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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service.
January 08, 2023
Grace to you and peace from God our Creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
One afternoon, at the congregation I served in Phoenix, a man and a woman – brother and sister – approached me in the church parking lot and asked if I would go with them to the hospital to honor their brother’s dying wish to be baptized as a Lutheran.
I invited them back to my office to talk some more and learn about the situation. And, as we talked, it became clear that Robin, their brother, wasn’t only dying but that death was imminent. So I went.
Robin had been in the hospital for almost a week and had been on morphine for that entire time, so he was unresponsive when I got there. But his family assured me that this was what he wanted. So I baptized him, laid hands on him and prayed, and then marked him with the sign of the cross with oil.
Afterwards, I stood at the foot of the bed and talked with his family. And as we talked, I heard Robin’s breathing shift. And he died about 20 minutes later.
Usually, when a baptism happens it’s a joyous occasion with applause and sometimes even a party or family gathering afterwards. Robin’s baptism was a joyous occasion, too. But for different reasons.
Our Christian practice of baptism has its origins in the Jewish rites of purification. And the practice that John the Baptist did was one for repentant sinners that was performed in “living water” – in this case, a running river. And he’d been proclaiming that one who was more powerful than he was coming.
So when Jesus arrived to be baptized, John was understandably a little flummoxed. Because it isn’t often that a student gets to do something like that for the master. But Jesus assures him, “Let it be so now – for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”
And in those next few minutes, the Holy Spirit came upon him and his identity was confirmed by God.
There are differing opinions on what righteousness really means, but what it boils down to is God putting people in a right relationship with God’s self. In other words, all sinners and the whole world are made right with God. And in this “rightness” we’re made to work in and through the ministry of the One who fulfills all righteousness.
It’s an internal characteristic that we practice externally by doing the revealed will of God. And as children of God, we do this simply by being children of God. Because what shines through us is not ourselves, but God’s own righteousness.
But we can only live into that – that is to say, that we can only do that to the degree that we hear and believe the good news that we, too, are beloved children of God.
Baptism is the place where God’s love for us becomes personal. You’ve heard me say this at the font during children’s messages, but in baptism God’s love goes from being this nebulous, “out there” concept to something we can physically touch as the water is poured on us.
God’s grace touches each one of us through the water and the Word, and assures us not only of who we are, but also whose we are.
There’s an old saying that says “a human is the only animal that can blush and the only one that needs to.” Anyone who works in the caring professions will tell us that guilt is the most widespread negative force affecting the human psyche. It eats us up – and even though most of the time we do a good job of hiding it, it’s still there, deep down gurgling within us.
Sin and the guilt over what we’ve done in the past, will eat us alive if we’re not careful. But in Christ, in our baptism, there’s no ground for guilt. Jesus forgives us of everything we have ever done or will ever do. When we trust that, when we trust Jesus, it’s as if we’ve never sinned.
That’s justification by grace: it’s just as if we’ve never sinned. And God’s grace is that powerful.
In baptism, God claims each one of us as God’s own and calls us “beloved” – dearly loved, precious, treasured, cherished. The water and God’s Word give us the audible and visible assurance that God has washed away our sin, claimed us as children, and empowered us with the Spirit to go out and do all that God calls us to do.
And when we live into who we are as God’s beloved, forgiven children we become witnesses to what God has done in our lives. And bearing witness to God’s presence in our lives isn’t about being able to explain theology, it’s about telling our stories.
And it can be hard to do that sometimes. We live in a culture that pushes back against that – that judges us and tells us we’re not good enough, or that the gifts we have to offer aren’t enough. It tries to undermine God’s claim on us, and convince us that we’re something less than God’s beloved.
But we all have at least one story to tell that says otherwise – that affirms God’s presence in our lives and assures us of God’s claim that we are beloved. And when we tell our stories, we remind others that they, also, are beloved by God.
In my children’s message today, I encouraged the kids – and the rest of you, since you were listening – to dip their fingers in the water of the font and mark themselves and others with the sign of the cross, and to say the words, “you are a precious child of God.”
We all need to be reminded of that every day, and sometimes multiple times each day. Another way to do it is to mark the sign of the cross on the palm of your hand. So I invite you to hold out your hand – right or left, it doesn’t matter – and with the other, mark the sign of the cross on your palm.
And say the words, “I am God’s beloved child – nothing will ever change that.” It’s okay to say those words out loud and remind yourself of who you are and whose you are.
We are, each one of us, dearly loved, precious, treasured, and cherished by God. Nothing will ever change that. Whether it’s for a few seconds, twenty minutes, or a hundred years or more. We are loved by God – and nothing will ever change that. Thanks be to God! Amen.