< back to Sermon archive

Sermon Baptism of Our Lord Sunday 2024n for

First Reading: Genesis 1:1-5

 1In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.


Psalm 29

 1Ascribe to the Lord, you gods, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. 2Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his Name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. 3The voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the God of glory thunders; the Lord is upon the mighty waters. 4The voice of the Lord is a powerful voice; the voice of the Lord is a voice of splendor. 5The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon; 6He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Mount Hermon like a young wild ox. 7The voice of the Lord splits the flames of fire; the voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. 8The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe and strips the forests bare. 9And in the temple of the Lord all are crying, “Glory!” 10The Lord sits enthroned above the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as King forevermore. 11The Lord shall give strength to his people; the Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.


Second Reading: Romans 6:1-11

 1What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.


Gospel: Mark 1:4-11

 4John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. 7And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”


Back to the Basics of Baptism

Throughout 2024, my plan is to bring us back to basics.  It’s good to periodically remind ourselves not only of the scriptural foundation of our worship, but also of the richness of our liturgy and hymnody.  For example, when was the last time you stopped and really considered the words of our Kyrie?  Look back in your bulletin as I recite the first two petitions again: In peace, let us pray to the Lord.  Ponder that request.  We ask for peace, a peace that can only come from God.  For peace of heart, peace of mind, and peace of spirit, as we lift our prayers to God’s throne of grace.  We then ask for peace for the whole world, for the wellbeing of the church of God and for unity; unity not only in our church, but for the nation, and for the people of the world.  I think you understand what I’m getting at, and I’ll come back to that at another time.  But for today, I want to focus on Baptism since the Baptism of our Lord is what we’re celebration today.

Baptism is an important requirement for a believer and a powerful force in the life of a Christian for three reasons.  First, it marks the beginning of our new life in Christ Jesus.  Each time we bury a saint, we remember our baptism with these words, “When we were baptized in Christ Jesus, we were baptized into his death.  We were buried therefore with him by Baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life.  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”  Again, these are the wonderful words of truth, promise, and hope that every baptized believer finds comfort in.  Second, baptism is something we share in common.

Christians all over the world, who have been baptized in the name of our Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, whether as an infant or an adult, can say that they were baptized into Christ.  You met a Catholic in Ireland.  He was baptized.  You met a Pentecostal in Nigeria.  She was baptized.  With St. Paul we all proclaim, “One Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:5-6).  The third reason Baptism is a powerful force, is that baptism takes us back to the basics.  Let me set these three ideas up with a couple of stories.

Perhaps at one time or another you’ve seen the old black and white video footage on TV of the civil rights marches in the sixties.  Martin Luther King Jr., who was often at the front of the procession, received his share of stinging high-pressured water hoses.  Rev. King once remarked that he and the other marchers had a common strength.  He put it this way, as “we went before the fire hoses; we had known water.  If we were a Baptist or some other denomination, we had been immersed.  If we were Methodist, and some others, we had been sprinkled, but we knew water.”

You and I know the Word and water as well.  All of God’s children have been washed.  We share by our faith this common symbol, this gift, this rite, this power of God over the deep and often raging chaos of life.  All over the world Baptism unites us.  And as Martin Luther is famous for saying, we must remember our baptism each day, it brings us back to the basics of our faith.  Perhaps in our lifetime the most public statement of repentance was that of President Bill Clinton’s.  The one he made before a Prayer Breakfast on September 10, 1998.  He summed up the task perfectly when he said, “I don’t think there is a fancy way to say that I have sinned.”  Then he quoted from a book given him by a Jewish friend in Florida.  The book is called “Gates of Repentance.”

Clinton read this passage from the book: “Now is the time for turning.  The leaves are beginning to turn from green to red to orange.  The birds are beginning to turn and are heading once more toward the south.  The animals are beginning to turn to storing their food for the winter.  For leaves, birds, and animals, turning comes instinctively.  But for us, turning does not come so easily.  It takes an act of will for us to make a turn.  It means breaking old habits.  It means admitting that we have been wrong, and this is never easy.  It means losing face.  It means starting all over again.  And this is always painful.  It means saying I am sorry.  It means recognizing that [with God’s help] we have the ability to change.  These things are terribly hard to do.  But unless we turn, we will be trapped forever in yesterday’s ways.”

