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Why was Jesus Baptized? Why Affirm Our Own?

As I was scrolling on Facebook, I stumbled upon a post inquiring:
If Jesus was without sin, why must he have been baptized?

I love such questions that invite us to ponder our understanding and engage our faith.

The Gospel accounts agree that Jesus’ baptism was the beginning of his public ministry.

John the Baptizer was the one to ‘prepare the way for the LORD’.

  • John not-so-gently invited persons to recognize and acknowledge their own failures and sins.
  • John aggressively encouraged persons to repent, or turn from their sins and toward the Will of God.
  • Then, John would baptize persons in the Jordon River as a Rite of Purification for their new path. Rites of Purification were and remain significant within the Jewish tradition.

Jesus was without sin to acknowledge; therefore, his baptism was not for the forgiveness of sin.

Since Jesus was without sin, he had not turned from God; therefore, his baptism was not an act of repentance. And yet, such acts of repentance symbolize beginning a ‘new path’ ahead.

Thus, Jesus’ baptism was the beginning of a ‘new path’ that was his public ministry and a public dedication to the path, Will, and Kingdom of God.  

This is profound for understanding our baptism into Christ and our public ministry.

According to our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), as an Ordained Minister within this denominational body I am a public figure engaged in public ministry, including but not limited to:

  • [witnessing] to the Kingdom of God in community, in the nation, and abroad; and (C9.03.a.7)
  • [speaking] publicly to the world in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, calling for justice and
    proclaiming God’s love for the world. (C9.03.a.8)

Although ordained June 2014 with the stole placed upon my shoulders as a reminder of the yoke, the burden of my responsibility as an Ordained Minister, the above public ministry was NOT added weight. The weight of public ministry was originally placed upon my shoulders when I decided to be baptized into Christ at seven.

It is within the Rite of Baptism that one accepts the responsibilities of our shared Christian vocation.

If baptized as an infant or child, loved ones accept the responsibility to raise you within said vocation. 

This shared Christian vocation is:

  • To live among God’s faithful people who encourage us to come to the Word and the Sacraments, as well as teach us the Lord’s Prayer, the Creeds, and the Ten Commandments;
  • To engage our faith and nurture our prayer life, in order to grow deeper and healthier in a trusting relationship with the Triune God;
  • To proclaim Christ in our thoughts, words, and deeds;
  • To care for other persons, the world, and the creation that God has made; and
  • To seek and work for justice and peace.

The weight of public ministry and shared Christian vocation intensified when I was confirmed. Confirmation is our initial public affirmation of baptism, in which previously baptized persons accept their own responsibilities in and dedicate themselves to our shared Christian vocation.

All the baptized, especially the confirmed, share this Christian vocation. It is not the ordained alone.

We all should affirm our baptism and re-dedicate ourselves DAILY whether privately or publicly.

It can be as simple as showering,
simply envision the failures and sins of the day being washed down the drain with the dirt, grim, and germs. Then, re-dedicate yourself to the Christian vocation again.

But, why re-affirm our baptism and re-dedicate ourselves to the Christian vocation daily?

  • We are sinful, self-centered critters.
  • We fail to walk the path of God daily.
  • We fail to act in accordance with the Will of God daily.
  • We fail to live into and bring forth the Kingdom of God that is here, near, and not yet fulfilled daily.

Unfortunately, our communities, our nation, and abroad have and continue to suffer from a lack of dedication to, or worse yet a perversion of, our shared Christian vocation, in summary, to:

  • to proclaim Christ in thought, word, and deed through imitation;
  • to seek justice for the under-privileged;
  • to act with compassion and mercy; and
  • to love and serve all persons, especially the most vulnerable.

And so, I would fail as a public figure, an Ordained Minister, and a baptized and confirmed Christian,
if I did not recognize, acknowledge, and boldly renounce the violent and deadly riot, attack, and insurrection of our United States Capital Building on Wednesday.

  • It was disturbing to bear witness to this event unfolding on my television screen.
  • It incited sighs of lament deeper than words could express but the Holy Spirit alone can understand.
  • It was not appropriate or excusable. It was not patriotic or American.

On Thursday, a friend asked for my thoughts on the situation to which I simply replied “disturbing”.

He asked what I found most disturbing. I replied that I could not prioritize the disturbing elements.

