Baptism of Our Lord, Year C, Sunday, January 13th, 2013
Isaiah 43:1-7, Psalm 29, Acts 8:14-17, Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Those of you who have read a lot of the Bible or paid a lot of attention in church and Sunday School may have noticed how many of the major Bible stories have to do with water. The first chapter of Genesis speaks of God moving over the waters during the creation. Noah was saved in the midst of the flood which destroyed civilization. Moses was hidden in safety in a basket on the river and later led the people of Israel to freedom through the Red Sea while Pharaoh’s army drowned. In the wilderness, water was one of the basic necessities God provided the wandering Israelites. All of that water, in just the first two books of the Bible! And it doesn’t stop there. God uses water in many ways throughout the Bible.
One of the reasons for that, of course, is that water is one of the most basic needs of all human beings. Thirst will kill you quicker than hunger; and it’s really hard to keep anything clean without water. On the other hand, water is also very dangerous: even a moment’s inattention by any open water, and you can drown. We love to swim in it and go boating over the top of it on hot summer days, but we can’t ever take it for granted. And in the desert, where the people of Israel lived, the search for water is a daily necessity. People walk miles every day to the nearest well or river to get the water they and their animals need to survive. So it shouldn’t surprise us that water is everywhere in the Bible.
The most important use of water in the Bible and in our churches today is, of course, baptism. In the Gospel we read today the story of Jesus’ baptism, and from Acts we heard the story of the baptism of some Samaritan Christians. After his resurrection Jesus commanded his followers to go out into the world, baptizing people in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and we are gathered here today to baptize young Weston. So what is baptism, and why is it so important?
Baptism is a sacrament, one of two. The other sacrament is, of course, Communion. A sacrament is a rite commanded by God in which God’s promises are given form in a physical element. Intangible words and tangible things are united as one. In Baptism, the sign is water. Although we can’t see or touch God, we can see and feel the water God uses to seal his promises. And the promise is God’s love and grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
In Baptism, God comes to us to claim us as his own. Did you hear the words God the Father spoke at Jesus’ baptism? “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.” That sounds a lot like what God said in the reading from Isaiah: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” And again: “you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.” God speaks these words to us at our own baptisms. As the water is poured over us, God claims us. At each baptism, God says to each person being baptized “You are my beloved child.” That love is unconditional: there is nothing we can do that will ever make God stop loving us and calling us. In baptism, we become God’s children, and nothing can ever change that.
In Baptism, we die to sin and are born holy and righteous before God. We are broken, sinful people who live in a broken, sinful world. But through Baptism, we put on Christ’s righteousness. Instead of seeing our sins, God chooses to see Christ’s sinlessness. Although we are still sinners, we have been redeemed by God through our baptism. Through our baptisms we are tied to Jesus’ baptism, and to his death and resurrection. We are marked with the cross of Christ. As Christ died, so we too will die. But as Christ rose from the grave, so we too will rise when Christ comes again.
In Baptism, we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit. As the Spirit descended out of heaven like a dove to Jesus, and came to the people of Samaria after their baptism and the prayers of the apostles, so too the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us. During Weston’s baptism, you will see me anoint him with oil and say that he has been sealed by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will be with him all the days of his life, through good times and bad, even when he can’t see or feel the Spirit’s presence within him. God will always be with you, even when your own doubts and fears and the cares of the world blind you to God’s presence. Baptism doesn’t mean that your life will be all smooth sailing, but it does mean that you never have to face trouble alone.
In Baptism, we become part of the Christian community, which is the body of Christ in the world. As we become children of God, that means that all of God’s other children are our brothers and sisters. At the end of the baptism today, you will all join me in welcoming Weston into the family of God. We don’t often take that as seriously as we should, but it’s true. We are all brothers and sisters, through our baptisms, and we should be better at loving and helping one another than we are. Being a child of God means participating in the community, and sharing in the life of faith with all of God’s children. Being a child of God means following God’s call and listening to the Holy Spirit. So during the baptism, you will all be asked to make promises. Weston’s parents and godparents will promise to raise Weston in the faith, bringing him to worship and helping him learn the scriptures. But the congregation as a whole will promise to support Weston in his Christian life. We make this promise at each and every baptism, that we will help and support our new brother or sister in Christ, and it is the basis of the Christian community.
All of these things happen in baptism. God claims us as his beloved children, we die to sin and rise to new life in Christ, we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit, we become children of God and members of the Christian community. That’s a lot! Each and every one of these things can have a profound impact on our lives, if we let it. And yet, all too often we forget. We forget that we are children of God, we forget that God loves us, we don’t pay attention to the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, and we ignore the promises we make to one another to support each other in faith. We forget that our need for God is as fundamental as our need for water to drink. We forget that without Christ, our souls shrivel up in thirst for the living water that comes from God alone.
So what can we do? How can we respond to the great gifts God has given us in our baptism? The first step is obvious enough: remember your baptism. Remember always those words God spoke over you: “You are my beloved child.” Remember that all your sins are forgiven. Remember that the Holy Spirit always dwells within you, and listen for its guidance. It sounds easy. But these are all intangible things. We can’t see these promises God has made to us; we can’t touch them or taste them or smell them. And sometimes it is hard to believe that they are real, in the midst of this solid world. That’s why God has given us another gift in baptism: the water.
We can’t touch God’s promises, but we can touch the water. We can bathe in it, swim in it, drink it, hear it splash, feel it soak into our dry skin, feel it run down our throat. So each time you use water, remember your baptism. Each glass of water you drink, remember that God loves you. Each time you take a bath or a shower, make the sign of the cross and remember that you have been washed clean and your sins are forgiven. Each time you jump in a pool, remember that you have been made a member of the body of Christ, part of the community of faith. And thank God for the promises made in your baptism.