Sermon for Jan. 12, 2014
Did you try it out yet? I know last Sunday was a long time ago, but do you remember my challenge? The challenge was to look yourself in the mirror, and to proclaim, to remind yourself, “I am a child of God, and doggone it, God is going to use me to change the world.”
I encouraged you to do that because of John’s words- “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the power to become the children of God.”
That is a blessing that reaches through the ages, through all of the faithful generations of the church, right down to you and me. It is not a promise that relies on what we do or don’t do. It’s not a promise that relies on how “strong your faith feels” right now or whether or not you have “come to Jesus”. It is a promise that God makes to you, because you are a claimed and chosen child of God in your baptism. You are named and claimed as God’s child in that moment. So let’s try it again:
“I am a child of God, and doggone it, God is going to use me to change the world.”
This morning, we hear about Jesus’ baptism from Matthew. I am reading a wonderful commentary this year by Frederick Dale Bruner on this Gospel, and so you will probably hear a lot from him in my preaching through the year as we work through Matthew. About this story of Jesus being baptized by John he says, “Let us first of all be simply surprised that Jesus gets baptized at all” (!)The one who John said was going to be a baptizer of the Holy Spirit, comes to be a baptizee. If we think about it, it is amazing. Wow- Jesus, very God in our midst, is baptized!
When Jon and I visited the holy land at about this time last year, it had rained many times more than it normally does. It was in the peak of the rainy season, and the rivers were about as high as they ever get. When we went down to the river Jordan to dip our fingers in the river it had flooded up the first
few steps leading down to the water. And yet, it was only 20 or 30 feet wide! I could have easily waded across the other side from Israel into Jordan, if I was willing to get my shoes wet and the government of Jordan would have allowed it (which they wouldn’t have). It’s a tiny river that surprises so many by its
pure insignificance in size. And there, Jesus chose to be baptized. There, Jesus allowed, no, requested, no, demanded that he be baptized by John.
Why would Jesus do such a thing? We confess that baptism is for the forgiveness of sin and we confess that Jesus had no sin. It doesn’t make sense.
It doesn’t make sense, until we remember that Jesus really was fully human. For the gospel writer Matthew, that means that he must fulfill all righteousness, be fully obedient to the law. That means that Jesus, as I’ve said many times through the Christmas and Epiphany season, doesn’t just pretend to be a human, he really is a human being. Bruner puts it this way,
“The first thing Jesus does for the human race is go down with it into the deep waters of repentance and baptism. Jesus’ whole life will be like this. It is well known that Jesus ends his ministry on a cross between thieves. It deserves to be as well known that Jesus begins his ministry in a river among sinners. From baptism to execution, Jesus stays low, at our level, identifying with us at every point, becoming as completely one with us in our humanity as, in the church’s teaching, he is believed to be completely one with God in eternity.”
Jesus enters into the waters of baptism because, even though he was sinless, he was like us. Have you ever watched a balloon that is almost out of helium floating around, bobbing just above the surface of the earth? Jesus isn’t like a balloon animal that bobs just above us. Jesus actually touches the ground. He walks with us.
Fred Craddock, an Episcopal seminary professor and fantastic weaver of stories told a story when he preached on Jesus going into the baptismal waters as one of us. It goes like this:
Some years ago I was invited to preach at Riverside Church in New York some years ago. William Sloan Coffin, Jr., was the pastor and he said, ‘Fred, Can you come up and fill the pulpit? I have to be away.’ So I said I could come. It was in the summer. I was free. He said, ‘You can stay in my
apartment, it’s near the church. I’ll tell the super that you’re coming.’
So I went to New York and the super let me into his apartment. Bill was a bachelor at the time, and you could tell it. He was a great preacher, but he didn’t keep house. It really was a terrible apartment. I woke up on the Sunday morning I was to preach and went into the kitchen to get something from the refrigerator for breakfast. A note on the door said, ‘There’s nothing in here, Fred. Don’t look inside.’ Of course, I looked inside. There was nothing in there. He had told me I
could go to the church and get breakfast there. I thought, great, I’ll eat with the church staff and find out where I’m to sit, stand, and who does this and that during the service. It will be a great orientation.
“I grabbed my robe and walked to the church. When I got there, there was a line of men down the side of the building and around the corner, over two hundred people. I got in line. ‘Next!’ I went to the little window and I got a scoop of egg, a sausage patty, a biscuit and a cup of coffee. ‘Next!’ I found a place at a table across from a man who had seen better days. He still had links on his cuffs, worn and dirty though they were. We ate. Finally I said to him, ‘Where are you from?’ He said, ‘Well, here and Albany.
“I asked, ‘What did you do in Albany?’
“ ‘I was a stockbroker. Was doing well, too, but the bottle got me. Lost my job, my house, my family, my marriage, everything, so here I am. My daughter said I could live with her as long as I stayed sober, but she didn’t want to raise her kids around a drunken old man. I was sober for four or five weeks, and then, I couldn’t do it. So I’m back.’
“He asked, ‘Where are you from.’
“I said, ‘Georgia.’
“ ‘What do you do?’
“ ‘I’m a preacher.’
“He laughed and said, ‘The bottle gets all of us, doesn’t it?’
Says Craddock, “When he said that to me, I wanted to get up, hit a knife on a glass to get everyone’s attention, stand up on the table and say, ‘Listen, you losers. I am Dr. Fred B. Craddock, the Distinguished Professor of New Testament and Preaching at Candler School of Theology, Emory University, and in a few minutes I’ll be preaching in one of the great pulpits in America and you’ll be back on the street. I’m not like you!’But I didn’t say that, because it would not have been true. You can be at the peak of your earning power or you can put your head in the post office window and ask, ‘Are the checks going to be late again this month.’ There’s a sense that it is all the same. The invitation into the kingdom of God is quite simple. A voice says, ‘Next!’” Could that be what God is telling us in the account of Jesus’ baptism…no matter who or what we are, ultimately, in God’s Kingdom, we are in the same line?
That breakfast line is Jesus’ line. That line is the line that we join to be, in Luther’s words, at the same time sinners and justified through Christ who became a man for us.
Do you remember my challenge? Say it with me if you do, “I am a child of God, and doggone it, God is going to use me to change the world.” God promises this to be true, and through Jesus’ baptism God makes it to be true. Through our own baptism we are intrinsically tied to Jesus’ life and death. Paul
says it beautifully in Romans, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
And so, we leave this place and go back out into the world, walking wet in the waters of “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all”. We go out, redeemed, ready to proclaim to the world that “I am a child of God, and doggone it, God is going to use me to change the world.”
Pastor Kate Costa
St. Luke Lutheran Church