Written by Mark C. Pederson, Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church
If last Sunday was our Methodist Covenant Renewal Sunday, this is the Lutheran version. For us, everything begins and ends in baptism. We are typically baptized as infants, and then the rest of our lives we try to live into that baptism covenant. Perhaps it would be fun to do a renewal of baptism service as a part of this Sunday. It could even be the culmination of last week’s theme.
For Martin Luther, baptism was everything. He started each day by washing his face with water and recalling his baptism, that he had been grafted into the body of Christ through his baptism, and daily died to his sins and was reborn to new life. When the people around him were struggling with dark forces in their lives Luther advised them to “Tell the devil you are baptized and tell him to go back to Hell where he belongs.” When we have already been joined into Christ’s death through our own baptism, and now look forward to a new life with Jesus.
How can a little water do all of these things? This is almost exactly Luther’s third question about baptism in the Small Catechism. His answer:
It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such word of God in the water. For without the word of God the water is simple water and no baptism. But with the word of God it is a baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says, Titus, chapter three: By the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ, our Savior, that, being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying.
And today we are looking at the story of Jesus’ baptism. First of all, let me say, John is not much of a church builder! He gets a bit popular, and begins to draw the “who’s who” of the Jewish faith, and what does he do? Calls them “sons of snakes!” (Maybe Courtney and I should try that one?) I’m sure our own reaction to Jesus might mirror that of John. Why does Jesus need to be baptized? He’s perfect! Matthew, the writer of this Gospel, is very concerned with the fulfillment of scripture. For him, Jesus’ baptism is an event that will pull together everything God has been doing for centuries and bring it to fulfillment.
We feel the same way when we baptize a baby. God is doing God’s thing, right here, right now. God is going to change the world through this little baby. It may not seem like it right now, but it will.
Each of us is called to consider John’s call to a changed life, because God’s kingdom is breaking into this dark world. Perhaps it’s time we re-purposed baptism, and thought of it as a life process instead of a one time event—an action we can center our lives upon. We change by daily dying to our own self-interests and being born again to God’s way of service and love.
Quotes for the Week
“It has always seemed strange to me… the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.” John Steinbeck
“People who volunteer at the recycling center or soup kitchen through a church or neighborhood group can come to feel part of something ‘larger.’ Such a sense of belonging calls on a different part of a self than the market calls on. The market calls on our sense of self-interest. It focuses on what we ‘get.’” Arlie Russell Hochschild
“The cause of violence is not ignorance. It is self-interest. Only reverence can restrain violence—reverence for human life and the environment.” William Sloane Coffin
“Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. The principle runs through all life from top to bottom, Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.” C.S. Lewis–Mere Christianity
Lesson Matthew 3:1-17 (Message)
Thunder in the Desert!
3 1-2 While Jesus was living in the Galilean hills, John, called “the Baptizer,” was preaching in the desert country of Judea. His message was simple and austere, like his desert surroundings: “Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.”
3 John and his message were authorized by Isaiah’s prophecy:
Thunder in the desert!
Prepare for God’s arrival!
Make the road smooth and straight!
4-6 John dressed in a camel-hair habit tied at the waist by a leather strap. He lived on a diet of locusts and wild field honey. People poured out of Jerusalem, Judea, and the Jordanian countryside to hear and see him in action. There at the Jordan River those who came to confess their sins were baptized into a changed life.
7-10 When John realized that a lot of Pharisees and Sadducees were showing up for a baptismal experience because it was becoming the popular thing to do, he exploded: “Brood of snakes! What do you think you’re doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to make any difference? It’s your life that must change, not your skin! And don’t think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as father. Being a descendant of Abraham is neither here nor there. Descendants of Abraham are a dime a dozen. What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.
11-12 “I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. The real action comes next: The main character in this drama—compared to him I’m a mere stagehand—will ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.”
13-14 Jesus then appeared, arriving at the Jordan River from Galilee. He wanted John to baptize him. John objected, “I’m the one who needs to be baptized, not you!”
15 But Jesus insisted. “Do it. God’s work, putting things right all these centuries, is coming together right now in this baptism.” So John did it.
16-17 The moment Jesus came up out of the baptismal waters, the skies opened up and he saw God’s Spirit—it looked like a dove—descending and landing on him. And along with the Spirit, a voice: “This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life.”
Questions for the Week
Do you have a ritual to remember your baptism each day? What is it?
What is one of the covenants you made last week, (or have made recently)? How can we as the Community of Christ help you enter into that covenant?