Posts Tagged ‘Baptism of Jesus’

Because I Said So 1-13-19

In this sermon for Baptism of Our Lord Sunday, based on Luke 3:15-17, 21-22, I explore the vital importance of Jesus’ baptism, and the way that the proclamation of God is a life-altering moment in our existence and identity.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

The grace and peace of our Triune God is yours, now and forever. Amen

Disagreements are odd things. Now, I’m not talking about knockdown, drag-out fights. But rather those times when we have a difference of opinion on something.

Granted, most of the time I think we as people are able to talk our way through them. We might look at things from a different angle, but more often than not, we are able to find some way to meet in the middle.

But there are times when the two parties in the disagreement are not really on equal footing status-wise. Maybe it’s a boss-employee dynamic…or a ranking officer over a sub-ordinate in the military…or one that I’ve gained a fair amount of experience with…a parent and child. (pause) Now as we all know…the scales aren’t balanced in those relationships…one has authority over the other…and so, inevitably…at some point…its gonna happen.  Its happened to me, and its probably happened to you…that moment when one person gives a command or an order or instruction…and the other responds “Why?” (pause) “Because I said so.” (pause)

That’s a loaded phrase isn’t it? Because I said so…it’s a powerful statement…one that doesn’t really indicate any specific meaning…but in itself reveals something utterly final…utterly specific…it’s a declaration…or proclamation that this matter is now settled…and that in the voicing of the statement, this is now reality. (pause)

Think about some of the different examples of proclamations that we encounter.  There are probably many…but the ones that come to mind tend to be tied into some really big important moments…maybe you’ve experienced some of these…and the way its changed how you think or view a given situation…how it makes something more real.

Moments like hearing the words “I’m pregnant” or “It’s a boy” or “It’s a girl.”  Or moments like “I now pronounce you husband and wife.” Or “You’re hired.” Or “You’re fired.” Or “I’m sorry, its cancer.” Or even “Time of death is…”  These proclamations change everything…and to hear them declared in our direction…these statements alter our reality don’t they.

Now admittedly…I got a little heavy right away…but I think its important to recognize this truth about proclamation…and it’s the idea of proclamation that brings us around to today’s gospel lesson.  Today is Baptism of our Lord Sunday…always the first Sunday after the day of Epiphany…here at the beginning of the Epiphany season…and as we’ve said before…the theme throughout Epiphany centers in on different ways that Jesus is revealed to the world.

Now the Baptism of Jesus is an important story…one of only a few that we hear every single year…and one of precious few that has the distinction of being featured in all four gospels…and with that distinction, its certainly worth paying attention to.

Interestingly enough, in all four gospels…we actually find the action kicking off centered around John the Baptist rather than Jesus…today is no exception…and you’ve probably all heard the story often enough that you know the basics.

John’s out in the wilderness…enthusiastically doing his John the Baptist thing.  Long crazy hair…weird wardrobe…crazy diet…hollering about repentance and calling people vipers. Throwing water around…and generally attracting a great big crowd that compares him with the prophets of old…and at the same time they are generally perplexed by this dude and his message.

Low and behold Jesus comes walking up…and since these 2 guys are relatives, I can only imagine the conversation going a little like this. “YOU BROOD OF VIPERS…WHO WARNED YOU TO FLEE…OH…Jesus…hey cuz…sup?”
“Not much John…sup with you?” “Ah you know how it is…just doin my thing…how’s your mom? She good?” “Yah she’s good…you coming to the big reunion at the temple this year?” “I dunno…word on the street is King Herod’s getting a little cranky with me…I’ll probably end up getting arrested or something.”  “Crazy man…but anyway…I see you’re doing this whole baptism thing…let’s do that.”

And they go back and forth for a bit and Jesus is baptized and the heavens open up and the Spirit descends like a dove and a big booming voice announces his identity as the Beloved Son of God….probably with choir of angels singing back up like (Heavenly Singing) “AHHHHHHHH.” (pause) Okay so I embellish…but I like to think that’s how it happened.

But as we consider this important story, recognizing that its presence in each of the gospels, we must also take note of the differences that lie between them…and today, we think specifically about Luke’s version featured in the brief batch of verses which we shared a moment ago.

Now when I sat down with this text early this past week…my initial reaction was “Man, John’s busy here isn’t he?  Where’s Jesus during all this?”  And I can’t help but think its true…most of what we hear is the message of John…every bit of it pointing away from himself.

Humor and joking aside…John was a pretty big deal…in that time, he’s the first “voice from God”…think prophet…that they’ve heard in 400 years…and he’s got some pedigree…he’s the son of priest…one important enough to serve in the temple…he’s been empowered by the Holy Spirit since before he was born…and he’s got a message…and all of this starts making the people wonder if maybe, just maybe John might be the long awaited Messiah.

But John knows who he is…and more importantly…John knows who he is not…One more powerful that I am is coming. I’m not even worthy to untie his shoes. I baptize you with water…he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and Fire…You might think I’m it…but you haven’t seen anything yet.

