The Baptism of our Lord (A)
Grace, mercy, and peace be with you from God our Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! Amen!
Today as we do each year on the first Sunday after the Epiphany, we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord. This marked the official beginning of our Jesus’ earthly ministry and it was a truly great event! For after Jesus had been baptized and he was coming up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Holy Spirit descending like a dove and alighting on him – and then a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved; with whom I am well pleased." This was an EPIPHANY – indeed, this is what the Eastern Orthodox Christians call The Epiphany of Jesus. It was a manifestation of God's glory and seal of approval upon Jesus. And because of this baptism, Jesus was commissioned and strengthened for his ministry that lay ahead.
It must have been a tremendous experience for Jesus – one that he would always remember – and that's great! Unfortunately, however, most of us do not remember this kind of experience happening to us in our life with God. Since the vast majority of us here were baptized as infants, most of us do not even know when we were baptized, or where - let alone remember what our baptism was like.
And yet, when we were baptized we too had the same kind of experience that Jesus did in his baptism! Maybe we did not literally see the heavens opened, but somehow they were. For when the baptismal water was splashed upon our heads, God somehow reached down through heaven to earth to give us his Holy Spirit and declare that we are his beloved children forever – with whom he is well pleased! Yes, in our baptisms we have indeed received the same blessings and promises that our Lord did in his! What a treasure this is!
And yet, as the apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians, "we have this treasure in earthen vessels..." (2 Cor. 4:7) Or, as another translation puts it, "in clay pots." Through baptism, we may indeed have the gift of God’s Holy Spirit within us – we may indeed be beloved children of God – but we are usually much more aware of our weaknesses than we are of our power. We are usually much more aware of our doubts than we are of our faith. And, if we are honest, we are much more aware of our sins and failings than we are of God's forgiveness.
In this life, it is much easier for us to focus on the "clay pot" parts of our lives rather than on the TREASURE that we have within! When we are being assailed daily by doubts, fears, discouragements, and temptations both small and great, it is easy to forget that God’s Holy Spirit is within us - and that through Him we can overcome everything that we have to face in life, and even in death.
Martin Luther wrote that often when he was wrestling with discouragement, fear, and temptation, he would cry out "I AM BAPTIZED!" "I AM BAPTIZED!" He was recalling the gift and treasure of the Holy Spirit that God had given to him then. May the same be so for us!
As I was preparing for this sermon, I remembered that this particular Sunday is a very special one for me. It was exactly five years ago, on this second Sunday in January – that I officially began my ministry here with you at Pella Lutheran Church and preached my very first sermon from this pulpit.
And as I remembered this, I thought of a story that I told when Carol and I were here at Pella for the very first time for my interview about the possibility of being called as your senior pastor. The story is a true one, and some of you may remember it. In my former congregation, an eight year old boy had to undergo a very serious operation to correct a defect in his heart. A couple of days before his surgery, I visited him and his family – and anointed him with oil for healing. Little Jamie was very quiet as I marked the sign of the cross on his forehead with the oil – and reminded him that this had been done at his baptism. I told him that this was a way to remember that God loved him and was going to take care of him. I didn’t know it at the time, but apparently this made a really big impression upon him. His parents later told me that he wouldn’t let ANYONE wash that cross off!
I was with his parents during the surgery, and thanks be to God, it was successful. After Jamie woke up in the recovery room, I went in to see him. I traced the sign of the cross on his forehead – and asked him if he remembered that I had done this when anointing him a couple of days earlier. Jamie smiled, and touched his head, and said, “I THINK IT SUNK IN!”
What a powerful statement that was! And to me, that is a perfect description of what baptism is all about. Baptism is the beginning of an eternal relationship with God that will change us and fill us with God’s power, faith, and love through and through. In a mystical but very real way, through baptism God has placed the sign of the cross on our heads and into our hearts so that we will be his beloved children forever. We may not see that cross, but it is always, always there!
Baptism is our guarantee that God loves us and will bring us through every situation that we may ever have to face in life. During good times, and hard times, discouraging times, scary times, and whatever times, may we know that our Father in heaven is always watching over us and is working for our good. Our baptism assures us that we belong to God, and that he will never, ever leave us!
That is what little Jamie came to realize through the sign of the cross that he received on his forehead. It was a reminder that God was with him, and in him, through and through.
That is what it meant for Jesus as he received God’s Holy Spirit and voice of divine approval in today’s gospel. This event is what gave him the power to begin and carry out his ministry of preaching and healing. This event is what gave him the faith to trust in God’s love – even when later he was being crucified on the cross. What happened at his baptism would forever remind Jesus that he was truly God’s Son – God’s Beloved – with whom God was well pleased. Yes, Jesus’ baptism “sunk in” to him through and through!
Today, we will be receiving two more members into God’s family through Holy Baptism. At the 10:30 service, Asle Everett and Jeffrey Moore will be splashed with baptismal water just as Jesus was, and will receive the Holy Spirit and God’s promise that they are his beloved children – just as Jesus did. And then they will receive the sign of the cross on their foreheads to remind them – and us – that they belong to God forever.
I pray that they – and we – will treasure our baptisms always. For even in the midst of the “earthen vessels” of our lives, baptism gives us the power to become the children of God. May our baptisms continue to “sink in” to change us and fill us with God’s love, now and forever.
Yes, I am baptized! You are baptized! We are baptized – just like Jesus! Thanks be to God! Amen!
George R. Karres,
Pella Lutheran Church
418 W. Main Street
Sidney, MT 59270