Sermon – January 12, 2020 – Baptism of Our Lord

Grace and peace to you, this day and every day, from God our Father, from Christ our Beloved Saviour, and from the Holy Spirit, Amen.

I’ve got (Sat.: thirty-one)/ (Sun.: thirty)days. One month. Thirty-one / Thirty tediously long days until they’re here. … Pause … This will be the fifth time I’ve seen them perform and you see, …. I’m a little excited. … On February 11th, Sarah and (Larry and Annette) and I, will be in the Foellinger Great Hall of the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. We will be watching and listening as the St. Olaf Choir creates an aural experience of serenity, of peace, of praise, and of beauty. Their renditions of Abide With Me, Children of the Heavenly Father, Great Is Thy Faithfulness, and The King of Love, are inspirational and restorative. … Ok, I’m more than a little excited … The first time I heard them in person, I was actually privileged enough to witness one of their rehearsals prior to a performance at Krannert. It was amazing. I heard there, and at every subsequent performance, their awe-inspiring ability to unite their vocal tone and pitch to lift the harmonics of a chord, the elegance of a phrase, and the passion of a heart in such a way as to leave the audience stunned in awe and filled with joy. Their performance of beloved hymns and classical songs is so inspired, so precise, and ever so captivating. I have not experienced every single vocal performance in the history of humanity. I have not heard every heart-filled song. But what I have heard of the St. Olaf Choir has left me with the real sensation of unavoidable holiness. In those moments of praise and inspiration and beauty, …  in those precious moments, … I have heard the voice of God.

God’s Word from Scripture this evening/morning, speak to you and to me, with the voice of God that is more inspirational, more beautiful, and more transformatively redeeming, than the sounds of any choir could possibly be.

You see where I’m going with this.

In our readings for this evening/morning, we too hear the voice of God. In our text from Isaiah, we hear how the prophet, filled with the Spirit of God, speaks as God’s voice, proclaiming to the people the promise of the suffering servant who will suffer with and for the people of the nations in order to bring forth and establish justice, in order to teach and enlighten the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to free prisoners of the dungeon and the prisoners of darkness.

[Although unread this evening] In our Psalm text, the psalmist proclaims that the voice of the Lord is over the waters; the waters of creation itself, the waters of the tumultuous storms in nature, the storms in your life and mine. These waters are covered with the thundering voice of God. The psalmist proclaims the power of God’s voice, which breaks the trees themselves. God’s voice makes mountains and trees, those things we consider permanent and stationary in our world, shake and shiver and crumble. Despite the terrible fury and wondrous might of the voice of God, causing wilderness to shake and forests to be stripped of their plumage; despite this destruction, the psalmist reminds us that the Lord sits enthroned above nature, and might, and destruction, as King. The psalmist pleads, as do we in moments when we witness such raw majesty, that the Lord give strength to His people and bless us with peace.

In our epistle text this evening/morning, when Peter speaks to the people, it is important to remember that Peter’s ‘true understanding,’ is building on the wings of a dream.  Earlier in the chapter, Peter was planning on attending a meal at the home of Simon the tanner. He goes up on the roof to pray and falls into this trance dream-like state. In his dream, he is encountered by a massive sheet holding all-sorts of animals. He is invited, three times, to dine on food that he (and maybe we) considers to be unclean; quadrupeds, birds of the air, and reptiles. Peter freaks out a little bit. But the voice of God speaks to him again, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’A professor from Columbia Theological Seminary, Raj Nadella, says that “Luke describes [Peter’s] moment as a trance, an-out-of-body experience, but it was likely a nightmare for him, [both as a dream-like experience and as a metaphor to imagine the multitude of outsiders joining the church.]”Peter is not Paul. He is not called to proclaim Christ to the Gentiles. Nevertheless he is forced to reconsider how will he will respond when encountered by the voice of God telling Him that no-one is outside the scope of the redemptive and salvific love in Christ Jesus. … Then we come to the text of our epistle reading tonight/today, where Peter speaks to the crowd that Jesus was indeed anointed by God with the Holy Spirit and power, that He was a healer and a liberator, and that He suffered death and was raised by God, and that reunited with His followers, he commanded them to proclaim His love, His service, and His forgiveness of sins. The voice of God is all over this reading; it is in the preceding text of Peter’s dream and it profoundly resonates in Peter’s proclamation of Christ’s powerful redemptive love that conquers man-made divisions of race, gender, and the myriad of ways we declare one another to be unclean. Christ’s redemptive love conquers sin and offers freedom to we who are in bondage to the things we have done or the things we have failed to do. …  (pause)… Christ’s redemptive love is even powerful enough to conquer death itself.