Clinton’s quote ended with this prayer: “Lord help us to turn, from callousness to sensitivity, from hostility to love, from pettiness to purpose, from envy to contentment, from carelessness to discipline, from fear to faith.  Turn us around, O Lord, and bring us back toward you.  Revive our lives as at the beginning and turn us toward each other, Lord, for in isolation there is no life.”  Whatever your opinion of Clinton and his sincerity, he understood that he needed to do something very basic before the nation.  He needed to repent.  Not even a president can escape the basic truths of life.  It’s like the lessons taught in elementary school.

In primary school, our parents and teachers understood the importance of building a strong foundation for a child’s future.  So, we were taught the basics, reading, writing, and arithmetic.  As parents, teachers, and leaders today, we would do well to remember that life is still composed of basics.  That’s why, when St. Mark chose to open his Gospel, he did so with the Baptism of Jesus at the Jordan.  Baptism reminds us of the basic needs of the soul: of acceptance, forgiveness, righteousness, and revelation.  So, we shouldn’t be amazed when a president of the United States repents before the nation for even Christ Himself, as we have just read, began His ministry identifying with the basics: acceptance, forgiveness, righteousness, and revelation.  Now we know that Jesus was sinless and needed no forgiveness, as St. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (5:21), but Jesus recognized our need for forgiveness and thus submitted Himself to the basics.

Someone may ask you at some point, why should I be baptized?  The answer is, Christ Himself was baptized, then He commanded us to go and baptize.  Baptism begins the most basic elements of the Christian walk: acceptance into God’s family, forgiveness of the sin we were all born with, the beginning of a life of righteousness, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and in time, an understanding that God has revealed Himself to us in Christ.  Acceptance and forgiveness are the first of the gifts we receive in baptism.  As St. Mark, at the end of his gospel, reminds us, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (16:16).

At the height of the Iranian hostage crises a pastor talked with a woman who told about how she had befriended an Iranian student.  In the early stages of the revolution, all access to money in the banks was cut off.  The young man offered to do some odd jobs for the woman.  His financial condition continued to decline so she invited him to stay in her home.  She gave him a room and he ate his meals with the family.  Sadly, the woman’s neighbors didn’t approve of this arrangement.

The neighbors felt that unless the young man was willing to denounce the revolution, they weren’t willing to accept him.  They kept their distance.  Her pastor asked her, “How did you come to befriend someone like that?”  She pounded her fist on the desk and said, “Because I am a Christian, darn it.  You think it’s easy?”  This is the call of baptismal repentance.  The rite and gift are meaningless unless it’s seen as completly dying to self, and a rebirth to a new way of life that is seldom easy.  The first gifts we receive in baptism is acceptance and forgiveness.  The second aspect of baptism is our call to a life of righteousness.

Righteousness is baptism’s fruit.  It’s like the story of Father Damien from the 1800’s.  He was a missionary to Hawaii planting churches on the island of Molokai.  He planted several churches on the main part of the island, but then he discovered another part that nobody ever went to.  It’s a small Peninsula that juts out north from the island and is separated from the mainland by an almost sheer cliff 2,000 to 3,000 feet high.  The only way to get to that peninsula is to jump off the cliff, or go by boat in the open ocean.  That deserted peninsula was where the Hawaiians exiled their lepers.

If you got leprosy in Hawaii, you were taken to this peninsula and abandoned.  And Father Damien felt a call to these outcasts from society.  There he worked just as he had on the rest of the island.  He built a church with his own hands and helped them build a society – even helping them build houses for themselves – and he lived among them and sought to humbly serve them in any way he could.  One day, after he had been there for some 15 years, he was cooking a meal and accidentally spilled some boiling water on his foot.  In his shock, he realized that there was no pain when it hit.  So he tried again.

He purposely poured the boiling water on his foot, and there was no pain.  That could only mean one thing.  He now had leprosy.  The next Sunday in church, as he began to lead the people in worship, he didn’t give his normal greeting.  Normally he would start each Sunday with, “My fellow believers.”  But this Sunday he began, “My fellow lepers.”  He had in every way become one of them.  Even taking upon himself their greatest pain.  Acceptance, forgiveness, and a call to righteousness.  These are some of the gifts we receive in baptism.  Baptism marked the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, and this is important for us to consider.

