Sermon for the Baptism of our Lord, the First Sunday after the Epiphany, preached 10 January 2010.
A man was walking around the Church with a confused look. The Pastor went after him asking, “Who are you?” The man mumbled something. “Why are you here?” the Pastor asked. Again the answer was not very illuminating. How would you answer those questions? You might say you were here because you were a member of this church, or because you were Lutheran, or because your spouse or parents made you come... You might define yourself by your relationships... I am a husband, wife, father, mother, son, daughter, etc. You might define yourself by what you do – a carpenter, nurse, engineer, retired, etc. You might define yourself by your ideology – Democrat, Republican... or your perspective – liberal, moderate, conservative. But for Christians, none of those is a satisfactory answer to who you are or why you are here. Who are you and why are you here ought to be answered with: “I am a child of God by baptism, here to claim the heavenly food Jesus has promised to those whom He has called by name and who believe in Him...”
Think about it. Who ARE you? Why are you HERE? None of us would have a satisfactory answer to those questions except that one day Jesus Christ stepped forward into the waters of the Jordan to be baptized by John so that you and I might know who we are and what we are here for. Rooted in baptism is the key to knowing who we are, what our purpose is on earth, and what our purpose is as a people gathered together in worship.
The Son of God entered that baptismal water so that each of us might know: I am a child of God... Though once created by God and given birth into this mortal life, this identity as a child of God was lost to us by sin. Death, which came through sin, deprived me of my destiny. But... through baptism each of us were re-created anew, reborn from death, to the new life that only Christ can give. The old person each of us was, is dead – having been crucified with Christ. The new person each of us is, has risen up with Christ in baptism where we became brand new. Our sins are forgiven and death no longer claims us. Once we were nobodies but now God has called, claimed, washed, and adopted us as His own, and we were made somebodies.
Once each of us was formed for God’s pleasure; but this was a vocation that our first parents rejected for us and their way ended up being the dead end of death. Instead of purpose and meaning in life, what we ended up with was the path of death. But by baptism God has restored our lose vocation. Now we belong to Him who made us because He purchased and won us for Himself. With that comes purpose and direction for our lives. We live for His glory. This is our identity; this is our baptismal vocation.
None of us were redeemed from our lost condition by our own desire or might. We were not purchased from death with silver or gold. We did not exert the effort that resulted in our salvation. It is wholly God’s own action and it is His declaration in Christ: I am His own child. Once each of us wore the name of guilt and death but now we wear the new name of forgiveness and life in Christ. God has called us each by name to belong to Him and in our baptism into Christ, we gained a new name, a new identity, as His own children.
We have been marked for Christ. We wear His name – not as a tattoo as an adornment on the outside but with the name of Christ written into our hearts by the Holy Spirit to bring us to faith. In baptism we wear Christ as the new clothing of holiness and righteousness. We wear His name, we receive His gifts, and we are heirs of all that is His to give. This is now our identity. It is not who we think we are, who we want to be or who we have made ourselves to be – this identity is who God has declared us to be by baptism.
So why are we here today? We are here to receive what God has prepared for us, the gift of His presence. Lo, I am with you always – a promised kept in His Word and Sacrament. It is because of baptism we claim His promise that nothing can separate us from Him. What death once called his own, now life claims in Jesus Christ. We come here today to receive what our Lord has promised to those whom He has called His own.
We are here for the mercy that has already rendered its verdict upon our lives. God cannot say “Not guilty” but He has chosen to declare us “Forgiven and justified in Christ.” Judgment will not harm us and we do not live in fear of Christ’s return as Lord and Judge of all. The cross is where and how our sins have been judged. Therefore we live in His mercy and by His mercy as His own children in Christ Jesus.
You and I are here to receive God’s care – not simply the healing balm that comforts us in all our wounds but the discipline of the Father who loves His children enough to say “no” to them. He loves us enough to refine us and purify us. Though we shrink from His refining and cleansing fire, we know that its wounds are not like the wounds of sin which are meant to harm us. These are the cleansing wounds of Him who loves us enough to cut off and cut out of us all that hinders His reign in us and through us.
You are I are here to live out His glory – not our own glory but His, not for us to live in the spotlight but to be lights that shine with the glory of Jesus Christ. In all we are and do, we are to shine with the brightness of His light, for His glory, and for witness to the world. What elevates our lives from the realm of the mundane and ordinary are not our accomplishments, but the works of Him who works in us, for us, and through us. This is what makes our lives noble – we do His bidding in our homes, on our jobs, in our relationships, in our life together as a congregation, and in our love and service to the world.
Who I am and why I am here – this what we learn at the font. Once Jesus came to the waters as the innocent to take on our guilt... as the righteous to take on our sin... as the Living One to take on our death... Once He exchanged His heavenly glory to wear my flesh and blood... He left the hallowed halls of heaven to enter the darkened shadows of my world of sin. He was baptized not for His need but for ours. In His baptism He reveals His servant heart and love for us. In His baptism He begins the song of glory, hope and redemption to a people whose sin, guilt, and death kept us bound and captive.
Each of us learns who we are, why we are here, and how we are to live from the waters of our rescue, waters that took on cleansing power when He came to baptism to soak up all our dirt. It is no accident that the font stands right there at the door to God’s House. There is where we learned of Him who is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. There is where we heard the voice of God calling us to Him. There is where He embraced us as His own, clothed us in His own righteousness, and bestowed upon us the gifts and grace He earned in suffering and death. There is where we encounter the life that death has no power over and there is where we are set free to live His noble life in our daily lives of faith and service.
Once the Father declared Jesus to be not only His beloved Son but the one in whom is His great delight. When the Father smiled upon Jesus in the waters of the Jordan, He made possible to us the smile of His grace that declares us His own, pleasing in His sight because of Jesus Christ. Ponder this baptismal miracle; let it shape your identity and let it determine your destiny. Perhaps if we spend our lives waking up each morning to this new identity, we will find it easier to remember who we are, why we are here, and what we receive from the Lord in His house. When your behavior fails to offer you hope or a sign that you belong to the Lord... when life has ripped the smile out of you with troubles and trials... when this moral life has left you confused and hurting... when all the structures and supports of this moral life are gone... the we still have something to hold on to... I am a child of God by baptism, here to receive the heavenly food of His promise, given to those who He has called by name and who believe in Him... today, tomorrow, and forevermore. Amen