Baptism of our Lord – January 17, 2020

Faith Lutheran Church

Isanti, MN


Grace to you all and peace from God our creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.

Baptism is a central part of our life of faith together. A few weeks ago with the confirmation students, we talked about baptism and what it means in our lives. We discussed how baptism takes place and why we baptize in the name of the triune God: father, son and holy spirit.

One of the major takeaways from our time together was that through baptism, we are welcomed into a community. And that the welcome we receive doesn’t end after one is baptized, after they go through the water, but that welcome is extended throughout the rest of their life.

Baptism means a daily dying to sin and rising to new life. And all of this begins through the water. And whether that water was from the Jordan river in the Holy Lan, from the Rum River down the road, the sink in the bathroom or a puddle form the melting snow, it is not simply water, but water used according to God’s command and connected to God’s word.

In many churches these days, the process of welcoming people in (especially infants) focuses on baptism by water. However, in the earliest churches, there was a really strong emphasis on receiving the holy Spirit as part of entrance to the faith community–An emphasis that was focused on in our second reading. In that reading from the book of Acts, Paul learned that the believers in Ephesus “hadn’t even heard there was a holy spirit” and he was really shocked. And if you or I were in Paul’s place, I would say that we would likely be shocked, because even if the Holy spirit is the least mentioned member of the trinity in our congregational life, we all know of the spirit! We have all heard of the spirit.

Paul sought to remedy that by baptizing them in the name of Jesus, at which time they received the  Holy spirit. And at that time, the disciples, these people who had previously not even heard of the spirit, began to speak in tongues and prophecy.

Just imagine that for a second. Wouldn’t that have been amazing ti witness? A transformation before your eyes!

While Prophecy is often connected with a magical ability to fortell future events, especially in the book of acts and for the early church, to prophecy was to speak not about the future, but rather about the present. To prophecy was to “speak in God’s name on behalf of God’s work in the world.” Words of prophecy had the ability to change the world. I believe that words of prophecy still have that ability to change the world.

Now, in order to believe that prophecy still has the ability to change the world, that would imply that there still is change necessary in the world. For the early church, that change they desired to bring about was an awareness of the Gospel of Jesus. The early church was committed to spreading the message of Jesus, a message that would bring

“good news to the poor…release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, would let the oppressed go free, and would proclaim the year of the lord’s favor.”

For the early church, this message was not only spread by word of mouth or lip service, but through how they lived their lives. The earliest believers sought to live in community where they could share their resources with one another. And because of the holy spirit that empowered them, they shared this good news in word and deed even when it put them at odds with the rulers and authorities.

Remember, Rulers and authorities, kings like Herod that we learned about last week–they maintained their power through oppressing the poor and outcast. So when a movement that spoke of a different reality being possible, a reality that didn’t pit people against one another, a reality where everyone has enough and derives their worth from who they are rather than what they have-it make sense that this Jesus movement upset the powers at be.

As followers of Christ, we name and recognize that sin is a reality of the world we live in. When we join in the confession and forgiveness, we acknowledge those things we have done and those things we have failed to do.

It can be easy to say those words, simply reading what is written without much thought. I will admit that for many parts of the liturgy that we regularly say together it is easy to fall into a pattern of rote repetition, rather than intentional reflection. Yet the words we say, especially those in our worship life are chosen very intentionally. For example, when we say that WE have sinned by what WE have done and what WE have left undone, what does it mean that we use the first person plural? Why don’t we say I have sinned by what I have done and what I have left undone?

Dear people, it is because as followers of Christ, we recognize that it is not only that which we do individually that misses the mark, that which is sinful–but also that as a community, that collectively WE miss the mark and sin.

As the English poet John Donne wrote, “No Man is an Island.” We are all part of an interconnected web of relationships. And while there are ways we sin individually, this web of relationships also bear the mark of sin. Sin that is referred to a structural sin.

While many of us may be familiar with the ways we sin as individuals –lying, cheating, stealing– the examples of structural sin in the world can be more challenging to address. Some examples of structural sin include:

–The evil of white supremacy

–The pollution of our planet

–Sexual violence and exploitation of women, girls and other sexual minorities

As we gather together and confess our sins, these are the sins that we confess to – that which we have done and which we have failed to do.

Talking of structural sin, it can be overwhelming to think honestly about confronting these issues. It is easy to begin asking the question, “How much impact can I really make? I am just a single person in big, big world.”

As Lutheran Christians one of the great insights Martin Luther shared was that to heal, we need to honestly confront our sin. And this confrontation, this naming of the sin present in the world is done in community.

One of the communities that is best equipped to do this work is Christian community, the community of those baptized and empowered by the holy spirit. This community….US… is familiar with how the spirit has worked to bring about change in the world before. Not only through the prophets in our scriptures, but through prophets that have lived and shared the gospel more recently.

As our nation recognized Martin Luther King Jr. Day TOMORROW, it is fitting that we remember the words Rev. Dr. King shared from. Jail cell in Birmingham Alabama. King wrote that, “I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities…I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham.

King, who in his life was not  afraid to  “follow the Macedonian call for aid” named three evils he recognized in the world –racism, poverty, and war– and worked in community to bring about change. He recognized that many people were uncomfortable with his non-violent direct action that caused tension for those who otherwise could comfortably avoid it. But empowered by the spirit, and following the lead of the earliest believers, King shared Jesus’ message:

“good news to the poor…release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, would let the oppressed go free, and would proclaim the year of the lord’s favor.”

On this Baptism of our Lord Sunday, the gospel reading spoke of the Spirit descending like a dove at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan. In our own baptisms, the Spirit enters into our lives, and begins to journey with us. Like the twelve who received the spirit at Ephesus, and Dr. King who spoke so boldly from a Birmingham Jail, the spirit empowers each of us to speak words of truth. Truth that while not always popular, truth that at times will not be easy, is necessary truth to proclaim.

Jesus, who was empowered by this same spirit did not live a life of comfort. In fact, he was executed by the powers that be for peaching words that offered a new vision for humanity.

Rev. Dr. King, who was empowered by this same spirit did not live a life of comfort either. The powers that be investigated and harassed him for words that offered a different vision for humanity.

Beloved in Christ, as we commemorate the Baptism of our Lord Jesus, we acknowledge the spirit that was present then, is present now, and will be present in the future. While naming sin and seeking the reality Jesus envisioned is a big task, it is a task that we do not embark upon on our own. It is a journey that we labor in through our whole life, surrounded and help safe in the company of all the baptized of all time and space.

May we, with Jesus, Paul, Dr. King and all the prophets who have come before us and speak among us be courageous and seek that vision for what our world can be. Amen.