Baptism of Jesus - Luke 3:15-22


This morning is the first Sunday in the season of Epiphany, the season which celebrates the revelation of Jesus to the world. The church calendar skipped right over the three wise men this year, And this morning we celebrate one of those few events which appears in 3 of the 4 gospels: the Baptism of Jesus. In these gospels, Jesus’ baptism and the Holy Spirit descending upon him marks the beginning of his public ministry. Some years ago I came across a great sermon entitled “Stepping Into Muddy Waters,” written by Gary Charles of Alexandria, VA. What I have to say this morning draws heavily on the words of Rev. Charles. Besides, after the weather we've had this month,  “muddy” or sloppy seems appropriate –  as my front hall full of wet and muddy shoes and clothes can attest. Rev. Charles began by telling a deeply disturbing story about someone who was robbed at knife point in the parking lot of a hospital in his community. Apparently, the robbery occurred on a sunny afternoon, with people present in the parking lot. No one called for help or went inside to call 911 or dared to intervene. I’m sure you’ve heard this sort of thing before – and it is horrifying. But even more disturbing than the story itself, is the sympathy we may feel with the people who didn’t get involved. The bystanders in the parking lot probably assumed someone else would call 911 or go to a security guard for help. Most of us are busier than we can stand now, and we know the drawbacks of getting involved in the legal system. And who in their right mind would intervene at knife point? Such involvement might endanger both oneself and the person being robbed. What kind of life is it that encloses itself in a protective shell, shielding itself from cries of need? Some would call such a life prudent. After all, we can’t go around solving everyone else’s problems. Some would call such a life sensible. After all, we can’t help anyone unless we first take care of ourselves. What kind of life is it that guards itself against potential risk or hazard brought on by getting involved with those in need? It is certainly not the kind of life Jesus modeled for us.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus stepped into the Jordan to be baptized? What prompted him to step into the muddy water of a river filled with sinners? John said that Jesus brought a new, more powerful baptism to the people - a baptism of rushing wind and fire. But still Jesus comes to be baptized in water. In the Jordan, Jesus begins something that won’t be stopped until soldiers put nails through his hands. Jesus steps into the Jordan to be baptized. He steps into the muddy, crowded water of life among sinners.  Then he steps out of the muddy water of the Jordan and into the muddy water of sickness, injustice, and faithlessness. He steps into Caperanum and not only heals a paralyzed man, but forces the religious leaders of the day to reexamine their most basic beliefs. He steps into communities filled with pride and prejudice, and announces that no people have exclusive rights to God. He steps into broken lives, and applies the healing force of forgiveness and love. Then, even though his friends advise against it Jesus willingly steps into the streets of Jerusalem, straight into the path of angry religious and political powers. Judas betrayed his whereabouts, but in truth, Jesus was not hard to find. He still isn’t hard to find. Just look where the water of life is muddy from human pain and ignorance, and you’ll find him. You’ll find the one who freely stepped into muddy waters, from Jordan to Jerusalem. In his baptism, Jesus acted once again as Immanuel – God with us, even in the muddiest places in life. He embodied the promises made by God through the prophet: When you pass through the waters, I shall be with you and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; When you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. In our baptism, we boldly claim, we are joined to Christ. When we are baptized, we take on a new existence in the name of Christ, who offers us new life through the forgiveness of sin. The apostle Paul went so far as to say that, because of his baptism, “it is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me.” We may step through life as carefully as we like, trying to avoid any conflict, traveling on well-lit roads, singing Jesus Loves Me This I Know, but there’s no way to follow Jesus without getting muddy. Our baptism sets our steps in sometimes dangerous and dirty and dark directions. To wear the mark of baptism means we’re willing to get muddy. God only knows where we might step. We might take the risk to meet a homeless person face to face at St. Elizabeth's, or pick up a hammer to work on a Habitat house. We might advocate on behalf of the poor, the alien, the voiceless, or give generously, not from what we have left over, but from the first fruits of our labor. Twenty years ago, a group of people came together to form a new church in Santa Fe. They must have decided that they were not afraid to get into muddy water, because they decided to call themselves “Lutheran Church of the Servant.” Most of us here have joined the community since those first days, but many of us were, perhaps, drawn here by the simple declaration of that name: we are gathered here as servants of Christ. We are gathered here to be servants of all, in Christ's name. A community shaped by that identity will, indeed, get muddy. But it will be the mud of the Jordan river – the mud of living in the real world, getting involved in real human need. In our baptism, God calls us to lives of servanthood, walking in the footsteps of Jesus our Lord. As God’s servants we know that we will be empowered by God, filled with God’s Spirit, and held by God’s hand through whatever floods and fires we encounter. Rev. Gary Charles ended his sermon with these words: “What would you have done if you had been in that hospital parking lot? What would I have done? I can’t honestly say. But I can say this. All my rationalizations dissolve before the bold truth of my baptism. If we want to avoid the failings and faults of other human beings, we follow the wrong God. If we want low-risk faith, we are out of step with the one we call Lord. But if we want new life, called to serve the God who created the heavens and the earth and who gives breath to the people who walk on it, then let us walk on – in Jesus’ name. Stepping into muddy water. It may not always be our choice, but it surely is our calling. In Jesus name, Amen  Lutheran Church of the Servant, Santa Fe, January 7, 2007 Photo from the island of Kaui, Hawaii

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