In our Gospel text, Jesus travels from Galilee to the Jordan River, where he meets John the Baptist. We heard a few weeks ago how John the Baptist was in the wilderness preaching redemption and proclaiming the imminent arrival of Christ. John and Jesus are close. In Luke’s Gospel, we’re told that they are relatives. Both of them are no-doubt familiar with the origin stories of one another. In the Gospel of Luke, the angel Gabriel came to Mary and tells her to not be afraid. He tells her that she has found favor with God and will conceive in her womb and bear a son named Jesus. Luke’s Gospel also tells the dramatic story of Elizabeth who was barren but gave birth to John, regardless of the barrenness of her womb and the barrenness of her husband’s faith. And!when Mary visits Elizabeth, John the Baptist leaps in her womb at the presence of their (and our) Lord. And so, Jesus goes to Galilee to be baptized by his relative in the Jordan River and these two encounter one another yet again.

When Jesus comes to John, our Gospel text says ”John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’” … For me, reading this ‘would have prevented’stuff, reeks of Minnesotan politeness. But I can understand the submissive recognition. John has heard of Mary’s encounter with the angel, that Jesus is going to be the one who will save people from their sins. John knows that his second cousin is a big deal. Nevertheless, Jesus tells him that it is proper for John to baptize Him in order to fulfill all righteousness. John has been baptising people for repentance for a while now, and he recognizes that, despite any close relationship they have, the roles in this particular situation should be changed. Jesus is the incarnate Word of God, and although He has absolutely nothing in His life to require the baptism of repentance, Jesus recognizes that His ministry is to be contextualized in the midst of community and is constituted by the holistic committal of one’s heart, soul, and mind to the will of God. Jesus understands that He is to fulfill all righteousness in this moment. He knows that it is His duty and delight to be baptized by John, not for redemption or for the forgiveness of sins, but to acknowledge that to do so is to act consistently with God’s covenant commitments with all people. So John the Baptist consents to baptizing Jesus.

And this is where the good stuff happens. This …  this is a trinitarian moment.

John the Baptist baptizes Jesus. Jesus is confirming His commitment to His identity as the absolute personification of God’s redemptive and salvific Word, the Son of God. Jesus comes up from out of the water, and when He does, the heavens themselves open up. Our Gospel says that when this happens, “[Jesus] saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.” God the Father, speaks with a voice from heaven announcing, not only to the people gathered in that place, not only to those of us gathered here in this place, but to all people in all times and in all places, that this Jesus of Nazareth, this Christ, is the beloved, the Son of the almighty God. More than that, God is pleased, well-pleased, with Jesus!

(Pause) Dear friends in Christ, God considers you beloved as well. Whether you have had trinitarian moments in your lives or not, you can rest in the consolation that God is well-pleased with you. God sees you and me through the rose-colored glasses of his beloved Son. We know that we have not consistently committed our heart, mind, and soul to the will of God. But the Good News is this; when you and I have failed to be consistent in our self-understanding as children of God … when our lives are filled with storm and doubt … when we have declared our sisters and brothers as unclean … when we have failed to restrain our desires for recognition and control, for power and possessions, … when we have failed to bring ourselves back from these cliffs of despair, … God in Christ has bound Himself to you and to me in order that our broken circumstances and sinful compulsions would not be our identifying characteristics. When we have failed to coordinate our internal dispositions for good will, for fellowship, and for service, … with the external actions we live out day by day, Jesus has taken our failings into Himself and has given His life to purify the lives we live now and the lives we want to live for others.

Christ knows that He has given us new hearts, and invites you and I to remember our baptisms, to remember that we have died with Christ and will be raised in a resurrection like His. Our fears, our regrets, and our shames are not characteristic of who we are, or of whose we are. Christ calls to you and to me, that we might hear His voice in the midst of our daily struggles, that we might hear His voice as we seek a new pastoral shepherd for our flock.

When we become distracted and fail to hear God’s voice or fail to live lives of service for God, Jesus reminds you and me, that our hopes and our fears and our sins and the entirety of our being is met in His love on the Cross. Christ takes our failing into His flesh, that we may be baptized into His death and resurrected into His eternal life. In the resurrected life of Christ, you and I are called, and sent, and planted, to free prisoners of captivity and the prisoners of darkness. Even though we do nothing for ourselves in this matter, Christ does it all for you and for me and for all creation because it is proper for Him, in this way, to fulfill all righteousness.

Thanks Be To God.

Amen.