Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +
I mentioned at the beginning of the service that today, the first Sunday after the Epiphany, marks for many “liturgical” churches the observance of the “Baptism of Our Lord”, a significant festival on which we spend time pondering the importance of Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan. You may have noticed that the story of Jesus’ baptism is nowhere to be found today, and that, of course, is because Mark’s rapid-fire story covered that ground two full weeks ago. Where most other congregations who are observing this occasion are reading that story this morning, we are well-past it, instead hearing more about the healing and teaching ministry of Jesus in the Galilean town of Capernaum. What does Jesus’ mission of mercy in Galilee have to do with his baptism in the Judean wilderness? Hopefully that will be made clear in the next several minutes; for now, let’s take a closer look at what Jesus is up to in this morning’s reading.
The opening episode in today’s text is a little bit curious, particularly if we pay attention to an easily-missed detail from last week’s reading. Toward the end of chapter one, Mark recalls that Jesus is stationed at his disciple’s mother-in-law’s house, and people who have heard about his ability to heal and cast out demons are coming from all over town, bringing their loved ones who are afflicted by disease or demons to be restored to wholeness. Here’s Mark’s summary of what happened that night:
That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. (Mark 1:32-34, NRSV)
Though it may not seem clear, Mark intends us to understand this as an all-encompassing healing. ALL who are sick and suffering from possession are brought to Jesus, and he heals them all – many, many people are brought to new and abundant life because of what Jesus does that night.
Fast forward to today’s reading, and suddenly Jesus is confronted with another situation that requires healing. We don’t know whether this paralyzed man came from out of town or whether his paralysis was caused by a recent injury, but in any case, Jesus’ ministry of healing was required once again. (As an aside, I’m almost as impressed by Jesus’ ability to keep teaching while a group of guys was digging through the ceiling directly above him, but that’s a topic for another sermon). What makes this story different is that Jesus ups the ante, so to speak. He doesn’t stop with the physical need of the man lying before him; he also reckons with the spiritual need that he – and, indeed, all people – have: forgiveness, reconciliation – in short, restoration to relationship with God. It’s this new dimension of his ministry, this pronouncement of sin, that raises the ire of the “experts in the law” gathered there in that cramped house. As their statement suggests, they – and, if we’re clear about our own theology, we – believe that only God can forgive sins. There’s a reason, it turns out, that the order of confession and forgiveness at the beginning of each of our services specifies that forgiveness comes from God by the authority of Jesus, not from me. As a called and ordained minister of Christ, and by his authority, I declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins. In other words, I declare the reality that your sins have already been forgiven by God for the sake of (and by the authority of) Jesus. So these scribes aren’t saying anything unusual. They’re acknowledging that God is the source of forgiveness, and that the idea that just any human being can claim this ability is contrary to Scripture.
The rub, of course, is that Jesus isn’t just any human being, and that’s where the whole story of Jesus’ baptism comes in. Let’s recall the scene as Mark tells it:
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with1 water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:4-11 NRSV)
The baptism that Jesus receive was an affirmation of his unique identity and a confirmation of his unique ministry. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, went out preaching and teaching and healing and casting out demons because that was what he was sent out to do (Mark 1:38, NRSV). That he did those things in a way that no one had ever done them before was a consequence of the fact that he was unlike anyone else who had ever lived. We celebrate Jesus’ baptism because it was the visible sign of his evident authority, and because that sign has in a different sense been repeated in the one baptism that is shared by Christians throughout the world and throughout time and space. Yes, there was something unique about the baptism of Jesus, but there is also something in that baptism which is shared by all who have received this sign of God’s love and grace in our own lives – “Child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.” Through that baptism, God’s divine breath rushes into our bodies, and we are forever changed. The old garment that clings so closely to us is torn asunder by the new thing that God does in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. The new wine of God’s grace bursts forth from the old wineskins of sin and death that surround us and our broken world.
This word about the old and the new is not a polemic against Judaism. It is a recognition that human existence is caught inescapably between settled patterns and new thinking, between “the way we’ve always done things” and “the way that things are changing”. Every religion deals with this tension – Christianity just as much as any other – and Jesus comes to challenge “business as usual” so that new life, new possibility, new horizons might be seen and explored. As people who bear Christ’s name and who are filled with God’s Holy Spirit, we are called always to be looking out for the new thing that God is doing so that we might be partners with God in pointing toward the new creation is even now springing out among us. Where Christ is present, healing and restoration are possible. Where Christ is present, those who are lonely find dignity and love and relationship. Where Christ is present, new things are always possible.
