Why is Baptism so Important?

 

This sermon was presented at Resurrection January 11, 2009, the First Sunday after the Epiphany, by Pastor Jim Kniseley.  The sermon text is the gospel, Mark 1:4-11.

Dear Friends in Christ,

 

Today we remember the Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan.  It was a signal event in his ministry.  Today you and I have the opportunity to remember our own Baptism.  I believe that Jesus’ Baptism is a wonderful model for how we understand what has taken place when we were baptized.

 

How many of you here were baptized by immersion?  How many of you were baptized by sprinkling?  How many of you remember your baptism?  How many of you here were baptized as infants?  How many of you here were baptized more than once?  How many of you were baptized in a church other than Lutheran?  How many of you were baptized in a Lutheran church?

 

I hope through this sermon today to talk about our beliefs and practices in this congregation and our denomination concerning baptism.  Perhaps by the end of this sermon you’ll be better prepared to talk with your friends and family about this understanding.

 

This past week on the Day of Epiphany (Tuesday), many of the ELCA bishops and spouses gathered on the east bank of the Jordan River, the very setting for Jesus’ baptism.  They remembered that important time with prayer.  It was announced during that occasion that the King of Jordan has gifted the Lutheran Church worldwide with a parcel of land, about an acre, on which to have a Retreat Center.  That means any of us here will be able to remember Jesus’ baptism with a pilgrimage to that special location along the Jordan River.

 

Our bulletin cover does a beautiful job of recapping the story of Jesus’ baptism in Mark.  We’re told that Jesus stepped into the water and was baptized by John the Baptist.  See the living water of the Jordan, teaming with fish.  Jesus looks up into the sky and sees a dove come down; we’re told it is the Holy Spirit.  Then Jesus hears a voice from heaven declare, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

 

Jesus’ baptism is a model for us.  This was an affirmation of his humanness.  He chose to identify himself with us; he chose to identify with sinners.  In his baptism, it is revealed that he is the Son of God; and he received the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

Jesus began his ministry by being baptized in the River Jordan by John.  You and I begin our Christian lives with our own baptism.  Because we live in an area where we are the minority, where the Christian population is so heavily influenced by those who emphasize being born again and being baptized a second time, sometimes we might question whether our faith is authentic.  Let’s talk about some of that and reaffirm what Lutheran Christians believe and practice.   If Jesus’ baptism is a model for us, we can conclude several things:

 

1.    Our baptism was our second birth, when we were born again into the family of God. 

2.    A sudden, dramatic change in our lives is not the only way to become a Christian.

3.    Those of us who came to faith step by step present an authentic alternative to born-again Christians.

 

In the DVD we’ve been showing in the Adult Forum (In God’s Name), the Archbishop of Canterbury was asked to remember the dramatic moment when he came to Christ.  He simply states that for him his faith was a gradual unfolding.  He was raised in the Church and can’t ever remember a time when he did not simply trust the Lord.

 

Conversely, the president of the Southern Baptists, is very clear in remembering the time in church when he came forward to surrender his life to Jesus.  Some of you here have had that same kind of experience.  Listen to me well when I say: both ways are great.  Neither is superior to the other.  God works in us the way God wants to work…

 

In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther urges us to renew our baptism vows every day.  On our refrigerator door at home we keep these words of Luther, “When you wash your face, remember your baptism.”  What that means is that every day when you wash your face or take your bath, throw on the water and boldly declare, “ I am a baptized child of God!”

 

Let’s be even more clear about our understanding of baptism.  How does a Lutheran Christian answer the question, “Are you born again?”  We answer, “Yes, hundreds of times.  Each day I am renewed by God’s grace and love.”  We believe that in baptism, God gives us power to become what God says we are: children of God.  With that power we can withstand all that life will throw at us.  That means every day.  For the rest of our lives.

 

Did you note in today’s second lesson from the Book of Acts that the apostle Paul encountered a group of folks in Ephesus who had been baptized, but knew nothing of the baptism of Jesus or the inclusion of the Holy Spirit in baptism.  Obviously they had been baptized by John with a baptism for repentance of sins.  This lesson gives us a wonderful opportunity to ask what is different in the baptism that Jesus wants for us.  The answer is the Holy Spirit.  Jesus received the Holy Spirit in his baptism and he wants us to receive the Holy Spirit in our baptism.  It isn’t the amount of water; it is the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

 

Finally, I note that someone at Augsburg Fortress wrote the introduction to our gospel lesson today.  We printed it on our bulletin cover.  I don’t believe they got it just right:  Mark’s gospel reports the story of Jesus’ baptism with some irony: the one on whom the Spirit descends is himself the one who will baptize others with the Holy Spirit.”

 

According to our gospel accounts, Jesus never baptized during his time of earthly ministry.  It was the disciples who baptized, invoking the Holy Spirit, and instructed by Jesus to do so (see John 4:2).  That would make the intro from Augsburg Fortress wrong, unless you believe this.  In every baptism, Jesus is the one doing the baptism.  It is not Pastor Jim or Pastor Carol or any other pastor you could name, but it is Jesus, then you could certainly affirm the irony that the one on whom the Spirit descends is himself the one who will baptize others with the Holy Spirit. 

 

So we announce to: Today Jesus will be baptizing infant Elliott  Martin, using our hands to scoop the water, and gifting Elliott with the power of the Holy Spirit.  To God be the glory.  Amen.