Baptism of our Lord 2009
As Lutherans we know that Baptism like our other sacrament, Holy Communion, isn’t about what we do, it is what God does – taking ordinary water and the power of God’s Word, God’s mighty promise, and through the Holy Spirit claiming us forever, washing away our sins, making us God’s own.
It isn’t what we do, it is what God does.
Then we are invited to spend our lives living into that promise.
The question remains: Will we? Will we live into that promise? Will we through the power of the Holy Spirit let our light so shine before others that they may see our good works and glorify our father in heaven?
Will our works, what we through the Holy Spirit choose to do with the gift of our baptism, will they echo in all that we do and say from our first day until our last? Today? Tomorrow? Ever and Always?
When I was a kid, one of the most memorable rituals of spring was the opening of our pool. All winter it waited, covered in black plastic that would accumulate water, leaves, and the occasional frog or two. As the winter chill gave way to the early warmth of spring, we would pump off the water, catch the frog, remove the leaves, clean and fold up the black plastic liner, re-connect the pump then prepare the pool itself. In went the chlorine. Out came the long handled pool vacuum pole and its ribbed hose. Soon the dingy water sparkled in the sun and the pump hummed along and it was time. It was time! But whose time , more to the point, “whose turn?” Who would take the first jump in to the rather chilly water – so inviting, yet so frigid. It mocked us. Toyed with us. You could stick in your toes, but that was foolish. The toes would turn blue and it might take hours to slowly move up the foot to one’s ankles and unless one of the family members could sneak up and give a big push, few might dare to go beyond their calves that first day. Ice cubes tossed in the water bobbed merrily taking hours to melt. It was that cold. But we had waited all winter long. And it was so inviting.
Now the chances of one of us jumping right in – no toe dabbling – no long slow adjustment - the chances of that first insane cannonball were inversely proportioned to our age. At say five or six there was no hesitation. Cold did not affect us. Did not slow us down. Did not frighten us. Our innocence and naivety held all of the power in the world. By our teenage years we might stack up three rafts, one on top of the other, to ensure that no part of our body came in contact with the water. There we would lay, perfectly balanced, praying that a gust of wind might not send us tumbling into the Arctic freeze below. In adult hood we were strictly toe dippers. Fearful, frightened toe dippers. How about you?
All too often, we live into our response to baptism the same way. We get less enthused the older we are. The pool was a wonder when I was a kid, but as I got older I just took it for granted. I mean, it was always there, right? No big deal. Look, lots of folks dive into their discipleship – that’s a nice fancy church word for the act of living out our response to our baptism. We become disciples of Jesus and follow him with our child-like innocence and wonder at it all, but then, it seems like we all too often hit this patch where our discipleship is no big deal. Our faith loses its passion. Its wonder. Its sense of awe about God and this life of ours as God’s children. We lose a sense of urgency to our faith. Until finally, we become afraid of far too much in our life and the power of our baptism is diminished in our own minds. Not in reality, but in our understanding of it. The fears of life seem much bigger than the promises of God. Much stronger. Much more powerful. We become toe dippers in living into our baptismal promise. We trade the power of God working through us by the Holy Spirit, for the low expectation of a faith robbed of nearly everything God gifted us.
When we re-read the Gospel story of Jesus’ baptism we are reminded of that power. The power of God, the power of the Spirit active in and through Baptism. The power that is active in you and me ever since the waters splashed upon us and the almighty promise of God was inscribed upon us.
As the water cascades off Jesus, the heavens are ripped open. The Spirit of God descends. The voice of God speaks: “You are my son,” God says. “You are my beloved.”
We learn in Scripture that our baptism, we die to sin and rise with Christ. Death no longer holds sway. We become children of God and co-heirs of the Kingdom. Now that is power. Power to break the power of sin and death. Power in the freedom to love and serve God. Power to live for God.
Years ago, a man came into my office with a very serious look on his face. “I have done things in my life that God can never forgive,“ he said, “I have asked him and asked him but I still do not feel forgiven.” Quite frankly, this is probably not that unusual a feeling. I have done several Bible studies on grace over the years and the whole idea of grace bothers people. God just can’t forgive like that. “I need to do something, don’t I?” they declare. “If I don’t I won’t feel right. I won’t feel forgiven.”
So here’s the thing. As children we all join hands and sing “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong. They are weak, but he is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.” And we believe it. We are smiling as we sing and we trust that Jesus does in fact love us. No questions ask. That Jesus forgives us. No problem. That Jesus went to the cross for us. You betcha. That in our weakness Jesus is strong for us. Yup! Then at some time in our life our fears become stronger than we think the power of our baptism is.
Paul says in Romans: Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. 8But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
In our baptism we die with Christ and are raised with him to eternal life. But as we get older we no longer believe in the power of our Baptism. We become toe dippers, afraid to get wet, to get soaked, to jump right in. Fear will do that. Fear and doubt. So instead of living into our baptism and living for Christ, living a life of discipleship, we keep the waters at a distance, a toe’s length, just in case one of the children might splash us and get us wet.
It is never too late to jump into the pool.
The cover is off. The pump is running. The frogs are gone. Ready for a swim?