Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Our identity. . .

Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord A, preached on Sunday, January 8, 2023.

According to the world, what is most important is your acceptance of yourself and other people’s acceptance of you.  And with that must come the deference to your truth as you know it, expressed by the requisite pronouns of your choice.  Added to this are vindication of those feelings, respect and dignity afford to those feelings.  The world finds the greatest sin and injustice as the failure to be true to yourself and the failure of others to allow you to be true to yourself.

In contrast to that, John the Baptizer came calling the world to repentance – not to feel bad about themselves but to acknowledge, take responsibility for, and confess their sin.  Along with this confession is the desire to be forgiven of that sin and turned around from the way of sin to the way of holiness.  For this repentance and turning around away from sin and to the Lord, God had promised a baptism of repentance.  This, John insisted, is the most important thing of all.  The miracle is that people heard John, listened to his call to repentance, and they turned around – away from their way of life to the way of holiness which offered more than life.  And they met John in the water with their admission that they were sinners and John washed them in the Lord’s name.

Today we remember the only One who did not need the call to repentance and needed no baptism.  He was born like us in every way except sin and had no sin to own, no sin to confess, and no need of repentance.  He stood where the crowds had stood, before John the prophet, to fulfill all righteousness.  He did so not for Himself but for those who would come under the water after Him, who would be called to repentance not only to confess their sin but to be redeemed by the Savior, washed clean of their sin, and rise up wearing the clothing of Christ’s righteousness.  John thought Jesus should wash Himself but Jesus insists that John must wash Him – if not for repentance then for righteousness.

Those who heard John’s call came to his baptism as sinners.  John’s call brought forth the repentance that desired not to continue in sin and not to remain in sin but to be cleansed, just as Naaman long ago was cleansed in the water.  Jesus’ baptism is all of John’s and more.  In His baptism our Lord gives the water the power of His name.  In His baptism, our Lord becomes the sponge to soak up every sin of ever sinner who comes to the baptismal font.  The sinless Son of God gives to the water the power of its promise so that it may change us.
Our Lord delivers to all who are baptized in His name the new birth that was promised and raises up the baptized as the new creation of God by His Spirit.  The turn that repentance called for has become the Spirit’s work in us – turning away from sin and turning away from the uncharitable judgment of the sins of others – all the while allowing your own pet sins to remain untouched by the work and power of God.  We do not clean ourselves but God cleans us through water and the Word.   

From this encounter with the Lord in baptismal water, we are transformed.  Baptism is not something we do to for ourselves or to show ourselves to God but that which God does in us and for us so that we may be His own and live under Him in His Kingdom without end.  Baptism is not what we think it to be but what our Lord makes it.  He is not acting out a drama when our Lord bows His head to John to pour over the water.  Jesus takes on the full consequences of this baptism for it will change Him too.  He takes into Himself our sins.  He takes upon His soul the judgment meant for you and me.  He lays aside what is His right as the Son of God so that we who have no right might be declared the sons and daughters of God by baptism and faith.

Here we meet the Lord with His Word and Spirit which He has placed here in this baptismal font.  Until the day of our death, we are always God’s work in progress, bringing forth the new person created in Christ Jesus for good works and strengthening us in this grace.  Until the day of our death, when what He began is finally brought to completion, we daily return to this baptism to rejoice over what our Lord has done for us and so that His Spirit may daily work in us that which is well pleasing in His sight.

This is our most important identity.  While the world is busy fussing over pronouns, we wear Christ’s name by baptism.  While the world is busy arguing over whose truth is better, we gladly surrender our truth for God’s truth that sets us free by baptism and faith.  While the world is struggling to be true to self, we are daily being turned away from sin and to Christ, walking in His ways the holy life that belongs to the children of God.  While the world spends all of its days with feelings, we rejoice where feelings, emotions, and sentiment end – the baptismal miracle that took us from being no people to God’s people, from being a people marked for death to a people made alive in Christ by the Spirit, and from a people who had no choice but to live in captivity to desire to a self-controlled people.
We meet the Lord not where we choose but where He has promised to be.  It is a scandal that God would choose the ordinary of water to deliver the miracle of new life that death cannot overcome – instead of some spectacular event.  It is the surprise of grace to discover that the God who called us to repentance enables this very repentance by His Spirit He bestows, turning us from the ways of sin and its death to the way of righteousness and its path of life.

Ours is no self-help religion in which God offers helps or hints to guide us so that we might do for ourselves.  God takes charge.  He speaks to us truth that cuts through the lies, deception, and falsehoods of this world.  He gives us the firm foundation of His Word and truth on which our lives may be built so that they endure forever.  He washes us clean not with symbolic water but with the water of our Lord’s baptism that accomplishes what it promises.  We are turned not by our wills but by God’s saving will, not by what we do in baptism but by what Jesus did, not as symbolic act but as the very means by which we are rescued from death and the devil and delivered to the Father, all wrapped up in Christ.

The font stands by the door to the nave for a reason.  It is the most important reality of our lives, it has shaped our identity forever, and it gives infinite worth to our fragile lives.  In that font is Christ, doing still what He did once in the Jordan at the hand of John, taking away our sin and exchanging His life for ours.  As we pass by that font, we surrender every other claim upon us and yield every desire and want to belong only to Christ and live true to Christ, sacrificing our desire that we might be His own.  In the Holy Name of Jesus.  Amen.

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