The Dunk Tank
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Baptism of our Lord
January 9, 2022
The Dunk Tank
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I will never forget the days my boys were baptized. 45 minutes before Thomas’ baptism, I ruptured my Achilles Tendon. I spent the first part of the service in pain and the second part of the service in Lala land as the pain killers kicked in. I missed the party because my brother took me to the urgent care only to be told there was nothing they could do other than put it in a splint. By the time we got back, only a few people were left and I then spent the next 2 weeks on the couch, unable to help my wife do anything other than hold the baby and Thomas wanted no parts of me holding him. Every time I held him, he cried.
Isaiah’s was a little bit calmer. We planned to baptize him the Sunday after Easter in 2020. Well, that didn’t happen. We ordered the invites right before the pandemic began to worsen and I was an idiot…I drove down to Costco to pick up the invites. I stood in line with no mask because we didn’t really know much about covid or how it was transmitted. Paid all this money for invites only to not use them. So, we waited to baptize Isaiah because i missed so much of Thomas’ baptism. We wanted to really celebrate with our family what God had done in sending us this little boy. We waited, and waited, and waited, and then Dr. Fauci told some hard truths—we were never going to go back to normal…at least not before 2021. To withhold the sacrament for our son just to have a party didn’t seem right. So, we decided that we would the baptism outside on Reformation Sunday at my congregation in Martinsburg. A joint service for both our congregations. We planned to sing for the first time since the pandemic started. We figured out how to get a font outside. My dad was going to baptize Isaiah. Pastor Jess Felici, Isaiah’s godmother was going to preach. We were going to livestream it all outside just like we had been doing for 10 weeks leadings up to Reformation Sunday. And wouldn’t you know it, for the first time in 10 weeks, it rained on that Sunday. And not like a warm rain. It was cold. 40 degrees cold. So, we canceled in-person worship that day and moved the service inside St. John’s with just a few family members present. Pastor Jess preached an incredible sermon. My dad baptized his second grandchild. We ate a small meal in our garage with Isaiah’s grandparents, my brother and his fiancé, Isaiah’s godparents, and us. Not the big party we hoped for, but still filled with holy and sanctified moments by God. Even in the midst of all that chaos, seeing my boys baptized was something special.
I don’t remember the day I was baptized. All I know is that it happened at my dad’s congregation in Philadelphia and the Bishop did it. I got the certificate somewhere in our safe. I know it happened, but I don’t remember it like some do. You know, I have this interesting vantage point as the pastor during a baptism. I see it all (mainly because I am the one talking…I know, I know…). But think about it, if you are sitting in the back, you don’t see much. If you are sitting in the front row, you don’t see all that much. If you are a little kid, you only see about this much. If you are a parent, you might get to see your baby’s face, but you don’t get to feel their muscles twing as the water is pour over their head. You don’t get to see their facial expressions as I lay my hands on their head and that look like, “Dude, what in God’s holy name are you doing?!?!”
I remember the first baptism I did. I don’t remember the baby’s name, but I do remember being terrified of dropping the poor child. I held that baby so tight, it looked like I was football player going for a 90 yard touchdown. I have gotten a whole lot more confident holding babies.
I remember baptizing this little boy name Parker. I met him when he was still in his mother’s womb. She had some complications late in her pregnancy and had to be hospitalized. Her family had not been to church for some time and I heard through the grapevine that she was in the hospital. So, I made a visit. And I built some trust. And eventually that little boy was born and his mom brought him to Mt. Joy to be born.
I also remember McKenzie and her mom Jess. Jess and Shane invited me over to their house to talk about some church things. They wouldn’t tell me what the things were so I came prepared for everything. And then she told me how she was never baptized and how they had been waiting to baptize McKenzie who was about 5 at the time. And she was worried because she had been receiving communion for a long time and I gave a sermon about communion only being for the baptized. And so, after some discussion, I asked what they were doing on Sunday and they said, “Coming to church.” "Well then, let’s do it.” So, I baptized them both—mom and daughter. And we got to the part where I am suppose to lay my hands on their head. I do McKenzie first, who was standing in front of her mom. Then I reach up and lay my hands on Jess’ head. Meanwhile, I feel McKenzie getting all tangled up in my robes. This fluttering little 5 year old want to see her mom receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
I might not be able to remember every baptism I have done, but I can tell you, each and everyone of them was special and holy because God showed up. Every time we celebrate a child or an adult being baptize, we have a unique opportunity to experience our God’s presence here in this place. You know, every time someone is married, how many of us remember the day that you got married. But more importantly, how much of us remember the vows that we made to our spouse as a wedding? I am one of those Christians who does not remember my baptism. And that is okay because I believe baptism is not about me—it is about God bringing me into God’s family. The Holy Spirit brings people to the Font. God does the saving—not me or you. It is why in the Lutheran baptismal rite, the pastor has the option to say either “You are baptized in the name of Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Or “I baptize you…”. I choose the later because it is older of the the two proclamations. But either is fine because I am but an instrument in this wonderful gift.
