Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord, Year B, January 11, 2009

Baptism of Our Lord

Year B

January 11, 2009

Resurrection Lutheran Church

Genesis 1:1-5 Psalm 29

Acts 19:1-7 St. Mark 1:4-11

In the name of the triune God who created us, who loves us, who redeemed us, and who cares for us.

It seems like Baptism is a theme I just can't get away from here at Resurrection Lutheran Church! But that is actually fine with me. As I'm sure most of you have figured out by now, it is my one of my very favorite things. For me a baptism feels so much like an escape from the mundane and an opportunity to spend a little bit of time in heaven here on earth. Maybe that sounds a bit escapist and not very grounded in the world, but there it is. There is nothing quite so amazing as holding a child in my arms and welcoming them into the family of faith. Holding that baby and looking into its beautiful eyes and seeing the face of the parents is truly a window to look at God. Baptism and the story of creation reminds me that each and everyone of us is created in God's image.

I would be completely happy to try and dwell in the sacred time and space of baptism for as long as possible. In it I feel most close to God and most close to my sisters and brothers. It is the kind of mountain top experience that all of us want to savor. Having a mountain top experience is truly a blessing from God.

I have to imagine that it was also a mountain top experience for Jesus in the Gospel story today. I can only imagine how it must have been to hear those words from his Heavenly Father after his own baptism. In a sense at baptism each of us is reminded of the same thing. That we are beloved children of a loving God.

Unfortunately there is always something to bring us back to where we are. We just can't stay on that mountain top forever, as much as we might be tempted to. Very often where we are seems to be the valleys of life, not the mountain tops.

Even Jesus had to leave the mountain top of his baptism. He had to deal with the experience of rejection, ridicule, and ultimately, the cross. And each of us can thank God that He was willing to do that.

To often it seems to me that the world tries to work overtime to keep us from those mountain top experiences. It is often hard to remember that God's creation was good in the face of all that is happening in the world around us. Wars, hatred and strife are a daily occurrence in the world around us. On top of those things, which while we hear about all the time, rarely affect us directly, we are struggling with the current financial crisis which affects many of us personally. It is very hard to see the goodness in God's creation when you realize that most of this mess was made by people who were consumed with greed and avarice and not concerned at all about others. The Madoff scandal is but the latest example.

When you hear the stories of the people affected you can feel the sense of betrayal they have. I think their close connections and being such a small group of investors gave them a sense of family. And so the betrayal takes on a much more personal feeling. And the seeming lack of remorse on the part of Madoff only makes things worse.

We are all a family as well. We are a family as a Christian community. And baptism is one of the most tangible demonstrations of being a part of that family. Baptism brings us together as family. In Genesis God created, in baptism we celebrate our part in the family as God's children. We repeat the familiar words that bind us as a community in ever service of Baptism.

But the part of the baptism that really gets to me, what I really love, is when the baptized person is told they are sealed in Baptism and marked as God's own forever. The promises of God are lasting. They are not transient like the things of this world that come and go, often disappointing us.

And so with all these negative images around us, I have to remind myself that God's creation was good. True enough we have managed to mess it up, sometimes spectacularly. And true though, often people fail to respect and love others as part of our Christian family. And sadly our mucking up God's creation is not limited to financial matters and one another. We have managed to muck up the earth itself pretty good.

In light of all this, perhaps it may seem like the answer is just to pack it in and give up. But of course that is not the Christian way. In our baptism we are called to a new life in Christ.

A Native American Coyote story describes a poor man who had a dream or vision that there was a place where everything is perfect. You might say that this was heaven. He had been told that this place was visible to all who had accepted a life of humility and complete service to their community. The poor man felt very humble, especially since he had no real possessions, but he felt that he must set out on a journey away from his present life and community in search of this perfect place.

He set out the next day at dawn. He walked and walked the entire day, and when evening arrived, before he had found the perfect place, he set up camp, took out his meager meal of bread and a flask of water to satisfy his hunger and thirst. He gave thanks, ate the bread, drank the water, and then he removed his sandals and placed them facing in the direction he was headed so he could continue his journey the next day. Then went to sleep.

While the poor man slept that night, Coyote came and turned his shoes around so that they faced the direction from where the man had come that day. When the poor man awoke, he put on his shoes, and began to walk again. While he walked all day, he thought about this perfect place, this heavenly city. When it was nearly dark, he came to a place that looked strangely familiar. He walked down a street, turned a corner, and saw a somewhat familiar dwelling. He waited outside the dwelling until its inhabitants came out to greet him and invite him in. When they did, he entered and was given warm clothes and a warm meal that was so delicious he could not remember the last time he had eaten so well. He was received with such hospitality that he felt as though he was a member of a family he had known his whole life.

After much talk, singing, and praying, the whole household offered the poor man their best bedding. He thanked them and laid down to sleep thanking Creator God for the abundant blessings shared with him. He could not help but think that this was, indeed, a perfect place, a heavenly place. How could there be another more perfect?

So we are challenged to figure out what it means to live our lives in this sinful world as transformed people. We can be transformed by the power of God in us. But often we have to fight against our own selfish nature. I think that is why our church tradition calls us to repeat those baptismal vows at every baptism. It is a reminder that no matter how often we might have failed to live up to them, there is always a new opportunity to try again.

As Christians we are called to live out the kingdom of God right here on earth, as best, even if imperfectly as we can. May God grant us the wisdom and grace to make our homes and lives a slice of the kingdom.