The beginning of Jesus’ public ministry began at the waters of the Jordan.  But it’s not just the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry; there’s something else at work in the water.  This is God’s startling and awe filled punctuation.  This is God’s sudden bolt of lightning upon the world.  Twice in Mark’s gospel the word “torn,” is used in a dramatic and active sense.  The first “tearing” occurs as Jesus rises from the waters of baptism, and the second is at the end of Mark’s Gospel as the temple curtain is rent from top to bottom.

The first event presents the in breaking of the kingdom of heaven and the second the tearing away of the religious barrier between God and humanity.  It’s as if Mark is saying God chose to rip open the skies and change the course of human behavior and rip apart the human barrier of sin that separates us.  God felt compelled to do this in a sudden and violent way in order to emphasis the meaning of these two events.  Let me describe it this way.

Phil Jackson, former player and coach for the Chicago Bulls and LA Lakers, tells of an experience when he was playing for the New York Knicks in the early 1970s.  His team beat Boston in a hard-fought series; then, played Los Angeles for the championship, easily winning.  This was the pinnacle of his sports career to that point, the moment he had been striving for with all his heart since he was a kid.  Several days later in NYC, he went to Tavern on the Green to celebrate with family and friends.  The place was crowded with celebrities like Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman.  Later, Jackson wrote this, “the intense feeling of connection with my teammates that I had experienced in Los Angeles seemed like a distant memory.  Instead of being overwhelmed with joy, I felt empty and confused.  Was this it?  I kept saying to myself.  Is this what was supposed to bring me happiness?  Clearly the answer lay somewhere else.”  He later understood what was missing.  He writes, “What I was missing was spiritual direction.”

Now let me be clear, I do not condone the spiritual path that Phil Jackson took.  He took many beliefs from Hinduism, to Christianity, to New Age thought and blended them all together.  He says he has found his path, but I see this as nothing more than a dead end maze of the devil.  But his experience does point us to a very basic need in life, the need for revelation.  His experiences, and that of so many others, point to our need to identify something outside of our own experiences to guide us and direct us.  We need God the Holy Spirit to break in and reveal Jesus to us.

That’s the job of the Holy Spirit, to guide us into all the truth (John 16:13).  His job is to point us to Jesus.  That’s what happened at Jesus’ baptism.  As Jesus was coming out of the water, and all these people are standing around watching, God tore open the heavens, descended on Jesus, and announced, “You are my Son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.”  God the Father is telling us: this is the person and the One whose example we’re to follow.  Our heavenly Father personally announced that Jesus is His Son and He will show us the way, and it all starts with Baptism.  Baptism is the beginning of our life as a Christian, but it’s not the end.

St. Paul in our epistle lesson for this week talks about how we’re to live out our baptism in the 6th chapter of Romans.  This is a passage that’s very straight forward.  As I said to the pastors on Tuesday, this passage preaches itself.  St. Paul asks, “Are we to go on sinning?”  No!  In Baptism the old Adam was buried in a death like Jesus’ death, and we were raised anew in a resurrection like His.  And in this resurrection, we have been united with Christ to walk in newness of life, or in righteousness.  And as a challenge Paul asks the very poignant question, “How can we who have died to sin still live in it?” (vs. 6:2b).  The answer has already been given in the opening verses, “Are we to continue in sin so that grace may abound?  By no means” (vs. 1-2a).

This is why Luther challenges us to remember our baptism daily; to get us back to the basics.  When we remember our baptism, we remember that God has accepted us into His family, that He has washed us from the sin we inherited at birth, that God has anointed us with His Holy Spirit, and set us on the path of righteousness.  If we’re to walk in righteousness, we cannot and must not live lives of sin.  We don’t do this to earn God’s favor, we all know this.  We live lives of righteousness in response to all God has done, and is doing, through Jesus in our behalf.  The promises given in baptism are sure: we are no longer slaves to sin, and since we have died with Christ, “we believe” that we will also live with Him.  Therefore, we “also must consider ourselves dead to sin and alive in God in Christ Jesus (vs. 11).


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

< back to Sermon archive