John goes on and on…and with everything he says, he’s pointing this audience to another…he’s pointing out the one who IS the Messiah…the one, who is ultimately standing among them…and in an almost throw away comment…completely passive here in Luke’s account we hear “when the people were baptized and Jesus was baptized with them.” (pause)  That’s it…that’s the only detail we get about Jesus this time around…that he’s just one of the people in line to be baptized together.

And yet…this simple passive statement reveals something important…that for whatever reason Jesus needed to be baptized…a age-old question without any really great answers…but for whatever reason…Jesus experiences the same action…the same baptism as we do…but of course…as we know…the aftermath was a little more dramatic than what we tend to see when we gather around this particular font.

The heaven’s open up…the Spirit comes down…and God makes a declaration…You are my son the beloved, with you I am well pleased…can’t help but think that’s about the most dramatic reveal that you could hope every hope for right?

But now let’s think about it.  In this moment…All three members of the trinity are present…a unique moment in all of scripture when we find Father, Son, and Holy Spirit present and accounted for…and in fact the only other time they are mentioned together is in Jesus’ command at the end of Matthew’s gospel when he instructs his followers to baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  The only two times are in the context of Baptism.

When we realize this…perhaps we begin to see just why our Baptismal identity is so vital in our Lutheran expression and understanding of our faith in Christ. The divinely mysterious 3 in 1 God is expressed through this divine act which we share with Jesus.

Now I’ll admit…there are moments when I get a little jealous…because as amazing as baptism is…and it is…we don’t have Jesus physically standing here…and we don’t get a bird flapping around…or the roof tearing off and the sky ripping in 2…it would be pretty amazing…and probably pretty scary if we did…but that doesn’t really happen does it?

But you know what…our Triune God is still present when we celebrate a baptism…Jesus is here…because we are the body of Christ here on Earth…and the newly baptized joins in that community, becoming part of the body. (pause) We have the gift of the Holy Spirit, promised through the scriptures…even if we can’t see it…and finally we have the presence of God among us through proclamation. (pause)

Jesus heard those words…you are my beloved Son…and that same proclamation…that same statement of identity is declared over the newly baptized…its not me saying it, its not the parents or the sponsors or anyone else…it is the proclamation of God who makes the claim…the proclamation…the declaration that “YOU…are my child.”  That’s how God shows up when we celebrate baptism…through that proclamation.

And just like the different life-shaking proclamations that we mentioned before…the authority present in this declaration over you means that things will never be the same…because that identity Beloved Child of God is one that nothing can overcome…not even death, which logic tells us should be the end of the line and the last word in the story…but the promise of Christ, through his life, death, and resurrection is that death doesn’t get the last word…God does…and that word assures us…declares to us….that I love you and you…are…mine. (pause)

Sometimes this news seems too good to be true…but it is true…and we declare it…we proclaim it…that is our calling as followers of Christ…to share that news with one another and with the world…

And isn’t it wonderful to know that even in those times when it seems hard to believe…and we respond like an unhappy teenager with the question of “Why?” We have the answer in the proclamation of God “Because I said so.” Amen

Here We Go Again 1-8-17

In this sermon, taken from Matthew 3:13-17, I explore the Baptism of Jesus and just why its so important for us.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

There are a few different things that I do that…admittedly, I start to get a little obsessed with. One of them is running, which I guess is a healthy activity, so maybe that’s not all bad…but over the years that I’ve been running, I’ve gotten more and more obsessed, and this has manifested in different ways.

First was just the running itself. I used to mix it in with several different types of exercise, but eventually the rest kind of phased out leaving me with the running by itself. Then after a while I wanted to know how much I was doing, so I started tracking my runs with an app on my phone…logging the miles and the minutes that I cover.  And eventually that led to yet another step…as the app I utilize offers various challenges to keep a person motivated.

Most recently, I participated in a challenge to cover 1000km over the course of 2016…and as we aren’t European, that translates out to about 620 miles if you’re curious.  And yes…I got obsessive over it…constantly checking and rechecking…doing the conversions and the calculations to see where I was at and how much I had left…and sure enough…I finished up my goal about a week and half before the end of the year.

