I was baptized at Diamond Lake Lutheran Church in South Minneapolis on June 6, 1965. Don’t bother doing the math. There is nothing particularly remarkable about that day…it was just a day like any other. June 6, 1965 was the 21st anniversary of the D-Day invasion in World War 2. On that day, the top 3 songs on the Billboard chart in the United States were “Help me Rhonda,” by the Beach Boys, “Back in my Arms Again,” by the Supremes, and that meaningful, heartfelt ballad, “Wooly Bully,” by Sam Sham and the Pharaohs. And on my baptismal day, 57 years ago, the Minnesota Twins lost 2-1 to Cleveland at the old Met Stadium in Bloomington.
A day like any other.
I don’t remember my actual baptism that day. I was only about 6 weeks old at the time…so that’s not a shock. All that I have from that event is my baptismal certificate, and a photo of me being held by my parents at the little ham and potato salad lunch they had afterwards.
And I’d guess that most of you are in the same boat. Now, there may be a few of you who were baptized when you were older, but most of you were probably baptized as infants, that’s the tradition in mainline churches like ours…so you probably don’t remember your baptism.
Which I’ll admit, does seem a little odd. I mean, considering how much emphasis we in the Lutheran tribe of Christians, place on our baptisms, this all seems a bit counter-intuitive. Why do something, of such vital importance to our faith, something that Jesus commanded, at an age when we know that we won’t remember it?
2 quick thoughts:
First, we believe that baptism can happen at any age…because it’s not about us. It’s not our actions…not what we say…or believe…or do…baptism is about what God does. And God has made it clear that nothing can separate us from God’s love…not life, death, angels, principalities, understanding or age. And so, when God baptizes…whatever the age…newborn, or age 103…it counts. It is real. So why would we not baptize an infant?
And second, when we talk about the importance of remembering our baptism, we aren’t talking about remembering the actual water being poured over a person’s head. No, we are talking about remembering what baptism does to us…to our hearts…to our spirits…to our faith.
We don’t remember being baptized. We remember that we are baptized. There is a difference.
So today, we celebrate the baptism of Jesus…and we remember that we are baptized children of God, loved beyond measure.
In our Gospel story, we are also reminded that Jesus is both 100% God and he is 100% human. I know…math people…it doesn’t add up, does it. Not in our way of thinking. But It simply is. Jesus is both and. Fully human and fully God. How this works…how he can possible be both and?…well, that is a part of the mystery of God. But we trust that Jesus is:
- Both God and a human who experienced hunger and thirst just as we do.
- Both God and a human who fell and skinned his knee.
- Both God and a human who loved his mother and adopted father.
And, Jesus was God and a human, who wanted…no, insisted…that on that day, he would be baptized.
So, let’s talk about Jesus’ baptism: If you listen closely to the story, you can hear the writer of Matthew echoing the words of the creation story from the Book of Genesis in describing Jesus’ baptism. That’s not an accident.
Theologian Stephen Driver has written that in Genesis 1:1, it says: “In the beginning,” the Spirit of God hovered over the waters. The Word of God was present in the beginning and created the world. And in our Gospel reading today from Matthew, this same Spirit of God, again hovers over the water, this time the water of the Jordan River, to deliver a message about Jesus; the Word made flesh.
- First, Genesis describes God creating; bringing order to the chaos through God’s Word.
- And then, Matthew describes God redeeming; taming the chaos of our sins through God’s Word, through Jesus.
In Jesus, God enters into our world in order to save it.
Martin Luther has written about how God enters into our world and our lives. He reminds us that it is not the water alone that accomplishes this redeeming act, but it is the Word of God “in and with the water” that effects change. It is these two things…together: Water and Word.
So Jesus, fully God and fully human, insists on being baptized, not because he needed this kind of repentance and forgiveness, but because we do. He was offering himself as the answer to the problem of our sin.
