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Sermons

The Beginning of Life’s Journey

1/8/2017 Baptism of Our Lord The text is Matthew 3:13-17.

Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

There are certain events and experiences in life that defy the power of words. Baptism is one such event – whether it is the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan or our baptism or the baptism of others in faith.

For us, baptism is a saving moment in life. In baptism, a person accepts the love and forgiveness of God and a person’s life is changed forever. Baptism is so special that a pastor once spoke these words to a baby shortly after he had baptized her. He said, “Little sister, by this act of baptism, we welcome you to a journey that will take your whole life. This isn’t the end. It’s the beginning of God’s experiment with your life. What God will make of you, we know not. Where God will take you, surprise you, we cannot say. This we do know, and this we say – God is with you.” No doubt, this pastor was speaking as much to the congregation as he was to the infant for these are words we all need to hear. For baptism is not a once done, soon forgotten event. Baptism is a life-giving event which draws us back to faith in Christ Jesus and strengthens us for daily living.

But too often, people think of baptism as nothing more than an insurance policy – insuring the receiver of the gift of eternal life. And it also carries the connotation of having arrived. So sometimes people actually say to pastors, “I want to be baptized and join the church as soon as I get my life in order.” Of course, if that is what any of us are waiting on, we will never be baptized. For none of us will ever have our lives sufficiently in order to be baptized.

Baptism is not something we earn, nor is it a sign that we have found all the answers. Baptism is a beginning. It is the beginning of a life journey to find meaning in the event itself. It is the desire to see the world differently, to see each other differently, and even to see ourselves differently. Baptism is a fresh start, not a destination. Baptism is not a free trial membership, but a rite of initiation into a way of life which Jesus promised would be full of trials.

Now we love to hear the story of Jesus’ baptism – how the heavens opened, the dove descended and God blessed his Son. We would like to think something like that happens when we are baptized. For we need to be prepared for our journey of faith, much like Jesus was prepared for his journey – as Jesus’ baptism, like ours, represented the beginning of his ministry.

Jesus submitted himself to baptism to fulfill all Righteousness – to be consecrated to God. In being baptized, Jesus became an example to his followers. Jesus submitted to John’s baptism of repentance even though he himself was perfect and had no need to repent. In so doing, Jesus identified with our sins and joined in the popular movement of his day, a grassroots movement started by a desert monk named John the Baptist who called for the repentance of Israel. Jesus chose to be baptized because he wanted to participate with the people in their desires to be close to God. Jesus chose to be baptized but his baptism did not give him immunity from dealing with the questions and temptations of life. His baptism did not protect him from the pain of betrayal and denial, and the agony of death. But his baptism helped him identify with us and our lives, and transformed John’s baptism of repentance into the baptism with water and Spirit.

Make no mistake, my friends. Those who are baptized in Christ Jesus have a new life in Christ Jesus. Baptism does not bless our old life. It gives us a new life that needs to be nurtured so that we can grow and mature in a faith that shows itself in actions toward the world around us. That’s what church is for. That’s what Bible study is for. That’s what prayer is for. All these help us on our journey to grow in faith and ministry.

Henri Nouwen, in his book Bread for the Journey, pointed out that “Many voices ask for our attention. There is a voice that says, ‘Prove that you are a good person.’ Another voice says, ‘You’d better be ashamed of yourself.’ There is also a voice that says, ‘Be sure to become successful, popular, and powerful.’ But underneath all these often very noisy voices is a still, small voice that says, ‘You are my beloved, my favor rests on you.’ That’s the voice we need most of all to hear. To hear that voice, however, requires special effort; it requires solitude, silence, and a strong determination to listen. That’s what prayer is. It is listening to the voice that calls us ‘my Beloved’.”

In baptism, we are proclaimed beloved children of God. And in baptism our self-centered endeavors die as we are being resurrected into a life marked by grace and love. In baptism, the power of sin and death is broken. This does not mean that we stop sinning. We remain sinners – but we now have a choice – to choose sin or grace, life or death, a blessing or a curse. When we live in baptismal grace, we touch the hearts of others and help open them to the Holy Spirit and new life in Christ.

But don’t think this happens overnight. Baptism is the beginning of a life journey which is full of temptations and struggles. So pray for strength and guidance and remember that God is with you always. You have been marked with the cross of Christ forever and claimed as a beloved son and daughter in his name.

Live in baptismal grace, my friends, as beloved children of a merciful God, and may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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