Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, our scriptures begin. In the beginning, what was thought to exist was a watery void. God separated the waters and brought into being sky. Then God gathered the waters into lakes and oceans and rivers, and dry land appeared. The Psalmist asked God to lead him to still waters, and Peter joined Jesus walking on water.
Water cleans and purifies. It has no shape of its own, and if you hold it in your cupped hands, it will slip right through your fingers. Watery tears of laughter and tears of sorrow can flow out of our eyes. Our bodies are an average of 60% water. Water can be calming. I find peace when looking at the ocean. It restores my soul. But although I know how to swim, I wear a life jacket in the wave pool at Water Country. If my grandchildren are with me, I hold on to them so they are not swept away. Water can be dangerous! Just ask Jonah or Noah. As essential as water is to life, it can destroy it. Water can bring life or death.
John stood in the Jordan River baptizing a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. There was something so compelling, people from all walks of life came. They must have had a sense of life and death standing in the water against the current, without life jackets, and holding on to each other so as not to be swept away. The whole thing was very dramatic compared to our standing at the baptismal font. So impressive was this strange man John that the crowds thought he might be the Messiah who would save them. As they stood waist-high in the river, John denied it, saying, “I am not the Messiah! Just wait!” John’s baptism offered a ritual cleansing through which people were told to repent, to turn around to face God. What John could not give them was healing and salvation. But he told them who could. It is the one whose shoes John said he was not worthy enough to stoop down and untie.
This one is Jesus Christ, the one in whose name we are baptized. Being one with God, and one with us, Jesus himself was baptized. Luther points to Jesus’ baptism as the call for his followers to imitate his action and adhere to his mission. Whether we want it or not, God is not willing to be separate from us. God chooses to be with us and engaged with us. Through Jesus, God chooses to be one of us, risking safety and security, and experiencing love and betrayal, life and death.
After Jesus was went under in the waters of baptism, he prayed. Right then, God declared, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” God shouted this from the heavens before Jesus had made a paralyzed person walk, or driven out demons. Jesus had not yet fed thousands of people from a dinner for five. Jesus had not begun to teach anyone about God’s love. In Luke’s gospel, the only thing we are told that Jesus did happened when he was growing up. He ditched his parents in the Temple.
This should sound familiar to us. Not just the ditching our parents when we were young, but God proclaiming God’s love for us without our having earned it. In the water and Word of baptism, God’s grace is made visible and real. In our baptism, we become daughters and sons, heirs of God’s kingdom. God loves us first. [Those of you in the By Heartbook study with Pastor Ballentine will read similar thoughts and words.]
How often do we forget that we are set right with God, that through Christ, we are justified by God’s grace alone? How often do we think, God could not possibly love me, especially after I lost my temper, ate the last cookie, and cursed the driver who cut right in front of me? And this was just this morning! How could God love me when I don’t even love myself? As Luther expressed in his Heidelberg Disputation, we cannot make ourselves lovable to God; God has already made us lovable. .” God is crazy in love with us! I’m not certain why in awe and wonder we don’t stop breathing for a moment.
God has always loved God’s creation. God has from the beginning longed for a relationship. God calls us by name.
But now thus says the Lord,
He who created you, O Jacob,
He who formed you, O Israel;
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
When you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
And the flame shall not consume you…
Because you are precious in my sight, and
honored, and I love you…
God first spoke these words to the Israelites who had been exiled, taken to a strange and foreign land called Babylon. On the edge of extinction, they had become a people of deep fear. They were overwhelmed and unprepared for life’s hard places. They were in the deep end, and forgot that God is the one who saves them, who is their life jacket. God sought to draw these bruised, bloodied, beleaguered people back to the relationship for which they were created in the first place – to life with the God who loves them. With these words, God reminds them to whom they belong.
That is what we are doing today as we welcome eight people into our community. In affirming our baptism, we remember that God has made us daughters and sons. By water and the Word in baptism, we are God’s own beloved.
In the silent moments that follow, I invite you to consider what would be different if you fully understood how much God loves you. How would knowing you are unconditionally loved change your relationship with others? Would anything change knowing that God also loves those people whom you have difficulty?
~Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin
By Heart: Conversations with Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2017. Chapter 5, 123-147, written by Kirsi Stjerna.
Isaiah 43:1-2, 4a, 5a.