Baptism of Christ C2019
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
by Pastor Sarah Stadler
On Sunday, December 10, 1978, I was 3 weeks old. My parents brought me to the font of baptism at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in the tiny, tiny town of Noonan, North Dakota. My dad was the pastor who, in true Lutheran fashion, sprinkled just a bit of water upon my head and proclaimed me baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. One of my two godfathers, Rick or Larry, lit a candle and remembered Jesus’ words from the gospel of Matthew: Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to God in heaven. My dad placed his hand on my infant head and prayed that the Holy Spirit would fill me, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in God’s presence. With oil, my dad made the sign of the cross on my forehead saying: Sarah Lee, child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. Finally, on behalf of the whole church of every time and every place, the good people of Bethlehem promised to pray for me and support me in my new life in Christ and welcomed me into the ministry that we share.
Similarly, in our own community this year, we have gathered around and celebrated the baptism of Aryn Cluck, Elias Rodriguez, Adeline Patton, Clark Gallen, and Carter Thompson, baptisms in which these children received grace, belonging, and vocation.
In today’s gospel, we hear the origin story of this gift of grace, belonging, and vocation. At Jesus’ baptism, among all the other people who had been baptized, God tears apart the heavens, sends the Holy Spirit on Jesus like a dove, and declares: You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased. Jesus receives the grace of God in the form of the Holy Spirit, is baptized in the midst of the community, and once proclaimed the beloved Son of God begins his ministry. From his baptism, Jesus journeys into the wilderness full of the Holy Spirit, resists temptation, and then goes to work proclaiming the kingdom of God, teaching in the synagogues, and healing people. There is theological controversy aplenty on this point, but it has always seemed to me that Jesus received the call to ministry at his baptism, that at Jesus’ baptism, God was finally saying, after 30 years of life, which was a long time in the first century, God was finally saying to Jesus: Go! Go and love! Go and teach! Go and heal! Go and proclaim the coming of my kingdom to all nations!
So too for us. Baptism is not simply a custom. Baptism is the defining marker of the Christian life. In baptism, we receive grace, belonging, and vocation. Like Jesus, our baptism assures us we are loved beyond measure. We belong to God and God’s people. We are called to ministry in our whole lives.
First and most importantly, baptism is the place where we receive the grace of God. Still unable to walk or talk, earn money or go to school, still unable to act responsibly or make ethical choices, infants who receive the gift of baptism do so before they can ever prove themselves worthy. As Lutherans, we delight in baptizing people of all ages, but we hold onto infant baptism as evidence of God’s extravagant grace—for infants can do nothing to either earn or fail to earn God’s grace. Now, I wouldn’t dare suggest that God withholds grace from anyone regardless of their baptismal status; that just doesn’t seem like the God I know in Jesus. But in baptism, I see grace poured out right in front of my eyes. God loves us this moment, this moment when we are stubborn and greedy and not really very nice. God loves us this moment, this moment when we act with love and seek justice and serve God’s people. However we are, God loves us in this moment.
At the font of baptism, we enter into community, into a community of every nation and language, into a community of other imperfect, stumbling saints. We belong to one another and to God, fellow members of the body of Christ, children of the same heavenly father or mother, workers together in the kingdom of God. Baptism is not a private ritual but a communal act of welcome. For that reason, with the exception of life and death emergencies, we baptize in community, nearly always in Sunday morning worship. In baptism, we celebrate God’s love poured out for us as individuals, certainly, but we are surrounded by people who have received that very same grace and love, surrounded by other people who are trying to walk the walk of faith.
And finally, we receive the gift of vocation in baptism. In these post-modern days, we often ask: what should I do with my life? It’s a good question, and I know what people mean when they ask it. They mean: how should I earn my living? But more fundamentally, as baptized people of God, God has drawn us into not a particular job but a way of being in the world. When we affirm our baptismal promises in the Lutheran church, we name not what job we’ll train for or what position we’ll take. Instead, we name the ways we live in the world, regardless of our occupation. When we affirm our baptism, we promise:
To live among God’s faithful people
To hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper
To proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed
To serve all people, following the example of Jesus
To strive for justice and peace in all the earth
Baptism, and especially affirmation of baptism, is God’s way of saying: I love you. You belong to me and this community. So, go! Go and love! Go and serve! Go and strive for justice and peace! Whatever you do from 9 to 5, to earn a paycheck, as a neighbor or citizen, as a sister or brother, a daughter or son, whatever you do, do so in community, worshiping God, sharing the grace of God in word and deed, serving others, and striving for justice and peace.
If you have not received the gift of baptism, a gift of grace, belonging, and vocation, I invite you to come to the font, today if you feel drawn or to speak with me about planning your baptism. Typically, a person being baptized will choose at least one sponsor who commits to praying for and supporting them.
In the Lutheran church, we recognize the baptism of every other Christian tradition, whether Roman Catholic or non-denominational, Methodist or any other Christian tradition. We recognize the validity of God’s claim on our lives regardless of the tradition from which a person comes, and so, we do not ever re-baptize.
We do invite young people who are coming into their own to affirm their baptismal promises following three years of study in a rite typically known as confirmation. But the whole people of God, on occasion, are invited to affirm their baptismal promises. And I invite us to do so today. Please stand.
Let us pray.
Merciful God, we thank you that you have made us your own by water and the Word in baptism. You have called us to yourself, enlightened us with the gifts of your Spirit, and nourished us in the community of faith. Uphold us and all your servants in the gifts and promises of baptism, and unite the hearts of all whom you have brought to new birth. We ask this in the name of Christ. Amen.
I ask you to profess your faith in Christ Jesus, reject sin, and confess the faith of the church.
Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God? If so, please respond: I renounce them. I renounce them.
Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God? If so, please respond: I renounce them. I renounce them.
Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God? If so, please respond: I renounce them. I renounce them.
Do you believe in God the Father? If so, please respond: I believe. I believe
Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God? If so, please respond: I believe. I believe.
Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit? If so, please respond: I believe. I believe.
You have made public profession of your faith. Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism:
to live among God's faithful people, to hear the word of
God and share in the Lord's supper,
to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
to serve all people, following the example of Jesus,
and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?
If so, please respond: I do, and I ask God to help and guide me. I do, and I ask God to help and guide me.
People of God, do you promise to support and pray for one another in your life in Christ? If so, please respond: We do, and we ask God to help and guide us. We do, and we ask God to help and guide us.
During the final prayer, we typically lay hands on the person for whom we pray. So, if you feel comfortable, please place your hand on the shoulder of someone near you.
Let us pray. We give you thanks, O God, that through water and the Holy Spirit you give us new birth, cleanse us from sin, and raise us to eternal life. Stir up in your people the gift of your Holy Spirit: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence, both now and forever.