I don’t know how accurate it is, but I once heard a speaker talk about how we breathe the same air and wash our faces with the same water that has been recirculating in our world for thousands of years, the same water that occupied the Jordan River at Jesus’ baptism. There’s lots of physics and chemistry and other science involved in proving that to be true or not. But the point I want to make is that in our baptism, you and I are joined with Christ in this same water that Jesus, the Word of God…God incarnate, entered into, stirred up, and gave purpose to all those years ago.
In the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, we talk about how when water and God’s word are put together, they have the power to change us, to name us, to claim us as children of God. And to the ones being baptized, we then give a challenge from the scriptures, we say: “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good works and glorify your God in heaven.”
We remember our baptism. Because remembering gives us the strength of the Spirit.
In just a couple of weeks, on January 16th, our nation will remember and honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. One of the lesser-known facts about Dr. King is that he could sometimes struggle with nervousness and anxiety. Sometimes he had to work really hard to find the strength to do the things that he needed to do. In a sermon, he talked about one of these experiences. After a particularly tense week during which King had been arrested and had received numerous death threats, he was in Montgomery, Alabama, and he attended one of the bus boycott meetings, and he addressed the group.
He tried desperately to project an image of strength and courage, when deep down, King said, what he felt was fear and depression. Then an elderly woman – a woman affectionately called Mother Pollard – a poor and uneducated yet brilliant and wise woman – approached King and said, “Something is wrong with you. You didn’t talk strong tonight.” King denied it; he wanted to keep his fears to himself. But she said, “You can’t fool me. I know something is wrong. Are we not being helpful? … Or is it that the white folks are harassing you?” And before King could answer, she looked directly into his eyes and said, “I told you… we are with you all the way.” Then with complete confidence, she said: ‘but even if we aren’t with you, God’s gonna take care of you.” God’s gonna take care of you.
King wrote that “…in that moment, when I heard those consoling words, everything in me quivered with the pulsing tremor of raw energy.” And in the days to come, Mother Pollard’s words came back to King, time and again, “amid howling winds of pain and jostling storms of adversity” . . . her words gave peace to King’s troubled soul. “God’s gonna take care of you.”
This is the gift and the promise Jesus received in his baptism. This is the gift and the promise we receive in our baptism: God is with you. God is gonna take care of you.
When I think of the Holy Spirit descending like a dove, I think of those moments our hope is rekindled, even when we feel overwhelmed, and we don’t know what to do.
- The Spirit comes to us in moments of both chaotic energy, and in moments of serenity. And we are reminded that there is peace.
- The Spirit comes to us when something strikes us as beautiful, or funny, or pleasing and we are reminded: there’s life out there.
- The Spirit comes to us in well-timed offers of help, or in a story that inspires us, or in a delicious meal, and we remember: the world is still beautiful.
- The Spirit comes to us at important moments in our lives, just as it did for Jesus, and we glimpse God’s faithfulness and love that cannot be defeated.
God’s Spirit hovers…like in those first moments of creation…it hovers…like a dove over the water. God’s Spirit hovers over you and me…and it is a sign that God is with you always and will help you to start again.
Martin Luther said once that for him, water was a reminder. He said that when he got up in the morning, he’d walk over to the wash basin. And when he felt that cold water, hit his face, it would be a reminder. And he would say to himself “I am a child of God.”
We have placed Trinity’s original, 100-year-old baptismal font at the entry to the sanctuary. We are going to leave it there, as a reminder. It is a reminder of this important truth. I encourage you…when you walk past it today and, in the days to come, to dip your finger in it and make the sign of the cross and say to yourself, “I am a child of God. And remember.
- Remember that God is with you.
- When you need hope, remember that God hovers near you.
- When you feel the water splash on your face, remember that you are never alone. God’s gonna take care of you.
Remember. You are a child of God. Remember.
Thanks to Rev. Paul Amlin for thoughts and content that inspired the thinking in this sermon.