On this feast day, may you be reminded of the new thing that God offers to you and me and all people through this sacrament, this mystery of grace and new life. May we be inspired to look at our world anew, with eyes opened to the possibility of abundant life poured out like water in a world parched by the withering heat of hatred and judgment and conflict and distrust. May the grace of God burst forth anew into our hearts, so that others might know that grace in all that we say and do. Thanks be to God! Amen.
This sermon was composed and preached by Elysia McGill, a member of St. Paul’s who filled in for Pastor Andrew while he was on vacation. We apologize that audio is not available for this sermon, but we hope that you are blessed by it nonetheless. Our congregation certainly was.
Deuteronomy 5:1-21; 6:4-9
+ Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ in the Unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +
Today we gather in celebration, a celebration of welcoming a new sister in Christ through the sacrament of Holy Baptism. It is a time for us to remember and reflect on our own baptisms and the promises that were made on our behalf. It is a chance for us as members of St. Paul’s to reflect on how we are supporting each other through the baptismal promises.
In today’s reading there is so much to digest and take away. The Commandments are at the heart of our lesson but honestly it’s not what caught my eye or my heart. The last verse is what stuck with me.
One of my favorite ways to reflect on Bible passages is to use my Message version. So here it is from the Messgae, Chapter 6, verses 6-9. Write these Commandments that I’ve given to you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street. Talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder, inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates.
What a wonderful scripture for us on this day of Abby’s baptism! As parents, grandparents, godparents, aunts, uncles and people of God and St. Paul’s, let us take a closer look at this passage.
We are charged with certain responsibilities when we bring our children to be baptized. We are to live among God’s faithful people, place scripture in their hands and according to this passage, talk about God’s Commandments wherever we are.
Matt and I are not perfect parents by any means. We have always tried to do right by our girls, providing for their needs, giving them opportunities and instilling good values that they hopefully will carry with them as they grow and eventually leave to make their own ways in the world.
We have brought them to church, Sunday School and talked with them about their faith lives. In short, we are doing everything we can to give them a strong foundation to build their lives upon and pray that it is enough.
What we don’t do a great job about however is talking to our godchildren and other young people here at St. Paul’s about their faith lives. As Lutherans I’ve discovered that we at times are reluctant to share and talk with each other about our faith and the good news of Jesus. Through my work with the Nebraska Synodical Women’s Organization and the Women of the ELCA, I am trying to get better about talking and sharing my faith, but it’s scary. We don’t want to be rejected or scorned for our beliefs. Mady is probably going to kill me but she has actually inspired me with by her own faith journey. She is not afraid to share the Gospel…ever. If someone needs a prayer or to be prayed with, she’s your gal. Through her actions, she is helping her sister find her own faith life and helping her dad and I guide our faith deeper.
So, how do we live out the baptismal promises? We talk about the Commandments from the time we wake to the time we fall into bed at night. We talk to our children and our godchildren and others at church about our faith. We show our love of God with our whole hearts and not be ashamed or scared to show it!
Times have and are changing. The Commandments haven’t changed but perhaps the way that we talk and discuss them needs to. Maybe we need to make them more user friendly in order for our kids and those not familiar with the church and it’s teachings to understand. We need to be prepared to tell them why we believe the way we do. Don’t tell someone that they are wrong in their faith and beliefs, be tolerant of each other and enter into a discussion with them. Perhaps you will gain new insight and perspective into your own faith. By modeling these characteristics, our children will learn about God’s love first hand.
My dear Brothers and Sisters, take today as a new start in your faith journey. If you’ve never prayed with your children, start. Walk in the path that God has given you and you will have the life that He intends for you to have.
Remember to care for one another physically, emotionally and spiritually. Pray for one another in good times and in bad. Call your godchildren if you can, say a prayer for them. Be encouraging of each other here at St. Paul’s and wherever you go. Ask questions if you have them, don’t be ashamed of what you don’t know.
But most of all be proud and be bold in sharing and talking about your faith and the Gospel. Never be ashamed of your love for Christ.
