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January 7, 2007 (The First Sunday after the Epiphany: The Baptism of Our Lord)—“Living Out Of and Up To”

Interim Pastor Steven Jensen

Isaiah 43:1–7; Psalm 29; Acts 8:14–17; Luke 3:15–17, 21–22

The Lutheran church and others have returned in recent years to an emphasis on the Baptism of Jesus on this Sunday rather than on the Epiphany. And many who celebrate this day focus on the event, while Luke’s main interest is not the baptism, but what happened after the baptism.

I baptized Kevin as an infant 34 years ago. His parents took their responsibilities promised during that rite most seriously and raised him to appreciate the gift God had given in that sacrament. They made it clear that, as a child of God, Kevin was loved no matter what, that God would be with him no matter where, and that he had a responsibility to live a life worthy of Christ’s sacrifice no matter what occupation he chose.

I’ve handed out a lot of Baptismal candles in those 34 years, and Kevin is one of the few I know whose parents brought it out and lighted it on the anniversary of his baptism each year. Kevin and his wife now do the same for their two children.

For that whole family, Christ’s baptism was a symbol of his desire to follow the will of God as he lived his life as one of us. Just as that anointing was the beginning of his ministry, it signaled for them the expectation to begin their individual and family ministry.

For so many people, the main interest is in the ceremony of the baptism, not what happens after the baptism. For Kevin and his family, it was both the sacrament of baptism and what happens afterward.

In Kona, a female member of the church regularly encouraged her agnostic husband to attend with her and to join in adult classes. At home she asked that he join her in prayer at meals and before bed. The best he seemed to manage was attending church on her birthday and with the Christmas/Easter crowd.

Then he had a personal crisis that, for the first time in his life, he was not able to handle on his own. His wife suggested a therapist from the Yellow Pages, and out of desperation he went. It turned out this psychologist was a Christian and helped him see that the majority of his turmoil was because of his internal struggle with his faith. He was trying to continue his teenage rebellion against his parents’ faith as an adult in his 30s, all the while starving himself of the spiritual sustenance he knew he needed and was abundantly available to him.

When he came to realize the truth of what she said, he became a new man. He then could not get enough spiritual feeding. Each new awareness made him hungry for more. His life and the events in it began to make sense. His marriage and partnership with his wife clearly was a gift from God that saved him and helped him understand the power of love.

As he learned of the sacraments, he took most seriously his preparation for baptism—and insisted the most Christ-like person he knew do the anointing—his wife. He saw his baptism as a key event in his life that he wanted to savor, one that would open him to the other saving acts of Christ, and prepare him to live a whole new life as a child of God. His First Communion was likewise something for which he prepared and an occasion of celebration for him and all in the congregation.

I have rarely seen such a transformation. He no longer feared challenges of work or illness or opinions of others—any of the challenges we regularly face. God was with him, and God would empower him. Jesus had likely faced any challenge he could imagine and had overcome it. Baptized into Christ, he could, too.

Now each day was a gift from God and an opportunity to use his God-given talents in celebration and thanks. His marriage is one to behold—two Christians living out their vows with God as their head, each day better than the day before. He plays and sings at worship, is on council, heads the property committee, seeks out the visitors and shy members, instigates ministries, encourages and empowers others. His other interactions with people on the Big Island were at first startling to some—he was a whole new being. But now his affect is an inviting one, and people instantly sense that they can trust him and learn from him—and have him as a true and valued friend.

It wasn’t what happened at his baptism; it was what happened because of his baptism. It was like he, too, heard the voice of God saying, “This is my beloved son. I have always been pleased with him. Welcome back, John. Now receive the Holy Spirit and live in its light. Become the person I created you to be.”

These are two examples of baptism that clearly stand out from many others. But they do not have to, and they should not. That same transformational power is ours. We have been given the same message in baptism. “This is my beloved daughter/son. I have always been pleased with you. Welcome to my family. Now receive the Holy Spirit and live in its light. Become the person I created you to be.”