Once I reached that point I thought to myself “Ahh…now I can relax…just go back to regular running, regular distances…and I don’t have obsess anymore.”  Well that lasted about a week…and then I noticed that 2017…has the very…same…challenge. (Pause) Here we go…again. (pause)
The repetition strikes me as funny…but the notion of doing the very same thing this year as I did last year put me in mind of the church year…and the repeating cycle that we go through as one season leads into the next…and into the next…and we see the same holidays repeated every year…we hear some of the same stories repeated every year…Christmas and Easter are the big two…but also other ones like Pentecost and today’s story…the baptism of Jesus. (pause) Now if you’ve been tracking the church calendar, you know what I’m talking about. We celebrated Christmas 2 weeks ago…and following the proverbial 12 days, we hit Epiphany just two days ago…as the church celebrates the arrival of the magi to worship the baby Jesus…and as that kicks off the season of Epiphany…the time that we continue to recognize how Jesus, as the Messiah, is revealed to the world, we come around to his Baptism, always recognized here on the 1st Sunday of Epiphany. (pause)
Now maybe, you hear this story…and you recognize the way it repeats…and you think to yourself…Here we go again…and like some of those other common stories, this is one that we can list off the details pretty easily. Jesus is about 30 now…and his cousin John the Baptist is out in the wilderness along the Jordan river, living up to his name…as he is of course baptizing…and he’s calling out the brood of vipers and warning of the one coming along after him who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire…and low and behold, here comes Jesus…John is like “Dude…hold on, you need to baptize me.” But Jesus assures him that no, this is all good…let’s do this. (Pause) And Jesus is baptized and the instant that he comes back up above water the heavens rip open…and the Holy Spirit comes fluttering down in full-on bird form, landing on Jesus…and the big booming God voice breaks out “this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” (pause)

That’s the story…pretty simple isn’t it? Sort of makes you wonder why we need to hear it so often doesn’t it? And honestly…I think there are times that the baptism of Jesus raises more questions that it answers…like why does Jesus need to be baptized in the first place? He’s God right? And we all know that he is without sin…and if baptism, as we understand it, is a cleansing from our sins, then why the heck did Jesus need to do it? (pause) These are good questions…honest questions…questions that many people have wrestled with…and while some of them will try to offer you answers to these questions…and try to explain away everything that’s going on here with the baptism of Jesus…I’m not going to do that…because honestly, I don’t have any good answers to why Jesus had to do it…and what the “fulfillment of all righteousness” that he mentions to John is all about. I honestly don’t know. (Pause)
But I do know that there’s some cool stuff going on here…and Jesus, who is God, is taking something old and making something new out of it. (pause) Maybe you’ve heard me talk about the notion of baptism before…its actually not some newfangled thing that Christians came up with…and for that matter, its not something that John the Baptist came up with either.  The practice of baptism had already been around by the time John came on the scene.

It was a ritual of purification, stemming from an ancient practice that the Jewish people would do when they took spoils of war. They had to purify it. If it could take it, they would put the thing through fire…if not, then water…and since human flesh doesn’t stand up to fire overly well, when the ritual started being used for Jewish converts to symbolize a purifying from their old gentile ways…water.

So by the time Jesus takes a dip in the Jordan and the heavens tear in half so a spirit bird can come fluttering down…this was old news…but we have a God who does some amazing things don’t we?  And for the first time ever, a person is baptized and God…shows…up…in a big way.

Actually, all three members of the trinity are on display here aren’t they? Jesus, the son…he’s of course there…the Holy Spirit shows up…and the voice of the Father…all three here together…and you know what, there’s only one other time that this happens…and its at the tail end of Matthew…in something called the Great Commission…when Jesus instructs the disciples…and us…to go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Now that in itself is amazing enough…but there’s another point to bring up…the Great Commission is the last thing in Matthew’s gospel…and therefore it’s the last thing that Jesus says…but the very first thing that Jesus says here in Matthew’s gospel, is his exchange with John about baptism.

I don’t know about you, but that seems like a pretty big deal to me…that the very first and the very last thing that Jesus talks about is baptism…no wonder we make a big deal out of it…but then, it is a sacrament isn’t it? A time when God comes to us through the simple element of water along with the promise that God makes on our behalf.

A promise that we actually share with Jesus. For in his baptism, the Spirit comes upon him, empowering him, and God claims him as his beloved child…and we profess the very same thing in our own baptism…that we are empowered with the Spirit, and God claims us as his children.  And that’s the spectacular thing…that its all about what God does…what God says, both for us and about us…its NOT about what we do or think or say.  The promises of God are for you…and through the waters of our baptism this promise is given to you and you are brought into the body of Christ. (pause)

Now that’s wonderful…but it raises a question…what comes next? Jesus tells his followers to make disciples and baptize them, but just what does it mean to be a disciple? What does it mean for us to be a follower of Christ? (pause) I often wrestle with this question…and I wish there was a road map…check points that we can achieve and mark off to show ourselves that we are making progress…that we are becoming more Christ-like.

Granted, we do have rituals in the church that sorta of point this direction.  We typically baptize as a baby…and then about 4 years old the child starts Sunday School…and eventually moves into Confirmation and then at the end of 8th grade they stand up front, say a couple things, receive a prayer…and that’s kind of it.

I don’t know about you, but I find that model lacking…and while I don’t know exactly how else to propose that we “map out” the life of a disciple, I do know this…we are called through our Baptism…we are joined with the one body of Christ…we are empowered by the Holy Spirit, and we are all ministers…called to proclaim what Christ has done in our lives…and to live out the truth that while we were sinners, Christ died for us.

