Today we remember the Baptism of our Lord.
Most of us, I assume have been baptized. I was four when I was baptized. Before my mother remarried, I attended a Mennonite church with my grandmother, a denomination that practiced believer’s baptism, usually in the teenage years.
My mother and I joined Christ Lutheran church in Lancaster. The year was 1967, a time when acolytes were male and women were three years away from being ordained Pastors in the Lutheran church. I have a baptismal picture of myself wearing a red dress with large blue buttons, along with lace ankle socks, black patent leather shoes and white gloves. I probably had no idea what was happening when Pastor John Lose had me stand on a stool and scoop water on my head. At that point, I was relying on my mother to carry out the baptismal promises until my confirmation.
Jesus was probably around 30 years old when he was Baptized by John. There is always a question that arises when we talk about the Baptism of Jesus – can you guess what it is? Why did Jesus, the son of God, have to be baptized, especially if we believe that the function of this sacrament, in the words of Martin Luther, “ (Baptism) works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare”. If Jesus was God, and Jesus was without sin, why on earth did he need to be baptized?
Looking at biblical history, there is no clear Old Testament precedent and prophecy for baptism with water. For its baptismal practices, the New Testament does not draw on Old Testament traditions, laws and practices. However, the Qumran community did and one of its practices was its daily baptismal rites. This Qumran community lived in caves that are better known for the location of the dead sea scrolls. This community practiced daily baptismal rites of purification. Some scholars believe that John was part of this ascetic community.
John was a prophet. Other scholars such as theologian Robert L. Pelkington write that OT prophetic behaviors and declarations describing the coming of the messianic age used water images. For the prophets of Israel water was a scarce and priceless necessity and it figured largely in their description of the golden age. For these prophets, messianic times will be characterized by a plentiful supply of water. John the Baptist fulfilled these prophecies by using water, not to prepare earth for vegetative life, but to prepare mankind for eternal life.
There may be another explanation on which I want to focus: Jesus, in his first public action as an adult, affirms this identity and commission at his baptism. God bears witness in verbalizing Jesus’ identity as God’s son.
John’s baptism of repentance calls people to a way of life that expresses commitment to God. This baptism occurs in the Jordan, the river that played an important role to the people of Israel, they entered into a new communal life to be shaped by God’s will instead of oppressive Egyptian power and punitive wilderness wanderings. Like other players in Biblical history, Jesus receives a call to repent, confesses sin, and commits to God’s will. However, we know that Jesus was without sin. This story of Jesus and his baptism instead focused on the exchange between Jesus and John, and then God’s declaration of Jesus’ identity, which takes center stage. This was a public event that commissioned the ministry of Jesus.
The baptism of Jesus had powerful effects. Matthew, like the Mark and Luke, recorded three events as Jesus rose from the water:
First the sky opened, which meant that heaven and the earth were no longer separated. God was one with his people. The kingdom of God was now present.
Secondly, the Spirit descended in the form of a dove – The descent of the Spirit had a specific purpose: to call and equip Jesus for a public ministry. The Spirit called Jesus to ministry that would unite people to God
Finally, a heavenly voice spoke. This voice revealed Jesus as the Messiah, God’s Anointed and emphasized the love relationship between the Father and his Son.
All three were remnants of God’s power in the baptism. And all three remnants are part of our own baptisms.
Most of have been baptized as infants, with our parents, or sponsors making the initial promises for us, until we are old enough to proclaim our own identity as disciples of Christ, when we too are publicly commissioned into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus; commissioned to public ministry by following the teachings of Jesus in the rite of confirmation.
In our baptisms, plain water becomes life giving water rich in grace through the word of God. In our Baptisms, the holy spirit works to create in us a new spiritual life with the power to over come sin. We have the privilege in our Affirmation of Baptism, also known as confirmation to take responsibility for ourselves and our own journeys as disciples of Christ. But we are not alone in this journey.
We have the community of St. Peter’s, our family and friends, we have the Holy Scriptures that speak to us, the Lutheran Doctrine to help guide and inform us. And we remember our baptisms, the day we were given new life in Christ as children of God.
How many people here today have been confirmed either here or in another parish? Raise your hand if you remember your confirmation. I want you all to look at the inside cover of your bulletins. We are going to restate our affirmation of our baptisms in the presence of this community. I will ask you to make these promises and you can all respond at the end:
You have made public profession of your faith. Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism?
To live among God’s faithful people
To hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper
To proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word, and deed,
To serve all people, following the example of Jesus,
And to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?
Respond: If do and I ask God to help and guide me.
As you can see the rite of affirmation of Baptism requires action on our part as disciples of Christ. We don’t carry out these promises in order to gain salvation, Baptism and confirmation is not just some “insurance policy” that grants us passage into God’s kingdom when we die, but it is a serious commitment to living out our lives as disciples of Christ. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus took away our worry about our life after death. We don’t have to worry if we are good enough for God, because thankfully, God loves us no matter what.
Many of our young people believe that confirmation classes can be boring and are not really sure why it is necessary. Actually, confirmation is not necessary. You do not have to be confirmed to become a member of this church. You can simply join when you are ready. Confirmation won’t earn you extra brownie points with God – you won’t get a fast pass into heaven.
But the church wouldn’t be diligent in its responsibilities if we didn’t offer confirmation classes or Christian education classes as well. As the church, during each person’s baptism, we promise to support parents and sponsors by teaching them the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten commandments and place in their hands the holy Scriptures. We provide worship in order to live among God’s faithful people and to partake in the Lord’s Supper. We support their faith journeys. We the church, along with parents and sponsors are responsible for every baptized member of this community.
Confirmation is a time when we take our own responsibility to live as disciples of Christ and to make a public affirmation of our faith as well as committing to membership in St. Peter’s.
We don’t do it alone, we support each other as a community. We support each other as we worship and work together in this community of faith. In worship, we share the peace, we sing praises to God, we hear the words of scripture and we come to the table together to receive the body and blood of our Lord and Savior. We proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in our worship and evangelism ministries, when we bring others to worship, Bible study or Educational activities or when we tell our own individual faith stories. We are called to serve others, both inside and outside the walls of our church and to strive for justice and peace – to advocate for those who are marginalized by unjust systems, to choose political candidates using a Gospel lens, to walk with Jesus by loving God and loving our neighbors.
So, you see, Baptism is just the beginning of our discipleship. Our parents and sponsors first made the commitments for us, at confirmation, we affirmed our Baptism and choose to publicly affirm our commitment to Christ and that commitment continues until finally enter God’s eternal kingdom.
I am closing with a quote from famous Christian author Max Lucado Indeed, baptism is a vow, a sacred vow of the believer to follow Christ. Just as a wedding celebrates the fusion of two hearts, baptism celebrates the union of sinner with Savior.
Today – remember those vows – the vows taken by our parents or sponsors, the vows we made at confirmation and most importantly, the vows we take as a Community of Christ to guide and support each other on our faith journeys as followers of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.