And yet, there is a disturbing element that our shared Christian vocation demands I address.

  • It is the presence of Christian symbols boldly, proudly displayed during the violent acts.
  • It is the twisting and perverting of Christian identity intertwined with American politics.
  • It was a violent flashpoint of Christian Nationalism on full display for America and the entire world.

Our Christian vocation includes reflecting, imitating Christ in thought, word, and deed.

Jesus was not ignorant of the social and political realities of his Roman occupied time and place.

  • It was a time and place of chaos.
  • It was a time and place of normalized violence justified to maintain Pax Romania, or Peace of Rome.
  • It was a time and place of abuses of power to maintain authority at the expense of the vulnerable.

Jesus was not silently compliant.

Jesus opposed the injustice of Israelite religious elite without violent riots or attacks.

Jesus opposed the injustice of the Roman Empire without violent attacks or insurrection.

Instead, Jesus drove out the darkness of injustice with the divine light of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.

Instead, Jesus opposed the injustice in life and ministry defined by mercy and compassion, grace and love, and humble servant leadership.

Instead, Jesus provided a ‘new’ commandment to love one another as he loved his most intimate disciples (John 13: 34-35). Our love is how we will be identified as Christ-followers.

The Apostle Paul would later write:
Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:10)

Hope. Peace. Joy. Compassion. Mercy. Grace. Humble Servant-Leadership. LOVE.

  • These are the tenants of our reflection and imitation of Christ.
  • These are our Christian Identity on display even without visible symbols of Christianity.

Injustice. Abuse. Violence. Riot. Attacks. Insurrection.

  • These are NOT tenants of our reflection and imitation of Christ.
  • These are a perversion of Christian Identity.
  • These should NEVER be associated with Christ, his teachings and symbols included.

And so, considering the state of our communities, our nation and abroad paired with our shared Christian vocation in public ministry, I invite us all to affirm our baptism and re-dedicate ourselves.

Thus, our services in this Time after the Epiphany will begin with an Affirmation of Baptism.
This provides a weekly opportunity to not only give thanks for baptism, but to reflect upon our baptismal responsibilities, Christian Identity, and shared Christian vocation.

May we affirm our baptisms and our responsibilities daily.
May we re-dedicate ourselves to our shared Christian vocation daily.
May we imitate Christ in thought, word, and deed daily.
May we reflect the hope, peace, joy, mercy, compassion, grace, and love of Christ daily.
Amen.

Scripture was Mark 1: 4-11.
Originally preached on 10 January 2021 from Trinity Lutheran Church (Union City, Indiana).

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2021 in Sermons, Uncategorized

 

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Peace Making

Isaiah foretells of a voice in the wilderness calling for us to prepare the way of the LORD, to prepare a highway that is straight with mountains and valleys leveled, rough places smoothed, and pot holes filled.

John the Baptist is said voice in the wilderness.

John the Baptist is the bridge between the prophets of old, sharing fashion with Elijah echoing their voices, and the new, as Jesus’ cousin who foretells of his ministry and identity as the Christ

But, John the Baptist is not the biblical person I would associated with peace.

John was brutally honest, extremely vocal, and lacked tact.
John made waves among the common persons.
John rocked the boat with the political leadership and social elite.
John stirred the pot among the religious leadership and elite. 

Again, we do not often associate said persons and actions with peace.

However, humanity has been taught, continues to teach, and far too often embraces a lie. It is the lie that all strife, all unrest, all conflict is unhealthy and destructive; thus, it must be avoided. This lie is the foundation for a dishonest and false peace.

This dishonest and false peace is embodied in the notion of Pax Romania, or Peace of Rome. This Peace of Rome was ensured through oppression and fear. This Peace of Rome was ensured through violent, military force at the mere murmur of unrest.

Dishonest peace avoids differences, disagreements, strife, and conflict at the expense of meaningful but uncomfortable conversations, necessary but challenging changes, and honest peace.   

Dishonest peace maintains the status quo and its systematic injustices.

Dishonest peace protects the privileged and harms the under-privileged and vulnerable.

Dishonest peace affords opportunities to those with authority, power, wealth, and privilege at the expense of those without said authority, power, wealth, and privilege.

