Sermon for SMHP, Year C, Baptism of our Lord, Feb. 13, 2019
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
21Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended upon 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.”
Baptism. It’s that moment when the church stands in the shoes of God, who doesn’t probably have shoes, but whatever. The church stands in the shoes of God and claims a person. Snatches that person up and now that person is God’s. Forever. There are no Baptism Divorces. Once you are God’s, you are God’s.
You also belong to the church when you are baptized.
[Big voice] “We welcome you into the body of Christ and into the mission we share.” That’s what we say to the newly baptized person, all of us, together.
Baptism is a joining ritual in which we mark a person as
1. Joined to God in a new way.
2. Joined to the church in a new way.
And all of that action is God’s. Even the church part, because—and we sometimes forget this, so it’s good to remember—the church is God’s. It was established by Christ and it belongs to God. So baptism, the foundational sacrament of the church, is God’s. God claims you in baptism.
It should be easy enough for the church to get that right…shouldn’t it?
Over on the Working Preacher blog, Professor Karoline Lewis tells of preaching a sermon in Lutherland—Minneapolis, Minnesota. In the sermon, she quoted from Luther’s Small Catechism and talked about how baptism is a claim on us. “In baptism,” she said, “God claims you.” And it’s forever.
A ninety-year-old woman came up to her afterward. Karoline calls her Dott, though that is not her name. Dott said that three years before she was born, her parents had a daughter born with severe birth defects. They were told that there was nothing the hospital could do for her, and they should take her home. Dott’s grandmother baptized the little girl, fearing for her salvation. But when the baby died, their pastor refused to do the funeral, because he had not baptized the child.
After hearing Karoline Lewis’s sermon, Dott said to her, “Is it true that GOD baptizes you?”
“Yes,” replied Dr. Lewis.
“Does that mean my sister is okay?” asked Dott.
For ninety years, that woman thought her older sister had been in peril, because she wasn’t baptized “properly.” She hadn’t gone to heaven, because she hadn’t been baptized by the proper person in the proper place.
You know what the proper place for baptism is?
Someplace where there’s water!
A river, a lake, a big room with a bowl of water in it. Your living room with a bowl of water in it. The bedroom of a sick child…with a bowl of water in it.
Sure, pastors usually do baptisms. I also usually stomp down the paper towels in the second floor bathroom trash can. But that doesn’t mean that anyone else in this building couldn’t do it.
Here’s why it is good that the church belongs to God and not just us: we like to put walls around stuff. In the church we--and by “we” I mean pastors most especially, God help us--we like to wall off important stuff like sacraments.
But that doesn’t make any sense at all. Baptism is all about walls coming down.
Scientists call water the “universal solvent.” Water dissolves more substances than any other solvent. Plain water. Dissolves all kinds of things…including walls.
Baptism erases walls.
There is no wall between us. There is no wall between us and God. In baptism we are claimed by God—adopted into God’s family. We become God’s children in the same way that Jesus, on the day he was baptized, became God’s child in a new way.
In baptism, God says to each of us, “You are my Child, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
We are God’s children just like Jesus is, which is why Jesus was baptized, just like we are.
We are all washed in the same water.
In fact, the water on your forehead came from this bottle [show bottle], which I bought at a little store up on a road above the River Jordan. I took the bottle down to the river, to the spot where they say Jesus was baptized, and I filled it with water, and this is the first time I’ve used it. You are now marked with the same water in which Jesus was baptized.
But if you were already baptized, you have already been joined to him. There is no dividing wall between us and Christ. No dividing wall between us and all of humanity.
Walls are bad.
But we love them, don’t we?
Somewhere in your life, there’s probably a wall that needs to be washed away. It may be a wall between you and another person. It may be a wall in a relationship that looks okay, but that wall is keeping you from truly loving that person. Maybe you’ve erected a wall around a dream—just put a wall around it and it won’t hurt when you think about it.
Christians, we are not Wall People.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.
--Ephesians, chapter two.
Christ is our peace, and Christ has broken down the dividing wall between us. Christ will work with us and walk with us as we break down those walls we erect to keep us “safe”—from other people, from our deepest dreams, from truly living into the fullness of what God has for us.
Remember your baptism today, people of God. You have been marked by the waters which baptized Jesus. You have been baptized with the baptism with which he is baptized. And if you are not baptized, please know that God has filed all the paperwork to adopt you too. The waters are ready for you.
Remember your baptism. May the waters of the River Jordan, and the waters of all those baptismal bowls wash away anything that is separating you from realizing peace, hope, joy.
No walls. Only us, together with God.