We believe, according to Luther’s Small Catechism, that baptism “is not simply plain water. Instead, it is water used according to God’s command and connected with God’s word.” We believe that baptism “brings about forgiveness of sins, redeems from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe it, as the words and promise of God declare.” And the water doesn’t have to come from the Jordan, the same river where our Lord was baptized. It doesn’t have come from any biblical sites or be blessed by a bishop or pope. It just needs the Word of God. For it is not the water alone that saves, “but the word of God, which is with and alongside the water, and faith, which trusts this word of God in the water. For without the word of God the water is plain water and not a baptism, but with the word of God it is a baptism, that is, a grace-filled water of life and a “bath of the new birth in the Holy Spirit.” Baptism is our second chance at living. Luther tells us that baptism allows us to daily drown out the old self, the old Adam, through repentance and to daily “rise up to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” Baptism is a gift from God for each of us. The crowning jewel of our faith in Jesus.
We are all keenly aware that the baptism Jesus experienced is entirely different from what we experience. As the hymn reminds us,
When Jesus came to Jordan
to be baptized by John,
he did not come for pardon
but as the Sinless One.
He came to share repentance
with all who mourn their sins,
to speak the vital sentence
with which good news begins.
Our Lord’s baptism is more rooted in a promise, a covenant, that he makes with God. He promises to be faithful, even to the bitter, bloody end—Faithful to the will of God, his Father in heaven. And God publicly acknowledges Jesus as “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Or probably a better translation, “You, you are my beloved Son; with you I am so delighted!” That sounds a lot more like a Father talking to his son and doesn’t stretch the Greek to say something that just isn’t there. “You, you are my beloved Son; with you I am so delighted!”
As I sat with this text all week, I found a hard time seeing myself in Luke’s recalling of our Lord’s baptism. It is an important story that tells us a lot about God’s relationship with his son, Jesus. It publicly acknowledges Jesus as God’s son, God’s chosen and anointed messiah. Just as Samuel anointed David as King, the Holy Spirit publicly anointed Jesus. All good and important stuff, but nothing got me warm and fuzzy.
As I think about all the people I have baptized, all the trails they have faced, all the problems they have overcome and will overcome throughout their lives…Baptism is not a get-out-of-jail-free card or get out of bad stuff happening to you card. Rather, being baptized is a target for the devil as someone one whom the devil needs to win back. That cross which was etched into your forehead the day you were baptized, that indelible mark, is what the devil uses to target his next victim. Your life is not going to get easier after you are baptize. It might look all cute with babies dressed up in cute, white gowns, but their lives will not be easier. Joel Olsteen and all those preachers who preach the false gospel of prosperity to those who just pray really hard, are wrong. Baptism is almost always a guarantee for a rough life, filled with ups and downs, events and situations which each us us will face the level trying to lead us astray. It is amazing that anyone would want to bring their little child to the font, but there is a reason that Christians continue to come and be baptized in this holy water . It is because of the promise from God that though you might walk through the deep and darkest of valleys, though you might face the devil daily trying to pull you back to himself, God will be with you. The prophet Isaiah reminds us of this very promise. God will not abandon God’s people.
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will 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. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. … Do not fear, for I am with you…
God didn’t abandon his son, not even on the cross. God redeemed him and raised him on the third day. And because of your baptism, you are united not only in our Lord’s death but in his resurrection as well. Because of our baptism, the grave is not our final resting place. Because of our baptism, our God will never abandon us, not matter where you might go or whatever you might do. Today we remember the day God publicly acknowledge Jesus as his Son and it is the day that our Lord began his earthly ministry here on earth. But today is also the day we remember the day when God acknowledge you as one of God’s own beloved. Today we remember the promisees God made with us— to not abandon us but to be present no matter the circumstance. Do not fear, for we have been redeemed. God has called you by name and you are one of God’s beloved. Do not fear, for God is with you. The devil ain’t got nothing on what God is willing to do to be with you. God knows you and wants to be with you, and the gift of baptism, the gift of your baptism is proof of this amazing and holy truth.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.