Grace to you and peace from God our creator and from our Lord and savior Jesus the Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, amen.
According to our readings Mark this year, Jesus has the shortest childhood ever. Just a few weeks ago, he was born, then last week for Epiphany he’s still very young when he’s visited by the wise men, and now, just a week later – BAM - he’s an adult. But then again, that’s pretty par for the course when it comes to the gospel of mark, which is the Gospel we are reading through this year. Mark tends to move very fast – going from scene to scene without time to take a breath. Since this is the year in the three-year cycle that we are in Mark, I challenge you to read the entire gospel straight through, preferably in one sitting – then you’ll notice a few things: it’s fairly short and Mark writes like he’s pulling an all-nighter and his Gospel is due at 8 the next morning.
You will also notice: no birth story. No shepherd or angels, no Bethlehem or manger, not even Mary or Joseph get a mention at the beginning. Here, Jesus just appears on the scene, in fulfillment of the prophecy proclaimed by a camel-pelt-wearing, bug-eating prophet named John who baptized people out in the middle of nowhere. So, Jesus joins the line to get baptized, but when he does… something different happens. The heavens are ripped apart, the Holy Spirit descends on him, and he is called beloved child of God.
Wait minute here. This is not actually all THAT different than what happens to YOU when you were baptized. Well, maybe not the part about the heavens being ripped open. But we believe that when we are baptized, the Holy Spirit comes to us and we are called beloved children, welcomed into the family of God.
How many of you were baptized when you were a baby or really young? How many of you were baptized when you were older or an adult? Baptism starts Jesus’s ministry, much like it starts OUR lives - at whatever age - as part of God’s family and the body of Christ.
Today, we commemorate The Baptism of our Lord, is a great opportunity to talk about …. Baptism of course. When was the last time you thought about your baptism? Martin Luther taught that we should think about our baptisms daily… but how many of us do? After all, some days it’s hard to feel like we have been chosen by God… in much the same way, it’s sometimes hard to see God’s constant and sustaining presence in our lives. Out of sight, out of mind, as they say. So, at some point, the Church came up with the idea of “sacraments.” One of the early church teachers named Augustine wrote that a sacrament is “the visible form of an invisible grace.” Think of sacraments as giant post-it notes that can remind us of God’s love in our lives.
Lutherans, along with most other protestants, have two sacraments –one being baptism, and the other is the Lord’s supper. If you’re familiar with the Catholic tradition at all, you might remember that they add five more to their list - marriage, confession, confirmation, last rights, and ordination. No one would argue that these aren’t all good things to do, things that could enhance our lives a Christians and followers of Jesus in many ways… but it’s just that WE do not consider these other five things sacraments… or rather, they are not quite as central to our faith as Baptism and Holy Communion.
So… then what makes a sacrament a sacrament? Luther defined a sacrament as having two parts. First, it must contain: First, a word from Jesus, and second, some sort of early element, something tangible and of visible substance.
For holy communion, Jesus says, “This is my body, given for you, do this in remembrance of me,” and the elements are – (bread and wine). For baptism, Jesus commands us to baptize us in his name and promises to be with us, and the tangible early thing is – (Water, of course, very good).
Luther wrote a lot about this in his Small Catechism – which you might also say is the Lutheran Handbook for Dummies. It’s got all the basics of the Christian faith in there – the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles Creed, the Ten Commandments, and short explanations on the sacraments, of course.
You can even have access to the Small Catechism right at your fingertips, on your smart phone! The next time you get into a deep theological conversation about baptism with one of your work colleagues, friends, or family, - because I’m sure it happens a lot! - you can pull out your smart phone, and go right to Luther’s explanation of Baptism. Because of course you have all downloaded the Small Catechism app, which is completely free! And if you haven’t, this app can be found in both iTunes and in Google Play. Feel free to download it after the service though. But seriously, you never really know when you might need to look up something about baptism. After you’ve downloaded that, and also have read the entire Gospel of Mark, you can move on to reading what Luther wrote about baptism. It’s short, I promise.
Now we’re going to do something a little different… we’re going to take this time to walk through the baptism service and explore why we do what we do. If you would turn to page 227 in the front of the hymnal, that’s where our baptism liturgy begins… of course with prayer. Both options summarize what baptism is and why it’s important – how it connects us to new life in Christ.
Flipping over to the next page… you’ll see at the top, an option for either the parents and sponsors to present their child for baptism, or an option for the person to respond for themselves, if they are old enough…..
With baptism comes promises… the most important promise of course is that we are God’s beloved children and God is always with us… but with baptism also comes the call to live as God’s people out in the world. Look at that list here… how are we doing?
How have we been at living with God’s people and treating OTHERS as beloved children of God?
How have we been at listening to God’s word and coming to the Lord’s supper?
How familiar are we with the basic teachings of our faith?
How often to we crack a Bible open, or at least read a devotional book or email?
How often do you talk to God?
How are we doing at nurturing the younger generations in all things?
This is quite a list. Of course, living in a world where we a bogged down by sin, temptation, limitations, brokenness, and injustice… living the baptismal promises is easier said than done. So many things get in the way… and so that’s why there is an exorcism included in the baptism service. That’s right! I bet you didn’t know that! … at the top of page 229 is the remnants of parts from an ancient exorcism rite. At this point, we proclaim together what we are turning our backs on or renouncing – the devil, the forces that defy and rebel against, and draw us away from God… followed by the creed, which of course is the proclamation of what we DO believe.
Flip the page… and you’ll see the Thanksgiving at the Font, and hear a prayer written by Martin Luther that’s called “The Flood prayer.” Here we get a thanksgiving of all that God has done, with and through the gift of water throughout the ages… starting at the very beginning, back in Genesis, which we heard in our Old Testament reading for today. What began at creation culminates in the death and resurrection of Jesus. In baptism we are baptized into Jesus’ death… but we are also raised up to new life in Jesus’ resurrection.
….and THEN we get to the actual BAPTIZING part… finally! For something that takes about five seconds to actually do… it certainly has a BIG IMPACT. Whether you were sprinkled with just a little water, or dunked into a pool… whether this happened when you were 5 days old, 5 years old, or 50 years old… whether you were wearing a white gown or a white tux or just a white onesie…. Once you are baptized, you become God’s child forever, and you now belong to Christ.
In the ancient tradition of anointing with oil, a cross is drawn on the forehead of the baptized person, along with a prayer for the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit, which comes from the prophet Isaiah. In the words of another, modern prophet, Stevie Wonder, here is where we say: “here we are… signed, sealed, delivered, I’m yours, God.”
But baptism does not happen in a vacuum. We get baptized with other people from our faith community present for a reason – because we all need help in living out the baptismal life. As the family of God, we support and sustain one another in this work, in “bearing God’s creative and redeeming word to all the world.” It’s a big job… but we’re all in this work together… with Jesus leading us and guiding our way. He has walked this way before us, and we could not have a better guide.
You may not remember hearing it, but on the day of your baptism, God whispered this in your ear, “YOU are my child and I love you!” We may not have SEEN the heavens rip apart above us, but on your baptism day God burst into your life and you would never be the same again. You may not remember FEELING the Holy Spirit descend on you like a dove, but on that day the Holy Spirit lit a fire inside of YOU, to let this light shine. You are daughters and sons of God, beloved, and nothing can take that away. Thanks be to God. Amen.