Dishonest peace creates ‘Peace-Keepers’, who discourage the ‘Good Trouble’ of John Lewis, the civil rights moment, and those who have and continue to prepare the way for the LORD seeking to level the mountains and valleys, smoothing the rough places through establishing sustainable equality and equity.

In the words of Martin Luther: “Peace when possible. Truth at all costs.”

Honest peace rejoices in the truth and prepares the way of the LORD.

Honest peace dispels unhealthy, devastating strife, unrest, and conflict through those honest meaningful but uncomfortable conversations.

Honest peace establishes the necessary but challenging changes that level the mountains and valleys, which continue to distinguish persons based on positions of authority and power, amount of accumulated wealth, social status, and privilege.  

Honest peace encourages the ‘Good Trouble’ that continues to demand and establish sustainable equality and equity that smooths the rough places.

Martin Luther King Jr., spoke that the arc of history is long but always bends towards justice.

Honest peace is a force that bends the arc of human history towards said justice.

Honest peace is a force that prepares the way of the LORD through mountains and valleys leveled, rough places smoothed, and pot-holes filled.

John the Baptist was not a peace-keeper. John the Baptist was a peace-maker.

John the Baptist was creating honest peace, rather than maintaining a dishonest peace.

John the Baptist demonstrated that peace-making may include brutal honesty and being vocal,
but hopefully with more tact.

May we, similar to John the Baptist, be peace-makers who are willing to make waves, rock the boat, and stir the pot for the sake of ‘Good Trouble’ establishing an honest peace upon all the earth for the sake of preparing the way for the LORD. Amen.

Scriptures were Isaiah 40: 1-11 and Mark 1: 1-8.
Originally preached on 13 Dec 2020 for Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2020 in Sermons

 

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New, but NOT Charmed, Life

Before we get into our texts this morning, I want to recap or highlight a couple things from our Ash Wednesday service.

1) We are now in Lent, which is a solemn time in the church year. Thus, many see it        as a gloomy, depressing, or sad time. However, I love Lent and find it renewing            and life-giving.

2) I shared in the past year a couple people have referred to me as a unicorn. BUT, if
I am a mythical creature I do not want to be a unicorn, I would want to be a
phoenix. The phoenix rises out of the ashes stronger than they were before.

The gospel of Mark, during this season of Lent, focuses on covenant agreement between God and people.

Human history repeats itself, be it in scripture or outside of scripture. In scripture, we see patterns of God creating a covenant with people, WE break the covenant, and God continues to reach out despite being upset, angry, and/or frustrated to establish yet another covenant with us.

We think of a covenant as a binding mutual agreement, usually associated with our conduct and being in relationship with one another. However, in the ancient world it was their legal contract which carried more weight and consequences than we tend to think of today.

The covenant that we hear this morning in our scriptures revolve around baptism, its water, and what that means for us.

Our first story comes from Genesis and is beloved. We decorate nurseries with Noah’s Ark, which seems odd since it was the genocide of all creation minus 8 people (Noah, his wife, their three sons, and their three daughters-in-laws) and two of each kind of animal.
After the flooding, for one reason or another unknown to us, God decides “I am NOT doing that again”. In fact, this covenant that God made in Genesis is NOT with Noah, his sons, or their descendants. This covenant is NOT conditional because there are no “if” statements. This covenant has NO time limits. This covenant is literally a covenant between God and ALL people, ALL flesh (animals), and ALL creation for ALL time. That is INCLUSIVE.

The rainbow, a sign of this covenant, is NOT a reminder to Noah, his descendants, or us but it is a reminder to God of God’s covenant and promise to us.

The waters of the flood are destructive and chaotic, which leads to our 1 Peter text. This letter, similar to the others, are to a community that is suffering; perhaps persecution, although we do not know the extent or frequency. The community is facing challenges and are reminded of their own baptisms and therefore they have died to their old selves, their old ways, and their own lives in order to be resurrected with Christ in his ministry and his mission.

1 Peter further builds on water and washing as an act of purification. Our baptisms purify us.

Note:
I find it interesting that when the Israelites would return with the spoils of war to be brought into the community, it had to be purified first. The first and preferred method, if possible, was to pass the item through fire. If it could not pass through fire, then it would be passed through water to cleanse it. We, human beings, pass through the waters of baptism because we do not do well with passing through fire.

