Monday, January 14, 2019

Not simply like you but for you. . .

Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord, preached on Sunday, January 13, 2019.

    One of the terrible things we do is compare our lives to others – even Jesus.  We presume that Jesus is like us and so that is why so many things in His life compare with our own lives.  Jesus spends nine months in the womb – like most of us.  Jesus is born to tears and cries of both mother and child – like most of us.  Jesus grows up and matures as most of us do, trading the childish things St. Paul talks about for adult things.  Jesus gets frustrated – don’t we all?  Jesus gets angry and curses a fig tree – like we get angry and take it out on whoever happens to be near.  Jesus gets left behind by His family – just like we have felt forgotten and alone in the face of those who are supposed to care about us.  Jesus eats like us, drinks like us, and is baptized like us. 

    Everything our Lord does is like us – well, except suffering and dying on a cross. Right?  Wrong!  Everything our Lord does is not simply like us but for us.  All that Jesus does, He does for us, to save us.  Everything Jesus does is for us – the Savior who fulfills all things so that we might be counted obedient and righteous and holy.  We are fixated on how Jesus is like us.  How He laughs and cries, laments and gets angry, struggles and fights within Himself the things He should want to do but does not and the things He should not want to do but does.  For this is how we live.  But Jesus is not given simply to be like us, all that Jesus says and does is for us to save us.

    Jesus is incarnate for us.  Jesus is holy for us.  Jesus is circumcised for us.  Jesus keeps the Law for us.  Jesus denies Himself for us.  Jesus offers Himself up for us.  Jesus goes to the cross for us.  Jesus is baptized for us.  Standing in the river Jordan, our Lord feels the water splash over Him at the hand of John but it is not the clean water that makes clean.  No, it is the dirty water of sinners who have bathed but are still filthy and who cannot make themselves clean – no matter how much they scrub.  Jesus is there not because He needs to hear the prophet’s voice and offer to God a repentant heart.  No, Jesus is there to make the great exchange and to become dirty by us to save us.  This water cannot clean Him but it can only make Him dirty.  He does this not to stand in solidarity with sinners but to be made sin for us that we might be saved.

    That is why we pay so much attention the life of Christ.  In it we see not simply the assurance that Jesus is really human but the assurance that Jesus is really our Savior.  He has not come for any other purpose than to save sinners from their sins and render them holy by judgment who cannot make themselves holy by effort.  He has not come to cut you loose but to secure you firmly within the grasp of grace.  He has not come to release you from the Law but so that you may learn to delight in it and delight doing it.  He has not come to show you up but to do for you what none of us can do for ourselves.
This is the great and grand mystery of baptism.  Jesus went down into the waters good and holy and came out stinking of our sin and stained with our evil.  He wore this sin even to the cross in order that we might go down in the water dirty and come up clean.

    Jesus has not come to be like us – to play that game of humility that the rich and powerful play when they say they are just like us ordinary folk.  This is not an act.  He has come to take our place in sin, on the cross, and in the grave.  He has come to do for us what none of us can do for ourselves.  He is not first judge but savior, not first Lord but servant, even to death upon the cross.  He is not first the example for us to follow but Savior and Redeemer who gives us His holiness as our new clothing in baptism and bestows upon us a new life to be lived for Him and in Him.

    St. Paul says it right.  He died for all that those who live should not live for themselves but for Him who died for them.  Your baptism is not an event in the past but the present reality of a people redeemed, restored, and forgiven.  The Lord has looked upon Jesus and declared you to be His beloved sons and daughters.  The Lord has looked upon Jesus and insists that you are not well pleasing in His sight.  The Lord has looked upon Jesus and called you priests and prophets who will have the vocation and calling to live as His own people.  The Lord has looked upon Jesus and insists that there is a place at the table for you.  That is the reality of Christ’s baptismal gift for you and me.  Your identity is not rooted in your sexuality, your job, or your desires but in Christ.

