Cross of Grace

A community of grace sharing God's love with no strings attached.

Sunday Worship:
8:30am & 10:45am

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

"Bath-tism of Jesus" – Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

My youngest son, Kyle, came home from his church preschool with a take-home lesson featuring an image of Jesus standing waist-deep in the river, with John standing beside him, and a dove descending from the sky. He proudly informed me that he learned Jesus was “bath-tized in the river.”

Bath-tism – a cleansing soak floating in the gentle waves flowing water. I think that’s an outstanding theological insight for a soon-to-be-four-year-old.

Today we celebrate the baptism, or bath-tism, of Jesus. As you heard in the Gospel message, Jesus came to the Jordan River to be baptized by his cousin, John. And he wasn’t alone. There was a crowd there as well, and the gospel says that every person there was baptized.

But baptized for what? To get their ticket punched so that they could go to heaven? To make sure everyone knew they were full members of the best team?

No, the way Luke tells the story, people were were being baptized by John as a response to his call for the people to repent.

The word repent in the original Greek is more accurately translated, “change your mind.” The crowd wanted to change their mind, change their approach to life, change how they interacted with others, change how they thought of themselves. And so they came to be washed in the flowing water. They came to have the dirt and grime of their lives washed away. They came because they needed help in order to change their mind. They desired a catalyst to ignite a new faith, a new direction, and a new way of life.

It’s up for debate as to why Jesus placed himself among those who were baptized. The orthodox belief is that Jesus was without sin and therefore had nothing for which to repent. Some suggest that Jesus was baptized as an act of solidarity with the people. Or perhaps he found it a fitting way to begin his ministry? Or perhaps he too desired a changed mind?

We may not know why he desired baptism, but we certainly know what happened afterwards:
“As he was praying, the Holy Spirit, like a dove descending, rested on Jesus. And along with the Spirit came a voice saying, ‘You are my son, chosen and marked by my love. You are the pride of my life.’”

In the baptism of Jesus, we “see” and “hear” the good news that God loves Jesus and claims him as God’s own son. We are witnesses to Jesus’ ordination (literally his being “set aside for ministry”). It is this act of solidarity with the fellow baptized, his submission to his cousin John, his ritualistic cleansing, that sets him on the path of ministry where he will heal the sick, challenge injustice, befriend sinners, embrace suffering, upset the earthly order, triumph over death, and change the world forever.

That’s one hell of a bath!

It is why we celebrate the sacrament of baptism in the church two-thousand years later. For in baptism we “see” and “hear” the good news…

  • that we have infinite value and worth;
  • that God desires to be the source and goal of our passion;
  • that God will always seek to draw us back into relationship with God and each other and forgive us when we stray;
  • and that God will be with us all the days of our lives.

Baptism’s importance is not as a one-and-done event or a “ticket to heaven;” but rather as a once-and-forever event enabling us to repent – to change our mind. Baptism is a plunge into cleansing water that clings to us daily in the midst of our struggles and joys.

By taking the time to commemorate and remember our baptisms, we commemorate and remember that someone, out of their love for us us, brought us to the font to be washed with God’s love and forgiveness in the presence of a family of faith who pledge their support and prayer. We are not alone. God is with us. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are with us. The cleansing water of baptism is with us. And we, too, are the pride of God’s life.

For those of us who have been baptized, our calling to live as children of God is not over.

The day the words of forgiveness joined with the waters of baptism and washed over our bodies is the day God ordained us–set us aside for ministry that will give glory to God by healing the sick, challenging injustice, befriending sinners, embracing suffering, upsetting the earthly order, triumphing over death, and changing the world forever.

The day of our baptism has come and gone; God’s promise of salvation was poured over your head and spoken into your ears; God claimed you as a child and told you that you are loved; and yet, there is still work to be done: planting and sowing, healing and comforting, loving and serving, caring and forgiving.

We are called to be open to new ideas and experiences and people so that we may be led to daily repentance – daily changing our minds – with the full knowledge that we are not alone nor will we ever be alone again.

If you haven’t been bath-tized, if you want yourself or your child to be blessed with the eternal covenant of baptism, to be washed in the waters of forgiveness, to change direction and be set aside for ministry in Christ’s name, the invitation is always open.

Ifyou have already been baptized, in order to remind ourselves and one another of God’s baptismal promise and our baptismal vows, I would like you to utilize the baptismal font at the front of the altar. As you come forward later in the service for communion, dip your finger into the water and make the sign of the cross on your forehead and remind yourself, “You are God’s beloved child, called and sent to make a difference in the world.”

All Rights Reserved. Background image by Aaron Stamper. © Cross of Grace Lutheran Church.