Baptism of Our Lord Sunday, January 10, 2016
One of our favorite times at home these days is bath time. Maybe it’s because I swam laps several days a week while I was pregnant, or because water reminds her of the womb, but Erin LOVES bath time! She starts to smile and wiggle if we even step foot in the bathroom with her, because she knows, that’s where we have bath time! Unfortunately, one of her least favorite times is when bath time is over. When we take her out of the tub and start to dry her off, even though the bathroom is nice and warm and her towel soft and thick, she starts to scream. She doesn’t want bath time to be over! I think she would stay in the tub all day if she had her way. She doesn’t want to get out of the tub!
Today, we’re celebrating two important festivals in the life of the church: Epiphany, which officially was last Wednesday on January 6. Epiphany is when we celebrate the wise men discovering God’s greatest gift to us in the baby Jesus, the Word made flesh. And today we also celebrate Jesus’ baptism, the Baptism of Our Lord as we heard in the gospel. It struck me that these two days go well together – when the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus in the form of a dove and a voice from heaven says, “You are my son, my beloved,” the people seeing this amazing event realize something profound: they have an epiphany – this is God’s son! Of course, the wise men had that same epiphany as they followed the star to find the baby Jesus: this is God’s son and our savior! Our baptisms, which we celebrate and remember today, ought to also spark in us a realization, or an epiphany, that through baptism we have become children of God, too. The same Holy Spirit that descended upon Jesus has been given to us, too, for us to live faithfully as God’s children.
Here’s the issue with baptism. As Lutherans, we believe that baptism is once and for all and once is enough – the gift of baptism doesn’t wear out or go bad. God sealed the deal for us at our baptisms – we are God’s, and there’s nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus because of that. But kind of like my daughter, we can get stuck thinking that playing in the waters of our baptism is it. That’s all that faith is about. Baptism becomes a rule, or a box to check off – now that I’m baptized, I’m “saved” so to speak…God loves me, I believe Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, and that’s it! Or for others of us, we get too comfortable in our baptism. We keep going to church, we recognize that we still ought to worship God once a week, we try to be good people, but we get stuck there. We want to stay in the safety and comfort of the church – with what’s familiar, where our friends are. But for God, baptism is just the beginning of a life of faith.
Before Jesus does any kind of public ministry in the following pages of Luke’s gospel, he is baptized. Jesus’ baptism begins his ministry – it’s the starting point. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit at his baptism then propels Jesus into the world to start sharing his message of good news, salvation for all people. We had a quite short second reading that was kind of strange from Acts this morning. It’s interesting, because the same author wrote the gospel of Luke and book of Acts. In Acts, Peter and John go to Samaria to jumpstart the ministry there, because according to Luke, they had been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus but “as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them.” For the people of Samaria, baptism wasn’t the end of their lives of faith, but just the beginning. They needed the Holy Spirit to get them out of the tub and into the larger world to do ministry for the sake of the gospel.
So, baptized people of God, how is the Holy Spirit calling YOU out of the tub and into the world for bigger, deeper, more powerful ministry? How is the Holy Spirit helping you live out your faith every day? The comfort of baptism is that we can always come back to this place, to this font, to these people who love us and pray for us daily. We always belong to God and are saved by Jesus Christ – our baptism reminds and reassures us of that. Like Erin, we ought to be excited about that every time we are even near the font! But we can’t just sit here all week. At our baptisms, we also were given the gift of the Holy Spirit to go out to do God’s work in the world – to make new friends who may not know what it’s like to have a relationship with Jesus. To serve people in ways that may be surprising to people who are used to the selfishness and individualism of the world. To see and name gifts in others wherever we might be – whether it’s at work, at home or out doing errands.
On this Epiphany/Baptism of Our Lord celebration, I’m reminded of another famous story about a guy in a bathtub. Maybe you know the story. The famous ancient Greek scholar Archimedes was trying to figure out how to measure the volume of irregular objects. He stepped into a bathtub and shouted, “Eureka! Eureka!” He realized that when he put his body (an irregular object) into the water, the water level rose. Therefore, whatever volume of water his body displaced was equal to the volume of his submerged body! Now, I find this hard to understand because physics was one of my least favorite subjects in high school, but Archimedes was so excited to share his discovery that he reportedly leapt out of the bathtub and ran through the streets of Syracuse naked! And get this – Eureka in Greek means, “I have found it.” It’s basically a synonym for epiphany.
At Jesus’ baptism, God proclaims to all who are able to hear, “Eureka…you are my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.” At OUR baptism, God said to us, “Eureka – I have found YOU. YOU are my beloved child.” And then God calls us out from those waters to run through the streets shouting “Eureka! God has found me! And God will find YOU too!” That is what Epiphany is about – like the wise men, we have discovered the baby Jesus, lying in the manger, to be God in the flesh for us and savior of the world. In our day to day lives away from this place – when we’re not in the church building, we still see signs of God’s presence all around us, sometimes so profoundly and clearly that we can’t help but tell others about it. I would encourage you to put clothes on first, but I pray that you might be as excited to tell the story of what God has done for you in your life as Archimedes was when he made his great discovery in the bath tub. This morning in worship, we’ve played in the waters of baptism and rejoiced in all the promises God has given us. Now it’s time to get out of the tub and start living into those promises!