Readings for this Sunday: Isaiah 43:1 – 7; Psalm 29; Acts 8:14 – 17; Luke 3:15 – 17, 21 – 22
A pastor was teaching his confirmation students about baptism. They read Luke’s story of the baptism of Jesus, and the pastor asked, “What does it mean when God says to Jesus “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased?””
One of the students responded, “That was Jesus’ daddy saying that he loved him.”
Sometimes it really does take a child to point out the truth.
Luke’s telling of the baptism of Jesus is pretty short and to the point.
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 on 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.”[i]
“You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am will pleased.” Sometimes we question why Jesus got baptized in the first place – and one of the big reasons is that at Jesus’ baptism, God names him and claims him.
Baptism is about identity - who we are. The reading from Isaiah today teaches us a lot about who we are, whose we are, and how that identity is revealed in baptism.
· I have called you by name, you are mine.
o Plain and simple, God looks at us and says, “(your name goes here), you are my child, you are mine.” In baptism we are named and claimed as God’s children.
· You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.
o I’m not sure that this needs any explanation. God loves you. You are precious, valued for who you are.
o And while I don’t think that needs any explanation, I think we need to sit with a little bit – sometimes we gloss over it: yeah, sure God loves us, God loves everyone, God is love… And we just plain miss the meaning. God loves YOU - and that makes you indescribably valuable, infinitely precious.
· Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
o We get this part about baptism. Baptism is for the forgiveness of sins, right? I mean it says so right in the opening prayer of our baptism ritual, “
§ In holy baptism our gracious heavenly father liberates us from sin and death by joining us to the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.[ii]
§ By water and the word God delivers us from sin and death and raises us to new life in Jesus Christ.[iii]
o So it’s understandable that we might think, “Okay, I’ve been baptized. My sins are forgiven. Good to go, got my ticket to heaven.” But that’s only a tiny bit of what baptism is about. Baptism is not a “once and done” thing. Sure we only need to be baptized once, but God’s promises for us in baptism continue throughout our lives.
o God continues to work throughout our lives to help us grow, to help us become the people God created us to be. Sin sometimes gets in the way of that – think of sin as those things which confuse us about our identity as children of God, and draw us away from relationship with God. Baptism grounds us in our identity. Martin Luther encouraged people who were struggling temptation or despair to proclaim, “I am baptized!” Remembering our baptisms is a way to remember our identity as much loved children of God, and to turn our hearts back to our Father.
· 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.
o This is part of those promises that continue - God is with us, always. No matter what. Through every place we go in life, through every joy we experience, every tragedy we endure, God goes with us, redeeming us, working all things to our good.
And just in case we missed it the first time, God reminds us again:
“Do not fear, for I am with you; I will gather you to me from wherever you go, because you are called by my name, because I created you for my glory, because I formed you and made you and you are mine."
Baptism is about identity – about being named and claimed as child of God, sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked with the cross Christ forever.
And this is all God’s doing. God loves us, loved us before we knew that we should love back. God comes to us – God always comes down. We just spent Advent and Christmas talking about how God comes to us, becomes one of us in Jesus Christ. In the passage in Luke today and the passage in Acts, we hear about how God comes to us in the Holy Spirit.
When I taught our confirmation students about the Apostle’s Creed, when we got to Third Article, about the Holy Spirit, we learned:
I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy, and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightened and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.[iv]
We cannot do it ourselves. The good news is that we don’t have to – God always comes down.
That’s one of the things that we remember every time we baptize a baby - that we come to God as helpless as a baby. And God holds us, and love us, who cares for us. Like a loving parent, God smiles at our first steps, encourages us to walk, and picks us up when we fall down.
It’s a lifelong process, this growing up as a child of God, this living into our baptism, this walking wet in the world.
A couple of quotes I gleaned from a blog[v] - these are from the comments -and I think they really get at what baptism is all about:
“Baptism is a lifelong experience. It is God bathing you, hugging you, pouring scented oils of gladness over you, dressing you and sending you off into a baptismal life in the world.”[vi]
“What I do know is that the One Who Matters is present and acting – somewhat aggressively, actually – to make me a beloved child of God. And every day for the rest of my life, that identity will bless me, dog me, frustrate me, challenge me, and drag me into relationships that change everything.[vii]
How do we live out our baptismal promises – how do we walk wet?
Sometimes it helps just to have a reminder. That’s one of the great things about our sacraments – is our first communion kids learn, we have stuff. We have water, and bread, and wine, stuff that helps us remember God’s promises.
One year when we did confirmation camp back home, we spent the day talking about baptism. And at the end of the day during our worship, we talked about how water can help us remember that God has claimed us, and forgiven us, and walks with us, encouraging us and loving us. We talked about how when we wash we could remember how baptism washes away sins – Martin Luther used to take a moment in the bath and say, “I am baptized.” We take a drink of cool refreshing water, and we could remember how Jesus is the living water. And when we played in the pool after worship that day, we could remember how much God loves us and gives us good things. At the end of that worship, we had the students walk through the sprinkler on the way to the pool area, saying to them as they entered the water, “Beloved child of God, you are marked with the cross of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit forever.”
We are going to reaffirm our baptisms in a few minutes. There will be an opportunity during that time for you to come to the font, dip your fingers in the water, and receive a baptismal blessing.
I hope you’ll take the time to ponder:
How does it change your day if you go through it remembering you are a much loved, child of God?
How does it change your day, to remember, you are God’s beloved child, called and sent to make a difference in the world?
[i] Luke 3:21, 22.
[ii] Lutheran Book of Worship, pg 121, Holy Baptism.
[iii] Evangelical Lutheran Worship, pg 227, Holy Baptism
[iv] . Quoted from "Lutheran handbook" page 205
[v] David Lose, In the Meantime, “What is Baptism?” http://www.davidlose.net/2013/01/what-is-baptism/.
[vi] [vi] Comment by Tom Olson, Jan 11, 2012 on David Lose’ blog post “What is Baptism?” http://www.davidlose.net/2013/01/what-is-baptism/.
[vii] Comment by Glenndy, Jan 10, 2012 on David Lose’ blog post “What is Baptism?” http://www.davidlose.net/2013/01/what-is-baptism/.