And the thing about it…is that we do this…in the grind of life…in the routine…in the stuff that happens over and over again…because that’s where God meets us…and there are times when that might seem kinda daunting. (pause)
I mentioned earlier, that I no more than finished 1000km a couple weeks ago, and then I found myself at the beginning of another challenge…this time, its 1017…and as I face the vast majority of that challenge still ahead of me, I keep thinking “here we go again.” But that’s life…that’s the life we lead…and though at times it might seem repetitious…or boring…that is the path we walk…and what a blessing to realize that God walks it as well…That’s why Jesus entered our reality…that’s why he became one of us…to experience life as we do…and not only that…but to meet us there…and to come along side us as we move through this life as disciples…with no roadmap in front of us…only the knowledge that God is constantly inviting us forward, out of the old, and into something new…and this is true, even in the times when everything might feel the same.

Here we go again. (pause) Yep…but you know what, God’s right here with us. Amen.

Haven’t We Heard This Before 1-10-16

This morning’s sermon for Baptism of Our Lord Sunday comes from Luke 3:15-17, 21-22. I explore the importance of Jesus’ baptism and the promises made for each one of us in our own.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

In any situation, when a person sets out to tell a story, no matter what form its in, every story can break down to one of three different plots. The person verses person…person verses the environment that they are in…and person verses themselves…that’s it…every single story line, in its most basic form will fall into one of those three categories.

And so, many story tellers will often report that there are no original stories…simply that every story is a variation on one of those three plots. And in recent history, no other medium highlights this notion as well as the movie industry. Considering that we are now into a new year, and me being a movie buff…I got a little geeky and looked up the top 10 grossing movies of last year…at least for here in the US…and here’s the list starting with number 10 moving up to number 1. See if you recognize these titles. Spectre, Cinderella, The Martian, Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, Minions, Furious 7, Inside Out, Avengers Age of Ultron, and the winner…Star Wars The Force Awakens. (pause)
Now…did you sense a trend? Out of those 10 movies, 1 is an original idea…1 is a nearly verbatim adaptation of a book, 1 is a live action remake of the very same story told in animated form, and the rest…7 of the top 10 films of the year…are sequels…and not only are they sequels, but they are increasingly far into different series. There is 1 part 2, 1 part 3, 2 part 4’s, 2 part SEVENS…and finally…the 24th…Bond Movie. (pause)

With these stats in mind…I believe that it is beyond debate…that Hollywood, is REALLY good…and telling the same story over again. Because in the end…particularly with movies…that’s what sequels do…they tell the same basic story with new details…period.

And I bring all of this up, because today’s gospel lesson reminds me of a sequel in many different ways. First off…because the opening portion of today’s gospel was featured just 4 weeks ago as we heard John the Baptist rattling on about NOT being the messiah, and pointing out the important differences between them. (pause) And secondly…because this story…the baptism of our Lord…is one of those stories that we hear, every year…there are a few different ones…Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, Transfiguration…and this one…the Baptism of our Lord.

Now, some of those stories are always the exact same gospel…Christmas for instance always comes out of Luke…others from that list will feature the same story but from a different gospel…and today, the baptism of Jesus…well it falls into that second category. For the baptism of Jesus is mentioned in all four gospels…even John gets in on it…but with the other gospels, Matthew Mark and Luke…the details surrounding the baptism are all pretty similar…there are a few differences here and there…but we see those differences within the lead up to the baptism itself…and when we get right down to the nitty gritty of the story…when we get down to the action featured here for Baptism of Our Lord Sunday…no matter which gospel, it’s the same deal…and here…I’ll read it again…the baptism of Jesus.

When all the people had been baptized, and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form and a voice came from heaven saying You are my beloved Son, in you I am well pleased. (pause)

Wait a sec…did we miss something? Was there a baptism in there…oh yah…Jesus was baptized…talk about a throw away comment…but, I guess it is in there that Jesus was in fact baptized…even if every one of the gospels almost glosses over it…they all do tell us that it happened…but then…in all four gospels…we hear about what happens next…it’s the same old story…SLIGHTLY different details…just like movie sequels.

But you know what…the focus that all four gospels gives on this next part is probably a pretty good indication that we should sit up and pay attention…for following the baptism of Jesus…the heavens open up…and the Holy Spirit shows up with some sort of physical form…one of only 2 times in scripture when this happens…and the Spirit comes upon Jesus…but that’s not all…and we hear, once again, each and every year…the voice of God the Father…You are my son the beloved, in you I am well pleased. (pause)
This moment…this one story, told from different perspectives…is the ONLY time in the entire Bible…when we have all three members of the Holy Trinity present and accounted for. The voice of the father, proclaiming to the world the identity of the Son, who now harbors the Holy Spirit. 1 God in three persons, all of them here. (pause) And let me remind you of the occasion…this all happens because Jesus is baptized…

So what is it about this story…that is so significant…what is it about this story that led the different authors of the gospel to line up some precisely with the details of what has happened…what is that causes us to talk about it, each and every year? (pause)