But, 1 Peter claims that Christ’s mission did not end which his death because he descended to Sheol (the Pit) or the dead. This is not the fire and brimstone hell depicted in modern culture, but instead a place of separation from God where all people went after their earthly death while awaiting the final judgment.

In Christian Iconography (art), there are icons (imagines) of Jesus with one foot literally in the land of the dead and the other outside. Jesus is depicted helping Moses, Abraham, and beloved ancestors of faith out of Sheol. The covenant in Genesis (linked through water) is not limited or confined by death; that is a powerful covenant.

Then, we have Mark which is a fast-paced gospel. In these few verses, we have the baptism of Jesus when he heard the words “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased”.

Then, immediately afterwards the Holy Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness. I love that verse, especially on a Daytona 500 Sunday. The Holy Spirit drives him into the wilderness. The Holy Spirit does not lead him into the wilderness. The Holy Spirit does not suggest he goes into the wilderness. The Holy Spirit DRIVES him into a wilderness. It was a physical wilderness, but it was also an emotional and spiritual wilderness. He had to discern those words heard at his baptism and the future of his ministry. (There are debates about how much Christ knew about his own future at that moment, which we do not have an answer.)

We do know from Mark’s account that Jesus was tempted by satan. Satan is an adversary and a force that defies God but not necessarily a little red man with horns, a tail, and a pitchfork (that is Sparky from Arizona State University). Jesus was tempted for 40 days.
The number 40 is significant in scripture including the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years. (Lent is also 40 days minus Sundays).

Afterwards, Jesus emerges to learn that John the Baptist has been arrested.
What does Jesus do?

Jesus continues to preach essentially the same message that John the Baptist was preaching:

REPENT.
TURN from your old ways.
TURN towards new life.
The kingdom of God has come, it is near, and it is not yet fulfilled.

Our Lenten journey is about that.
It is about new life.
It is about being restored and being a new creation.

A couple of years ago, I was asked if I had led a charmed life. I thought it was an odd and oddly worded question. In fact, I remained silent because I was not sure what was being asked when another person replied “no, she has had some struggles and challenges”. Then the intention of the question dawned on me.

A charmed life, by definition “charmed” is something that protects and is usually associated with supernatural or magical properties used to protect the item and its carrier.

There are people who believe that by coming into faith, coming to the waters of baptism, and if they live into their baptismal promises that their lives will be ‘charmed’ and they will be sheltered, guarded, and protected against the broken, messy, and sinful world that we live.

This idea is reinforced in a variety of phrases, including one of my favorite to hate: “God won’t give you more than you can handle”. I HATE that phrase, for me it invokes an image of God as a bully in heaven with a magnifying glass we are the ants. BUT, I came a sign one day that read: “God does not give us what we can handle. God helps us handle what we are given.” Often the difficult situations we find ourselves in, those burdens we carry, and the challenges we deal with are the result of our own brokenness, poor choices, and sin or that of another.

Our lives are not protected from that brokenness, poor choices, or sin. We do NOT have a magical charm, which can be a challenge for us to accept.

BUT, we do have covenants. We do have promises. We do have reassurance that no matter how dark it gets God is ever-present (and if you watch the news you know our world is dark). Similar to how the Holy Spirit was ever-present with Christ in his own wilderness and temptation.

So, we are beginning our Lenten journey.

It is a calling into new life whether we are emerging from the waters of baptism or the ashes of our own pervious lives, but that does not mean it is free from temptation, sin, or suffering. However, as our Psalm reminds us, God is faithful and steadfast in God’s love continually establishing and re-establishing those covenants with ALL flesh, ALL creation for ALL time.

That is the good news. May that be where our hope lies. Amen.

Scriptures were Genesis 9:8-17, Psalm 25:1-10, 1 Peter 3:18-22, and Mark 1:9-15.
Originally preached on 18 Feb. 2018 at Trinity Lutheran Church (Union City, IN).
 
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Posted by on February 19, 2018 in Sermons

 

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Healing for Vocation

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Last Sunday, I talked about there being a common theme in Mark you would hear a lot this year. The theme is that the Kingdom of God has come, it is near, and it is not yet fulfilled.

Mark has a second common theme that was in our passage last week, this morning, and will be many times this year. We call it the Messianic secret because Jesus heals people and casts out demons but will not allow them to identify Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One that they (the Israelites) have been awaiting.

