Thursday, January 21, 2016

Baptism of Our Lord: A Three Part Drama

This is the sermon I preached two Sundays ago, 1/10/16 at St.Timothy and St. Mark Lutheran Churches. The scripture text is Luke 3:15-17, 21-22. We celebrated the Baptism of Our Lord. 

Today we celebrate the baptism of Our Lord Jesus. In Luke's gospel, the actual baptism itself is rather downplayed. Greater emphasis is placed on the events that took place surrounding Jesus' baptism. The purpose of this passage is to introduce and begin to answer the question of Jesus' identity and mission as well as to highlight the work of the Holy Spirit in anointing people for ministry.

The passage itself is presented to us as a revelatory drama of Jesus' post baptismal experience. This drama consists of three parts: the heavens are opened, the Holy Spirit comes upon Jesus and there is a voice from heaven.

In part 1 of our drama-the heavens are opened. Here Luke repeats end time imagery about the coming of the Messiah. It recalls Isaiah's prayer, "O that you would tear open the heavens and come down... to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him" (Isaiah 64:1-4)

Did you happen to notice what Jesus was doing when the heavens opened? He was praying. Prayer was just a small part of that verse. It would be easy to miss, but prayer is an essential part of Jesus' life and is emphasized throughout the gospel of Luke. Prayer is like a hinge on a door. There might be great and wonderful things on the other side of a door, but it will not open without hinges.

Jesus praying was written in the present tense, indicating that Jesus was still praying when the main actions occurred: the opening of the heavens, the coming down of the Holy Spirit and the Father's heavenly speech.

There is no reason why we should think that the Holy Spirit and prayer are simply facts in history and not available for life and ministry today.

In part 2 of our drama,-the Holy Spirit comes upon Jesus and thereafter marks his ministry. This is the same gift of empowerment for ministry that Jesus shares with all his disciples, including us. The Holy Spirit descends in bodily form so that the experience is not confused with mere thoughts or feelings. Bodily descent has the character of permanence. The Holy Spirit not only descended upon Jesus, but came in bodily form and will remain upon Jesus.

The people around Jesus saw the Holy Spirit enter him. This would give them confidence that Jesus embodied the life of the Spirit manifesting the qualities of the kingdom of God.  God's kingdom takes on bodily form, I n Jesus and thereby in the church,  We are empowered by God's Spirit, not just to become part of a movement, but to invite others to join us, to experience the signs of the kingdom and to embody kingdom qualities in their common life.

In part 3 of our drama-there is a voice from heaven. This voices affirms Jesus' Son to the Father relationship, which is important in the overall structure of Luke's gospel.

What does it mean to be God's Son? It means facing temptations and being the servant to all in need. It is not a life of glory, living your best life now, naming it and claiming it for all the wealth, glitz or glamor you could ever imagine. After all, shouldn't God's Son have nothing but the best? The purpose of Jesus' life was ultimately to go to the cross for our salvation.

It's interesting that the Father says he is well-pleased with Jesus, who had not yet started his ministry and hadn't done much of anything other than the time he was in the temple when he was 12. God's pleasure in Jesus began before he began his ministry.

It makes me think of how we parents are with our children. When they are small, they really can't do much to try to please us. But have you ever seen the faces of new parents and how every little thing their baby does makes them smile?

Is God "well-pleased" with us because we do things that are pleasing to God? Or is God well-pleased because of who we are--before we have done anything pleasing or not pleasing? If so, this motivates us to seek to do what is pleasing to God thereby living up to what God has already declared us to be.

Luke's telling of Jesus' baptism is not to simply inform us about what happened to Jesus. He relates this story to indicate something about our own baptisms, our need to be in prayer, our anointing with the Holy Spirit and our battles with evil and ministry in the world. Our relationship with God is that of "beloved" and "well-pleasing." Now we must live out of that relationship. Jesus' baptism prefigured Pentecost. The era of Jesus' ministry prefigured the era of the church's ministry--our ministry in the world. (Brian Stoffregen)

Listen! God’s voice comes from heaven to call us by name, speak to the earth, shake the wilderness, and to anoint “the Beloved.” Listen! God’s people speak words of covenant, commitment, and community in the liturgy of baptism. Listen! God’s word surrounds this day with power and majesty and “in the temple of the Lord all are crying, ‘Glory!’” (Ps. 29:9). In this season of Epiphany, today’s miraculous encounter with the living God immerses us in the sound of God’s voice and bathes us in God’s baptismal promise. All who are splashed by this water gasp, cry, exclaim, sigh, and sing. Let all who have breath, praise the Lord! (

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