Abby, Izzy and Evie, and all of you little ones here today, we here at St. Paul’s love you and all that you do. Today all of us gathered here promise to help you grow in your faith and teach you the best we can. We also promise to learn from you, listen to your questions and comments and together grow in God’s love for us all. May God’s love surround, comfort, strengthen and bless you all forever. Amen
Complementary Text: Matthew 6:24
Preaching Text: Romans 6:1-14
As chapter six of Paul’s letter to the Romans begins, the apostle has made some sweeping claims about the problems that face humanity and the solution to those problems that was revealed in Jesus. In chapter three, lays out the stark truth for the community at Rome: All people – without exception – have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Since we are unable to make our relationship with God by our own strength or power, Jesus Christ fulfills God’s divine plan of salvation by his obedient suffering and death for our sake and for the sake of the whole creation. Paul states clearly that it is because of what God has done in Christ – and not because of anything we have done, are doing, or might do in the future – that the relationship between God and humanity can be restored.
Paul is a smart man, and he knows that this radical gospel, this good news about Jesus Christ, can be easily misinterpreted, so here in chapter six he anticipates one of the possible responses to the startling claim that it is God’s grace, not our action, that renews our relationship with God. That response is incredibly simple and, frankly, incredibly human: Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? (Romans 6:1, NRSV) Or, put another way: if God’s extravagant love is poured out on us to save us from sin, shouldn’t we keep on sinning so that God can keep showering us with forgiveness and grace?
On one level, this kind of question makes sense, right? Grace is undoubtedly good, and if God is determined to be gracious to us, why not give God every opportunity? While this scenario makes sense from a logical perspective, for Paul, this whole question is ridiculous, because it stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to live as God’s people and to be joined to Christ.
You see, in Paul’s view, all people live in one of two different spheres of existence that are mutually exclusive. The first sphere of existence is what Paul laid out in chapters 1-3, the kind of existence that he sees as common to all humanity by virtue of our being human. This is the realm of Sin – what we might call Sin with a capital S. Far from referring to certain acts of disobedience, Paul sees Sin as a reality, a state of being in which creation itself is trapped and dying. Sin distorts the truth and alienates us from one another, from God, and from our true selves. When we are trapped in the realm of Sin, even our best intentions are fatally flawed, and we are incapable of living the kind of lives that God desires. This is the problem that confronts all of humanity, and it is the problem that God seeks to address through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. On the cross, Christ took on the power of sin and broke it forever, making it possible for us to be freed from the realm of Sin and to live in another kind of existence under the gracious reign of God in Christ.
For Paul, then, to think that Sin serves the cause of Christ – to ask, “Shall we continue in Sin so that grace may abound?” – is to underestimate the significance of Christ’s death and to invite the power of Sin to take hold of us once again. This is why Paul asks incredulously, “How can we who died to sin go on living in it?” (Romans 6:2, NRSV)
Of course, we know all too well that Sin is powerful, and that it doesn’t give up without a fight. The pull to give in to our selfish impulses, to seek our own advantage at the expense of others, to give ourselves back into the power of Sin, is very strong. We continue to struggle daily with the forces of Sin that oppose God’s will for us and for our world. That’s why Paul’s powerful reminder of what God has done for us in Christ, particularly through the sacrament of Holy Baptism, is so important. For Paul, Holy Baptism is a sign and seal of this change of existence, the act by which we are drawn with Christ from death into life, the act by which Sin’s grip on us is loosed forever. As you’ve undoubtedly heard many times, Baptism is not simply a nice ceremony that we observe as a nod to history or tradition. It is a mark of our new identity, a tangible sign of our having been buried with Christ and freed to live a new kind of life. Because of Christ, we now stand securely under God’s reign, and Sin has no power to hold us back again. As long as we remember who we are and in whom we find our life, our strength, our peace, and our joy, we will be less likely to offer ourselves or any part of ourselves to be used in ways that defy God’s will for our lives.
Having looked at the past and the present, Paul also calls us to look to the future, reminding us that Christ is also our hope in the face of suffering, decay, and death. Because we have been joined to Christ, God’s Holy Spirit is moving in us, in our community, and in our world, so that we might be, to live in the hopeful expectation that we – along with the whole creation – might one day be freed from death and enjoy the fullness of life shared by the Triune God. For Paul, that hope is as sure and certain as God’s promise to be gracious, a promise that will never fail, regardless of our own faults and fears and failing.
This is the good news that Paul shares with the Romans and with us. In Holy Baptism, we are joined to Christ, and through his death and resurrection we are freed from the tyranny of Sin, and offered the hope of life that will last into the age to come. This week, brothers and sisters, may you live with the knowledge of God’s great love for you in Christ; may you remember your identity as a beloved child of God, claimed in Holy Baptism to walk in newness of life; finally, may you draw strength from the hope of resurrection that is ours in Christ today and always. Thanks be to God! Amen.