Great questions…especially when we stop and think about baptism as a whole. For it was nothing new at that time. John was simply utilizing an old Jewish practice to symbolize the purification of the sin that they had repented of…but then John tells the people, when they claim him as the messiah…that no…the Messiah will still baptize you…but it will be different…He will still purify you…but in a way that we can never do…With the Holy Spirit and with fire. (pause)
And we all know that the practice of baptism has continued…most of us in this room, if not all of us…have been baptized…and interestingly enough, at first glance it almost seems like our baptisms are closer to John’s…for we use water don’t we? There’s no fire here…and thankfully so because I don’t think any of us would react very well to being dipped in fire would we? (pause)

But here’s the thing…something that I talked about a few weeks back when this passage came up…something I talked about a year ago when this story was featured…something I talk about in every baptism class with new parents seeking baptism for their child…something I talk about for 2 class periods with the confirmation students…and something that discuss with individuals on a constant basis…
Jesus has taken baptism…and through the ordinary element of water, God does something impossible…God does something new…God does something different…and somehow, someway…in ways that we can neither physically see or understand…God is able to purify us with fire…through the power of the Holy Spirit…in the same baptism perfected by Christ…and just as Christ experienced death and resurrection, we are given the promise in the waters of our baptism that we have joined with Christ in baptism like his…and likewise we join with Christ in a death like his, for the waters of our baptism drown the sinful self and we rise out of that water…with new life…a new creation…and as such we claim the promise that we will join with Christ in a resurrection like his. (pause)
This is the work that God is up to in the waters of our baptisms…its nothing that we do…its nothing that the parents or the sponsors…or relatives or friends…and certainly, this is not the work of the individual who is baptized…this is the work of God…and this is a wonderful thing…that we do…and we do it…because Christ himself told us to…

I mentioned before, that this is the one time when the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are all present and accounted for…but there is one more time when all three are named…and it happens in the great commission when Jesus tells us to Go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…one God in three persons.

And we invoke all three for a very specific purpose…remembering that it is not us who does the work…But we are baptized in the name of the Father who created us in the first place…in the name of the Son who redeems us through his death and resurrection…and in the name of the Holy Spirit who comes upon us in our baptism to unite us as individuals into the one body of Christ…and to empower us to be the church…to be the body here on earth until such time that Christ shall return and we will join together in his resurrection.

And this…is a very big deal…something worth remembering…something worth clinging to…and that is why we tell this story every year…remembering that Christ was baptized so that in the waters of our baptism we might join with him…and as God calls Jesus his beloved Son…God is also pleased to claim us as individuals, through our baptisms as His beloved child.

We cling to this promise…in all things…we cling to the hope found in the promise when we face the reality of death, that it does not get the last word…we cling to the promise that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus…not even our failings…and so we remember…and as Martin Luther said…every day when you wash your face, remember your baptism…live in the promise that God has given you that you belong to him…that he has claimed you…and yes, we’ve all heard this before…but it is worth hearing it again….because this same old story…is the best news that we can ever receive. Amen

Don’t Leave Me Hanging 1-11-15

In this sermon, based on Mark 1:1,4-11 which is the story of the Baptism of Jesus, I explore His baptism from Mark’s perspective. I look at the notion that the lack of detail makes important points, and that in our baptism we are connected to Jesus.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

A few days back, I was talking with my son, and the subject of homework came up. On this particular day, he was working on an assignment for his social studies class…one that required some online work, as well as answering the various question in a program on his computer.

As we chatted about his assignment, he made two comments. The first was “I really like social studies.” We’ll call that one a win…and the second was “Its nice doing homework on the computer.” I told him to remember that in a few years when he’s sitting there trying to crank out a 10 page paper for some assignment and getting nowhere with it.

As I think back to that conversation…I’m of course reminded of the multitude of writing that I’ve done. As a pastor I still do a fair share…weekly sermons…monthly newsletters…various devotions…and even the annual report earlier this week. And all this writing that goes on certainly reminds me of the various assignments that were required back in my seminary days…when hardly a week would go by that I wasn’t knocking out a 5-pager here…or a 15-there.

One major difference these days is that I rarely have a specific page count that I need to reach in order to complete the assignment…though that was certainly the case in school. I never really had too much trouble meeting the goal though…because as a classmate once pointed out to me…Scott…you can’t say hello in less than 100 words. (pause) And she’s right of course. (pause)

But there was also an ongoing joke with this particular classmate…a good friend of mine who is now a pastor out in North Carolina…that to fill out the requirement…it’s all in the adjectives. You can either say “God works in the world”…or you can fill up space by saying “The divine being that we call God began his extensive work at the beginning and it ever stopped but continues as He continues the ongoing work of creation within the realm that we call the physical world.” (pause) 5 words vs 37. (pause) 37 word statements get you to 15 pages a lot faster than 5…just sayin. (pause)

No perhaps you’re sitting there wondering just what this all has to do with anything here in worship…and I don’t blame you if you are…and so I’ll explain…today’s Gospel represents pretty much the polar opposite of my writing style. (pause)
Now admittedly, I’m excited today…because even though we’ve been in the Lectionary year B…the year that features the Gospel of Mark…for 7 Sundays now…my absence during the first Sunday of Advent means that I have yet to actually preach out of Mark’s gospel. (pause) And granted this is all understandable considering the seasons that we’ve gone through…Advent as we prepared for the coming Messiah and then Christmas as we celebrate his birth and then hear stories from infancy…and we can’t get those stories from Mark…because Mark doesn’t include them.