    We judge all things by feelings.  How we feel is about the most important thing to us.  When you go to your doctor he asks how much pain you are in.  When you buy a trinket from Amazon, they want to know if you are happy with it.  We are swelled up with feelings that come and go as we burn hot and cold for everything from our lives to our families.  We judge all things by feelings and somehow we get the idea that it is cool that Jesus is like us, that He feels like we do in all the range of our feelings, and He acts like we act in all the range of our actions.  We are consumed by our feelings of pride and our lack of self-esteem, by our victories and our defeats.  But none of that matters a whit.  Jesus has not come to be like you but has come for you to save you.

    Baptism reveals this objective truth so easily overshadowed by feelings.  You bet there are bad things in the world, things that frighten you, things that shock you, things that try your patience, and things that shame you.  Tragedies and triumphs galore, pain and suffering without end.  But what does Jesus say.  Let not your hearts be troubled.  Do not give in to the prison of your feelings.  Do not judge yourselves or God on the basis of you feel or how He makes you feel.  Feelings come and go but what Jesus has done remains yesterday, today, and forever the same – Christ forever, for you forever.
    And what has He done?  He came for you before you even knew enough to ask for Him to come.  He lived the holy life you find impossible to live.  He plunged under the baptismal waters to wear all your sin.  He was righteous when you wanted to be bad.  He suffered for you when all you wanted was to escape suffering.  He died for you when all you wanted was a decent life and then you would live with death’s end.  He rose for you when you would have settled for a memory of a past and He wrote for you a future you cannot even yet imagine.

    This is what your baptism is about.  It does not matter how it makes you feel for your feelings are not what your hope rests upon.  Your hope rests upon Jesus who died and rose for you and in whom you have died and risen with Him. Put not your trust in earthly rulers or kingdoms, says the Psalmist.  We might add to that, do not trust your feelings either.  Instead, on this day when we acknowledge not only the Lord’s baptism for you but your baptism in Him, trust the Word that was spoken with water.  Trust the promise revealed to you when the Spirit put the breath of eternal life into this font.

Trust the future God has written for you whether you see it unfold around you or not.  Trust the blood that was shed for you to cleanse you from all your sin.  Trust the righteousness of Christ you wear as your new baptismal clothing.  Trust the covenant of life in which you live now and which will deliver to us everlasting life before death can claim you.  Trust the voice that says to everyone of your sins “I forgive you.”  Trust the guidance of that Word which will not tell you what you want to hear but will tell you what you must hear in order to live.  Trust the bread of His body and the cup of His blood which feeds you mortals with immortality.

    Jesus did not come to be like us.  We have been betrayed by a thousand fake heros who said one thing and did another.  We have been victims of a thousand lies from people who told us no truth.  We have lied to ourselves and trusted in the shifting sands of our feelings more than we can count.  Jesus has not come to be like us in this mess of life but to give Himself for us that we might be His own by baptism and faith and live under Him in His kingdom both now and forever.  Jesus has given us the rock of His Word, the power of His blood, and the hope of this baptismal water that we may not be victims of lies told to us or by us anymore.  Jesus has met us in the water and brought us forth as new people, created in Christ Jesus for good works that endure.  He is with us and will not forsake us.  Our feelings will betray us even more often than fake people but Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.  As you met Him in this water, now live in Him by faith.  For He will not disappoint you nor will He speak false promises or fake comfort to your aching hearts.  You are His and He is yours.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


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Anonymous said...

Thank you for this wonderful sermon and thanks be to God for His life giving Gospel, that is able to fill us with joy, even in this vale of tears.
For many years I have marveled at the complete selflessness of our Lord. It is something we, being stained by sin, cannot possibly achieve, yet knowing of it, we can yearn for our own perfect selflessness, which we will inherit when He calls us into the Heavenly Kingdom. Even on the cross, what would seem to be a concern for Himself, “I thirst”, was said for us, “so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.”
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart