus baptized? Surly he didn’t need to have his sins forgiven! We call him the sinless one, the sheep without spot or blemish. So what happens in Jesus’ baptism that matters for our baptisms that answers this question of “What should we do?”

Now the gospel writers, when it comes to Jesus’ baptism, don’t necessarily all agree on all the particular aspects. This shouldn’t surprise any of you, I hope, because its true for all the stories in the bible. There is very little agreement—except one story—among the gospel writers. And its just kind of the different perspectives on telling the story. But one thing they do certainly agree upon is that after Jesus’ baptism, heaven opened.

Now Matthew is far more dramatic. He says that heaven was rent asunder. Very powerful and dramatic and exciting. Luke’s a little bit more sedate. Jesus was alone praying, and heaven opened, and its all very nice. But what matters is that heaven opened.

The tradition of the church tells us that until this instant everyone went to Sheol, the place of the dead. It did not matter how good you were, how righteous you were, how pure you were, because you were going to die, and when you died, you went to Sheol, period. But in that baptism, this baptism of Jesus that is unique, heaven opened so that through the rest of Jesus’ ministry, we might find a place in that same heaven. That in his crucifixion and death, he won for us forgiveness of sins. And in his resurrection he won us a spot in the kingdom. And more than that, he went to that place of death and pulled everybody out.

So why does this matter to my baptism? Your baptism? Its still the forgiveness of sins, because without the forgiveness of sins, what the point? It is still true that those who are worthy of condemnation will be condemned. And what makes us worthy of condemnation? That we have sinned. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody.

But here’s the surprise: you are forgiven and because of that you can forgive. What are we to do?

I’m sure this doesn’t happen here, but in other rural congregations that I know there are people who hold grudges. I’m guessing that doesn’t happen here, because you’re perfect.

This is what baptism means: you don’t have to hold grudges, you can let go of old angers and old issues, you can bother to forgive somebody (whether they ask for it or not, by the way) and not hold those old things against them that you would otherwise say, “That makes them unworthy. That makes them not part of us. That makes them those other people over there who we don’t really want to have anything to do with because they’re Sheol.”

Baptism is the forgiveness of sins everyday. But more than that, baptism—and this is the really powerful bit for me, this “What are we to do?”—baptism is the freedom to ask that person who is holding a grudge against you for forgiveness. To bother to care about the relationship, to be worried enough about what this person thinks about me because of Christ, and to try and set things right because of the gospel.

The freedom and power of the gospel is to be wrong and to know it. To know that there is broken relationship—and that always takes two—and to bother and try and fix it.

This is the “So what? What are we to do?” Its not a list of things like saying, “Do that which is right. Even though the wrong stuff might be legal, still do that which is right.” True, yeah, I encourage you to that which is right. Its a good thing. But that’s not the difference baptism makes.

What I encourage you to do is the next step. To do that which shows this person, this other, that you care, because this is the gospel: that God cares about you and that God cares about them. So here’s the “What am I supposed to do?” Care about them.

In relationships that you have with your neighbor, with your spouse, with your children, with your parents, with—I don’t know—somebody you accidentally run into when you’re at the grocery store. I don’t know. Take your pick. Although you probably know everybody here because this is a great county where everybody knows everybody and everyone is all… But those chance encounters, those living encounters, those daily encounters—this is the place where forgiveness matters, where the gospel hits the road, where the action is not about what you do to be saved. What matters is that its about what you do because you are saved.

Because you have been baptized, you are publicly part of the church. So friggin’ act like it! (Sorry, I’m getting a little heated here.)

Be who you are because of what God has done for you in Christ which is to make you somebody who can be wrong and get over it and deal with it, because of the gospel. Think about it in your head, you might have to make up somebody for this, but think about it in your head, what would it mean if all of a sudden you asked somebody who you know you have wronged for forgiveness. I’m not just talking about the accidental bump in the store. I mean somebody you have actually willfully done something wrong to. This is the gospel being lived out.

Yeah, it will be tough. Actually, without the Holy Spirit, it will be impossible. But remember, you have been baptized. And as a part of that you are marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit, so that you might daily drown that old person in you with all the sinful desires and the wrong things that you want to do, that in-turning and that selfishness, and the me and the… Drown that, so that daily by the power of the Holy Spirit, the new person, the Christ who is in you because of the Holy Spirit, might raise up, and you might walk in newness of life.

Pastor Eric Bodenstab