Its kinda funny how each of the gospels start…the way each author thought we needed to enter into the story that circles around this man named Jesus…this man who was also God. Luke thinks that a good starting point is just before birth…and we start off with the proclamation of the birth of both John and Jesus…and then there’s Matthew…who thinks we need to go back a little further…and so he dives in with a genealogy beginning ALL the way back with Abraham…oh and don’t forget about John who feel it necessary to begin the story of Jesus’ work in the world by taking us all the way back to the Beginning. (pause)

But Mark…well, not so much…Mark leaves out a lot of that extra stuff…because Mark is the polar opposite from me in terms of writing…while I like to heap on the detail…not unlike Matthew and Luke…Mark likes to cut to the chase…and just hit the important points…letting them speak for themselves.

And so today…here at the beginning of a new year…on our first day back into regular programming after our break…we find ourselves at the beginning of the assigned Gospel for the year…and you know what…that’s a pretty good place to start.

Now I love the opening verse of Mark 1…what many scholars believe to be just a title…The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ…the Son of God. Short…to the point…but Mark leaves no confusion as to just what he’ll be talking about does he? This…is about Jesus…and we start at the beginning…and for Mark…the beginning of the gospel begins with a baptism. (pause) The baptism of Jesus…to be exact. (pause)

But in true Mark fashion…we don’t get much detail do we? We actually hear more about John than Jesus. We know John’s activity…baptizing…we know his message…repentance for the forgiveness of sins…we know his wardrobe…camel hair was all the rage in those days…and we hear about his typical menu. (pause)

But what about our Lord…you know him…the one that actually got baptized in today’s story…well all we hear about him is that he came from Galilee…and then in the mother load of all detail…we hear “and he was baptized by John in the Jordan.” (long pause)

That’s it? Umm…really? Wow…thanks Mark…you really paint a picture for us there. (pause)

Well okay…to be fair we do hear a little bit more…we hear that immediately after Jesus came out of the water the heavens were torn apart and a voice proclaims to Jesus…you are my son, the beloved…with you I am well pleased.” And that…is…it… (pause)

Perfect example of Mark’s writing style here. Lacking detail…and honestly…it really seems like a cliffhanger. We get a brief mention of the baptism itself…the Spirit comes down…God speaks up…and then nothing…and we are left hanging. (pause)

Now perhaps…just maybe Mark is doing for a specific reason…because we actually see the very same sort of thing again…we see here…at the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ…and we’ll see it again 16 chapters from now…at the end…when Jesus has raised from the tomb…and the women find his grave empty…and they run off terrified and say nothing to anyone…

Talk about cliff hangers. (pause) Why would Mark do this? Why would Mark give us so little detail about these important stories…and why would he cut things off without properly explaining just what God’s up to in all this? (pause) That my friends…is a question that has been debated for centuries.

And while I’d love to provide you with some expert answer to that question…I can’t. And so perhaps all we can really do today is look at the details that Mark does give us…limited as they are…and while we do that, keep in mind that what he does tell us is probably pretty important.

First…the gospel begins as Jesus is baptized…the very same baptism that we ourselves share in. The same baptism in which the Holy Spirit comes upon us…and we are claimed by God as his beloved children. (pause) Hmm…maybe this is a little more significant than we realize. (pause)

And then maybe we better take a closer look at just what happens in the midst of this baptism. Mark loves the word “immediately.” He uses it all the time…now in our translation for today it says “just as he was coming from the water” and while that isn’t too far off…immediately really conveys the timing.

Jesus would have been under the water…fully submerged in the flowing water of the Jordan river…and we hear that immediately as he came up from the water…the instant…the second…the microsecond…that his head broke back through the surface of the water…the heavens were RIPPED APART…not just opened…like God popped open a window, or the spirit walked through a doorway…but literally ripped to pieces.

There is only one other place in Mark’s gospel where we hear this same wording…when Jesus dies and the curtain hanging in the temple…separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple…is ripped in two. (pause)

In that instant…the separation between God and humanity was eliminated…some might say that humanity could now access God…and that’s true…others might say that God was free to encounter humanity…and that’s also true…when the curtain was ripped open God was set loose in the world among us.

And today…in the instant of Jesus baptism, the heavens were ripped open…the heavens…the place where God is…the plane of existence which is totally separate from our reality…God destroyed it in order to get to his beloved child…God destroyed his reality in order to get to one that he loves.