Think again about what happens in baptism. As a sacrament, it connects us with the Holy; it joins us to the Saving acts of Christ: to die to sin and be reborn children of God. It gives us power to be the sons and daughters of a loving Father and to live life to the fullest. It makes us new creatures who celebrate the gift of God in Christ and enables us to look forward to his return. Craddock offers this summary of this section: “When repentance and forgiveness are available, judgment is good news (v. 18). The primary aim is to save the wheat, not to burn the chaff” (Luke, Interpretation Commentaries, p. 49).

If we focus solely on the Baptism of Jesus as simply another example of his obedience to the will of God, we miss a great deal. There are those whose faith is so centered on the historical Jesus that they can’t live their lives in the new period after his Ascension under the power of the Holy Spirit. If all we do is talk about the historical Jesus, e.g., arguing about the virgin birth, the miracles, the physical resurrection, we may be making faith nothing more than believing historical events really happened, i.e., a history lesson. While such teachings are certainly part of our Christian confession of faith, for the early believers in the Book of Acts, faith was relying on the power of the Holy Spirit for life today. They recognized that Jesus had left this earth. In order for the ministry of Jesus to continue, it would have to be done by all the believers who had been filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.

Again, it was after Jesus’ baptism the Spirit in the form of a dove alighted on him and God spoke. Bodily descent has the character of permanence. The Spirit not only descended upon Jesus; the Spirit of God came in bodily form and it will remain upon Jesus.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

The descent of the Spirit upon Jesus was an anointing (and empowering) for his ministry on earth. Too often, I’m afraid, the Holy Spirit has become for us a topic of discussion, rather than a power for ministry.

Both the temptation story and the Isaiah quote indicate that Jesus’ Spirit-led ministry is to battle and defeat evil in whatever form it appears. And, that Spirit-led ministry continues after the ascension through “all flesh” upon whom God has now poured the Spirit.

Being the Son of God means facing temptation and being servant to all in need. It is not a life of glory, but a life that will lead to the cross.

Tannehill suggests that the devil tries to tempt Jesus “with another understanding of his role as Son of God, for it could be understood as privilege rather than calling. Through struggle, Jesus must arrive at the right understanding of his position as Son of God” (Luke, Interpretation Commentaries, p. 85). For the Christian, we must arrive at the right understanding of our relationship with God and with others. Christianity does not bring privilege, but a calling.

Is God “well pleased” with us because we do things that please God; or does God’s positive attitude towards us because of who we are, before we have done anything pleasing or non-pleasing, motivate us to seek to do what is pleasing to God—to live up to what God has already declared us to be?

Tannehill writes:

God is affirming a special relationship with Jesus and uses words that express the closest kind of familial and emotional bond. Jesus is “my Son,” he is “the Beloved,” and he is one with whom God is “well pleased” (an indication of God’s special favor). With these words, God confirms a special relationship with Jesus and expresses confidence in him. But with the relationship goes responsibility, for the relationship implies obedience and the gift of the Spirit implies a mission. God’s expressed confidence in Jesus binds God’s cause to Jesus, who is now responsible for it. Jesus must respond to God’s trust by doing God’s will (Luke, Interpretation Commentaries, p. 85).

I don’t think that Luke tell us about Jesus’ baptism just to inform us about what happened to Jesus. He relates this story also to indicate something about our baptisms, our need to be in prayer, our anointing with the Spirit, and our subsequent battles with evil and ministry in the world. We have a “beloved” and “well-pleasing” relationship with God. With that comes the responsibility to live out of that relationship—to fulfill the mission God sends before us—to live up to the confidence God has placed on us.

As we look afresh at the Baptism of Christ, remember what happened at your baptism. Celebrate the gift of new life given you at that moment. Repeat by daily living what can be said of you as a brother or sister of Christ:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Live out of and up to your Baptism.

Amen.


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