I also shared that Mark’s first chapter is extremely busy…
Jesus is baptized.

Jesus is tempted in the wilderness (by Satan).

Jesus preaches his mission to proclaim the Word, and to release the prisoners and those held captive. Afterwards, he is chased out of his hometown.

Jesus calls the disciples into new vocations, into a new way of being, and into relationship with him.

Jesus performs his first exorcism in Mark.

This morning, we now have three stories that may seem disconnected and yet are deeply intertwined with one another.

When Jesus called Simon (who will become Peter), Andrew, James, and John from their boats to become “Fishers of Men”, he was calling them to leave behind their professions and their families. Thus, we often imagine that they were single men.

BUT, did you notice who the woman healed in our text today is? Simon’s mother-in-law.

Now, it is not a secret that at Jesus’ time the majority of the community believed if a person was sick it was one of two reasons either (1) the person had an unclean spirit/demon or (2) the person was being punished for their own sin or the sin of their previous generations.

Ponder that for a moment. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2018 in Sermons

 

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Divine Authority: Jesus and Demons

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The Gospel of Mark has a theme that you will hear A LOT this year…
It is that the Kingdom of God has come, its near, and yet not fulfilled.

This is a theme that we get as early as the first chapter in Mark, which has been busy:

Jesus was baptized.
He went into the wilderness and was tempted (by Satan).
He called his disciples.
He preached in his home synagogue, where he was chased out of town.
AND now, we have the first story of a healing or exorcism in Mark.

As I shared with the children, I struggle with any scripture that refers to unclean spirits (or demons) in part because I do not know how to preach it.

When we say “unclean spirits”, what are we talking about…
the “demons” that haunt us personally and are metaphoric?
mental illness and the stigma that remains around it?
the “unclean spirits” in our society and our culture as a whole?

How do you preach it?

Last night, I told my mother and sister that I struggle preaching these texts about demons. My sister asked “why” and I replied “because I do not know what to do with demons other than to cuddle with them”.

The truth is WE ALL have our own personal demons and at the very least, even if we do not cuddle with them, we become comfortable, content, complicit with our own prejudices, guilt from something we did or did not do in the past that keeps us up at night, or another unclean spirit/demon. WE ALL have our own demons that haunt us. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2018 in Sermons

 

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Invitation to Follow

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I have previously said that this Time After Epiphany is a series of God’s manifestations in Jesus as the Christ and Christ’s ministry. We see these manifestations in various, distinctive ways.

Last week, we heard the story of Jesus calling Nathaniel and a few other men to be disciples. The story was not (necessarily) dramatic… Jesus basically says:
“Hey, I saw you sitting under the fig tree. Come, follow me and do something with your life”.

Today, we have very different call story in our gospel.
Simon (who later will be “Peter”) and Andrew are in their boats fishing. They were fishermen by trade. We also have John and James (Sons of Zebedee) are in their boat mending nets, because they too were fishermen by trade.

Jesus is standing on the shoreline and shouts to them (in their boats) saying “Follow Me”.
We do not get this ‘sense’ in the English, but in the Greek it is a command: “Follow Me”.

It is not so much a question and not so much a pleasant invitation, but it is a ‘forceful’ one.

BUT, in the philosophical writings of the era “to follow” meant “to be in relationship with”. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2018 in Sermons

 

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Baptism: Not Once in a Life-Time

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Christmas and the Christmas season is officially done, because yesterday was the celebration of the Epiphany. However, a number of us are not aware of or lack knowledge about the Epiphany which celebrates the arrival of the wise men, who have been following the light of a star.

When we hear “epiphany”, we think of the light bulb and “ah ha, I get it now” moments of revelation. Imagine the ‘ah ha’ moment of the wise men before the Christ child.

We are in a season called the Time after Epiphany, when we will look at the manifestations of who Christ is and what his public ministry/mission will be. Therefore, it is a season of light bulb moments (epiphanies). This season always begins with the Baptism of Our Lord.

It always begins with the Baptism of Our Lord for good reason for in all the Gospel accounts (especially in Mark), it is the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. It is also one of the biggest “ah ha” moments for Jesus, John, and the community as a whole (depending on the Gospel account). Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2018 in Sermons

 

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