What’s that say about God? (pause) What does that tell us about the lengths that God will go to in order to be with those that he loves…those that he cherishes. (pause).

And now what does that say about us? Because in our baptisms…we are also called beloved child of God. (pause) So maybe…just maybe…today, even though Mark fails to give us much in the way of details…and even though he cuts things off…seemingly right in the middle of this story…this story that serves as the beginning of the gospel of Christ…maybe today we are reminded that God is willing to tear heaven apart…God is willing to destroy the barrier between us and him for each and every one of us…simply because he loves us too much not to. (pause)

This is the gospel of Jesus Christ…this is the good news…that his life…his death…and his resurrection simply serve as evidence to the fact that there is no length that God will not go to for you. (pause)

And the truly remarkable thing about all this…is that God chooses to do it…its not up to us…God does it…God is the one taking action…making all of this possible. When someone is baptized…God does it. Its not the pastor or the parents…its not the sponsers…its not the grandma or the grandpa…and its certainly not the individual that’s taking the action…its God…it is the action of our creator who will go to any length to be with you…and so when the words are uttered that you have been marked with the cross of Christ and sealed in his love for ever…God’s the one doing the marking…God’s the one doing the sealing…and you can rest assured that the same Spirit which came upon Jesus in his baptism comes upon you in yours. (pause)

The beginning of the gospel is found in baptism…but it doesn’t end there…especially not in Mark’s gospel where we are seemingly left hanging…because the gospel goes on…and even when Mark stopped writing…the story wasn’t over yet…because the gospel is still going on…it didn’t end with Jesus death…it didn’t end with his resurrection…and it hasn’t ended now today…and because God’s story keeps going on…and because God desires for us to join with that same story…the gospel goes on…whether we’re paying attention or not…God’s not leaving us hanging. Amen.

Nice Introduction 1-12-14

Today’s sermon came from Matthew 3:13-17, which is the story of Jesus’ baptism, fitting as today is the celebration of his baptism.

You can listen to the sermon here:

