January 10, 2021 (Baptism of Our Lord) -- Pr. Phil Tonnesen

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Prayer of the Day:  Almighty God, you anointed Jesus at his baptism with the Holy Spirit and revealed him as your beloved Son.  Keep all who are born of water and the Spirit faithful in your service, that we may rejoice to be called children of God, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

 

An additional prayer for our world:  Eternal God, amid all the turmoil and changes of the world, your love is steadfast and your strength never fails.  In this time of danger and trouble, be to us a sure guardian and rock of defense.  Guide the leaders of our nation with your wisdom, comfort those in distress, and grant us courage and hope to face the future, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

 

Mark 1: 4-11

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’

The Baptism of Jesus

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

 

Some thoughts from Pastor Phil:

There’s something very soothing and relaxing about living by the water. From small ponds to ocean beachfronts, from little creeks to large rivers, water has a mesmerizing effect on many of us.  It’s easy to “get away from it all” when you are near the water.  Until…storms hit, and the water rises, and the potential for disaster increases.  Hurricane Hugo, Hurricane Katrina, Super Storm Sandy and the tsunami of 2004 are examples of the destructive power of water.

One thing that people who live near the water agree on is that preparation is essential.  Have an escape route planned; know what to do in the house if water starts to come in; be prepared for the worst.

Today we are focusing our thoughts on Jesus’ baptism and our life in Christ.  Many of us know, or were told, of our own baptism and the life-giving imagery of the baptismal ceremony.  “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…” Baptism, in a sense, helps prepare us for the worst life will throw at us.  Regardless of the storms that rise around us, we remember that we are in Christ and that we are baptized.

In our gospel lesson for today, Mark tells us that “John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”  People came from all over the Judean countryside and from Jerusalem to hear his message, confess their sins and be baptized in the Jordan River.  John also proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.  I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”  When John baptized Jesus, a voice came from heaven: “You are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Questions have surrounded Jesus’ baptism ever since. Christians agree that Jesus did not come to be baptized for forgiveness of sins.  Jesus alone lived a sinless life and had no need to be forgiven.  Nor do we believe that Jesus was baptized only to initiate the Sacrament of Baptism for the church.  So why was Jesus baptized?  Many answers have been suggested, but let me share three possible reasons for Jesus’s baptism.

First, the pronouncement by the Father was a strong affirmation for John and for all who heard it that life on earth had taken a dramatic turn and the Jesus was not just a Galilean peasant.  “You are my Son,” God said. When God talks, everyone should listen!

Second, Mark says the very next thing for Jesus after his baptism was the time spent in the wilderness.  Luke records the temptations in detail while Mark simply says Jesus “was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan.”  Surely, the affirmation by his Father was a source of strength and comfort as Jesus endured the physical, emotional and spiritual trials in the wilderness.

Third, Mark records that upon returning from the wilderness, Jesus began his public ministry.  “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near…”  Throughout the next three years, Jesus lived through incredible joys, but also incredible disappointment, great loneliness and great pain. Through it all, he surely remembered the Father’s words, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Certainly, one of the life goals for most, if not all, Christians, is to hear the Father say to us, “You are my son (daughter), the beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  While in a real sense, God says this at our baptism; that is just the beginning of life lived in relationship with God.  We also look forward to the day when we see God face to face and hear those words again.  Or, as Jesus said in the parable of the talents, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; …enter into the joy of your master.”

If we compare this relationship to a marriage, just as saying “I do” is the beginning of a lifelong commitment, so our baptism, as wondrous as it is, or was, represents only the beginning of a relationship with God that will never end.          

In an address to a Lutheran pastors’ conference, Donald Stuppy spoke about how Martin Luther viewed baptism as a daily source of strength and comfort for the Christian.  Stuppy said, “While we may recognize the blessings of baptism, we may not be fully aware of its value for our daily life.  How often do we think about or make mention of our baptism?  Are we making proper use of our baptism in our fight against sin?  Does it bring us comfort in times of trouble?  For Luther, a truly Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism, once begun and ever to be continued.  Therefore, let everybody regard his or her baptism as the daily garment which he or she is to wear all the time.  Luther was not one to say, “I was baptized,” but rather, “I am baptized!”  Our baptism may indeed be an act performed in the past, but its benefits and blessings are not confined to the past or reserved only for the future; they are present here and now.”

As the events of this past Wednesday were unfolding in our nation’s capital, many of us were glued to our televisions and/or computers as we wondered how such a thing could happen in our country.  As I tried to wrap my head around it, I was reminded of the Affirmation of Baptism liturgy in our Lutheran Hymnal.  As part of that service we are asked: “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 Jesus through word and deed,
  • to serve all people, following the example of Jesus,
  • and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?”

And our response is, “I do, and I ask God to help and guide me.”

Friends in Christ, we are joined together in the community of the baptized.  Drawing upon God’s spirit, we can never neglect each other or do each other harm.  We are fellow members of Christ’s body.  We are baptized to serve each other.  More than you and I realize, our baptismal life in Christ has power to offer people new beginnings.

Over the Christmas holiday, I ran into an acquaintance of mine from college.  It has been several years since I had last seen her.  I ran into her at a gas station in Hickory.  It was a cold morning and she shared with me what was going on in her life.  That morning her car would not start.  As a single parent she had to get her two youngsters off to day-care, she had to inform her boss that she would be arriving late for work, she had to call triple A and get someone to come and jumpstart her car.

And underneath all these botherations of that day lies the much deeper issues of a failed marriage, bringing up two small children on her own, and coping with the lonely moments when she wonders what happened to all the dreams and hopes that brightened her horizon just a few years ago.

I shared with her some of what was going on in my life.  I gave her updates on Deb and our three children.  I shared how frustrating it was to not be physically present in a faith community during this global pandemic.  And at that point she told me that she was concerned before the pandemic that she could not find the time or energy to become active in her congregation and to take part in many of the things she remembered her mother doing in the church in which she was raised.

Folks, this is a very common issue.  This is a situation in which the meaning of baptism is direct.  That acquaintance of mine needed to hear that her baptismal calling is not measured by the numbers of church activities she should immediately assume.  Rather, her baptism is her lifeline to make it through a morning like that one was, to hold fast to her dignity and worth as a mother of two children so dependent on her, to know that her work and life have meaning and promise, to find a family of believers.  That acquaintance of mine is not alone in her dilemmas.

So, friends, the question is, what about us?  Some of us may be at a high point in our life where everything is going very well.  Praise God for our blessings!  Remember our baptism and walk with God. Live each day in faithful obedience and grateful praise.

Other of us may be at a low point where one thing after another is not going as we would like it to go.  Praise God for your blessings and for God’s strength and help as we go through this rough time.  Remember our baptism.  We are loved by God.  Live each day in faithful obedience, trusting in God who is our help.

The point is simply this:  In good times and hard times, in good health or poor health, we walk with God as God’s beloved children.  Seek to please God, walk in faith, be prepared for anything.  Remember your baptism!  Amen.

 

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