You can follow along with the text of the sermon here. Disregard the indicators to pause and the weird punctuation. Gotta remember those things somehow.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
As many of you might know, I’m a runner. That distinction came about over the course of the past couple of years since I caught the fitness bug. In the past few months, I’ve been training for a marathon, and with the obvious cold weather outside, that means I’m logging A LOT of miles on the good old treadmill.
Over the course of those miles, I do several different things to try and occupy my mind. Sometimes I listen to music, other times I pull up Netflix and watch a movie or a tv show.
But there was one time when I was in the midst of a workout and I did something a little different than normal. This actually happened early last spring. We were still living in the Twin Cities at the time, and Emily and I both belonged to a gym. The day in question was March 13th, 2013. Now, perhaps this date means something to you, or perhaps it doesn’t.
When I arrived at the gym in the early afternoon, I didn’t have a much of a plan other than 30-45 minutes on an elliptical. Now, if you’ve ever been to a Lifetime fitness, the area where they keep the exercise machines is large and open…with row after row of treadmills, ellipticals, stair masters, and exercise bikes…all facing the same direction…and on the wall where everyone is forced to look…a big line of tvs tuned to different channels.
Most of the time when I would be in the midst of a workout, I would tend to ignore those tv’s…but occasionally something on them would catch my attention. During this particular time period, early last March, you may recall that there was a papal enclave happening in Rome. Pope Benedict had recently retired, and the cardinals were trying to elect a new pope.
As I was grinding away on the elliptical, I noticed several of the tv’s showing footage from Rome…White smoke…a new bishop had been elected.  Now if you’re familiar with this situation, it is first announced by the white smoke.  Then after a time of preparation, a priest comes to the balcony…and announces, in either Latin or Italian…I’m not quite sure which…that there is a new pope who will be called by a certain name…Benedict the last time around, and Francis this time.
I didn’t want to miss the announcement during my drive home…so my expected workout…got a little bit longer that day…I finished up on the elliptical, and switched over to a treadmill…and walked while I waited…well, if you remember that day…it took a long time, before they finally came to the balcony…and I walked…and walked…and walked…Honestly, I think I logged more miles walking on the treadmill than I had covered during my actual workout…but finally…the world was introduced to Pope Francis the 1st…and for me personally, grinding away on a treadmill…it was quite the introduction.
Today in worship we are celebrating two things…the obvious one is the Baptism of our Lord, Jesus Christ, which is highlighted in our gospel lesson…but we are also celebrating…admittedly a little more quietly…the 1st Sunday after Epiphany…which occurred…again somewhat quietly, last Monday.
Epiphany, both the actual day, as well as the season, celebrates Jesus Christ, the messiah, being revealed to the world. On Epiphany itself, we celebrate the three Wise Men arriving in Bethlehem and finding Jesus…and now today in our scripture lesson…we see that he is being introduced to the world as a whole. And what an introduction. (pause)
If we are paying close attention, we see that quite a bit of time has passed. We’ve jumped from the season of Christmas and Jesus as a baby, to somewhere around the 30 year mark. Jesus has been hanging out…learning a trade as a carpenter…occasionally getting in a debate with the priests in the temple…but scripture doesn’t give us much else to go through these 30 years.
But today…all that changes…and we find Jesus approaching his much better known at the time cousin John the Baptist…doing his baptism thing in the Jordan River.
I image the scene going a little something like this…picture John…waste deep in the water…hollering about repentance…calling people broods of vipers…tossing a lot water around…he looks up and see’s his younger cousin Jesus walk up. (pause)  “Sup Jesus? How’s your mom? Carpenter work keeping you busy?”  (pause) “Sup John…mom’s good…carpentry is getting a little old though…think I’m gonna give it up…so ah…how about this baptism thing…let’s do this.”
No imagine for a second being John. This whole time he’s been telling people about the coming Messiah…how the messiah is going to change things…how he’s not worthy to even take the guys shoes off…how the Messiah is going baptize differently…and now all the sudden, here he is…in the flesh…asking to perform the very act on him, that you had called inadequate…no wonder we hear the scripture say that John hesitated…no wonder we hear him say that he needs Jesus to baptize him…but that’s not what Jesus has in mind today is it?
“Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” To fulfill all righteousness…well just what the heck does that mean Jesus?  Bit of a stumper isn’t it?
After all, John proclaimed a baptism of repentance…and we all know that Jesus was without sin…so what does he have to repent?  (pause) Bit of a head scratcher isn’t it? But yet…that is exactly what Jesus wants to do.  He doesn’t ask John to change things up…he doesn’t come up with some fancy new wording…and even though John has been proclaiming the Messiah’s baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire…Jesus doesn’t baptize himself…He is baptized by another. (pause)
John agrees…Jesus wades out in the water…and like any good cousin would do…John dunks him…full emersion…Jesus is washed under the water…and now here’s where things get really interesting.  Scripture tells us when he came up from the water something happened…I’ve always sorta thought this meant once Jesus walked up the river bank and was on shore again…but that’s not what it really says…the Greek tells us that the instant he came out of water…the instant he surfaced again…within the microsecond that his head burst back through the surface of the river…the heavens were opened…
And here’s another awesome thing…its not like a the clouds parted and a bright beam of sunshine came through…rather…imagine for a second that we’ve got up here and as soon as I pour some water on his head…the roof gets ripped in half…and then multiply that by a million…the heaven’s were torn asunder…ripped to pieces…and the Holy Spirit decended upon Jesus.
This is huge…in this instant…within the Baptism by John…within this old ritual of purification…placed upon Jesus, the Messiah is revealed…and entry into Heaven becomes possible…the barrier between our reality, and whatever plane of existence where heaven exists got ripped open…and we see the Spirit coming upon Jesus…and we hear the voice of God the Father booming out…BEHOLD!!! THIS IS MY SON. (pause)
In this instant, for the first time…we see the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit together…all three members of the trinity…and from that moment on…baptism…will never be the same again.
This same act…proclaimed first by John…performed by John…has now been changed…has now becoming a part of righteousness…and it happened because Jesus…the Messiah…our Savior and Lord…the one who has instructed us to baptize…was himself baptized.
Think about baptism for a moment…today we celebrate our Lord’s baptism…but each and every baptized believer shares in the very same thing. Jesus was baptized by another person…we don’t baptize ourselves…Jesus was baptized with water…and so are we…In Jesus’ baptism the Holy Spirit came upon him…as it does for each and every one us…and finally…in the baptism of Jesus he was proclaimed CHILD OF GOD…and in our baptism we share that same name…Granted…the person who makes that proclamation is a little bit different…if we do it here…you hear me proclaim it…Jesus…well he had God make the announcement…probably a little more impressive of an introduction to the community…and really, that’s what happens at baptism…we are introduced into the community of believers…and then we join with that community in our own ministry…just as Jesus begins his ministry, empowered by the Holy Spirit, directly following his baptism.
But there’s more…when an individual joins with Jesus in a baptism like his…we also also believe that the individual joins in a death like his…because Jesus did die…and his death on the cross marked the single most important crossroads in all of human existence.
Picture the cross for a moment…2 beams of wood…the first one vertical…vertical because it reaches between Heaven and Earth…between God and humanity…and the second stretching out horizontally, like the arms of Jesus stretched out wide to encompass all of humanity, across all time…and at the center…at the point where those two beams cross…is Jesus…both God and Human at the same time…Jesus represents God for us…and Jesus represents us for God…a crossroads that enables each of us to be forgiven of our sins and one day…one day…to be raised again with Christ…because when we join in a baptism like his, then we join in a death like his…and because of this…we also join in a resurrection like his.
And so, on this day when we hear Jesus amazing introduction into the world by none other than God the Father…and when we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord…I want to invite you to remember your own baptism…when you were introduced to the world as a Beloved Child of God. Amen