Saturday, February 06, 2010

Sermon on Luke 3:15-22 for the Baptism of our Lord. "Living a New Life!"

A sermon by Pastor Scott Benjamin of Resurrection Lutheran Church, Detroit, MI. Preached at Emmanuel Lutheran Church of Maui, 1/10/10.

With the start of another year, the news magazines run their traditional obituary page--listing all the famous people who died in 2009. People like Michael Jackson, Ted Kennedy, Patrick Swayze, and Ed McMahon. Everyone on the page had been a part of this world, but are here no longer.
An interesting way to begin a new year: To list all of those who would have no earthly part of the new year, because their earthly life has ended. They are all dead and buried.

The Church on the other hand, is celebrating Epiphany and the Baptism of our Lord. The Light which came into the darkness 2,000 years ago and brought new life to all who believe in Jesus Christ as the Savior, continues to bring new life to all people.
The movie stars, and politicians listed in the obituaries for 2009 all came from men. They were all purely human. The light that comes from the movie screen and TV set made them all famous; that flickering light can even preserve their image for years to come, but it could not prevent their leaving this world.

Jesus Christ was true man born of the Virgin Mary, but He was also true God, begotten of the Father before all time. He was sent from heaven specifically to be the Savior. He needed no TV, no movie screen to make Himself known, for He is the very Word of God. “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” He needed no flickering light to preserve His image, for “in Him was life, and the life was the light of men.”

But the world does not understand this Light. Especially those who choose to live in the darkness do not know Jesus. But even we who have been baptized into the Light struggle to comprehend this Light. We can understand many gods, but how do we understand one God but three persons? We can understand a god portrayed in a statue or a tree, but how do we understand a God who is both true man and true God? We can understand a conquering victorious god, but how do we understand a God Who sent His Son to suffer and die to atone for all of our sins?

The darkness we can understand. It’s principles are quite simple. Power rules, corruption benefits, individual rights dominate, pleasure is all important, fame is sought after, and wars never cease. We may not like the darkness, but we understand it. We may not like the deepest recesses of it, but we live daily in its shadow. We see people all around us who are consumed by the darkness. The only light that enters their lives are temporary flickering earthly lights that soon are extinguished.

The ancient Greek philosopher Plato postulated a cave with a fire in it. The people kept their backs to the opening in the cave so they could look at the shadows cast upon the back wall of the cave by the fire. Outside was the bright yellow sun, the blue oceans, the green grass and beautiful flowers. Inside were only dark shadows of things. But the people would not leave the cav. Even when someone came to tell them of something better outside, they refused to leave. They were comfortable with the darkness and shadows because that was all they knew.

Some portray Jesus as just someone coming into the cave to tell us of a better life. There are people like this. They offer a myriad of ways for you to work your way out of the darkness. But the sad reality is that they do not come from the Light outside the cave. They simply come from another cave. They simply lead people from one shadowy existence to another. They remind me of the coach’s pep talk before the big game. He gathers his players around and tries to inspire them to play better than the other team. He gets them hopping up and down; he gets them fired up to play their best; he seeks to instill in them the desire to win.
Sometimes he is successful and sometimes not. But it doesn’t matter because the next week, or the next year, there will be another game, and another game, and another game that they must work hard to win.

Jesus Christ is not a football coach, He is not someone who comes into the cave to persuade people to come to a better life; Jesus Christ is the true Light. He is the Son and He comes as the Light to dissipate the darkness. When His light shines, all the shadows disappear, and all the evil which has been lurking in the darkness is revealed for what it is and is defeated. Even death cannot overcome the Light of God.

We know this not because we let our reason be persuaded by Him, not because we are emotionally hyped up, but because God the Father and the Holy Spirit declare it to be so. At His Baptism, the Father declares, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well pleased.” And the Holy Spirit descends upon Him in the form of a dove.

Jesus does not need Baptism for forgiveness of sins, for He is sinless. Movie stars need fans, politicians need voters, you and I need a Savior, but Jesus needed nothing. He is baptized to be revealed to Israel. The Light shines in the darkness.

On one side of His Baptism we have the Trinity revealed, on the other side is the Church. Christ’s Baptism is right in the middle of these two realities. At His Baptism, the Trinity is present. In His Baptism, Jesus identifies Himself with His church that is to be.

If we try to approach the Baptism of the Savior of the world from our usual linear way of reasoning, we will be at a loss to understand its meaning. The Baptism of our Lord is one of those epiphanies when the spiritual realm and the physical realm are revealed together. Baptism is not simple water only, it is the water combined with God’s Word. Jesus Christ is the Word of God, which reveals to us that we too are included in this:“Therefore we were buried with Him through Baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Rom. 6:1)

Simply put, Baptism is our death, our burial, and our resurrection in union with Jesus Christ and the entire godhead. It is a rite of passage, given by Christ to the Church, as an entrance into the Kingdom of God and eternal life.

Not just moving from one cave to another, not just throwing another log on the fire to make the shadows a bit more distinct, and not just a pep talk to get us fired up. Baptism for us is a passage from darkness into the eternal Light of God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is the beginning of living a new life.

Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father. His Baptism reveals that, His Life confirms it, and His death finishes it. We don’t just follow Jesus into the kingdom of God, we walk through His sacrifice into that Kingdom.

In Old Testament times when two men made a covenant, they would slaughter an animal, cut it in half and both men would walk between the two halves to signify the bonding of the covenant. Moses led God’s people out of bondage through the Red Sea which had parted. The last prophet of the old covenant, John the Baptist, baptized in water unto repentance. John’s baptism was received by Jesus, who thereby transformed the water and baptism itself.

In the New Covenant, Baptism is the means by which we enter the Kingdom of God, and are joined to Christ, and are granted the remission of our sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

In the Didache, an early second century church writing, it is stated that Baptism should be done in cold running water. Not because water standing in a basin is not valid, but because of the image the running water carries with it. Living here in this place you have a unique understanding of water. You are surrounded by it. You know the power of the waves crashing in. You know the lush rain forests the rains bring and just a few miles away the dessert like conditons when there is too little rain.

In so many ways you see how dynamic water is. It is the same way with Baptism—it is dynamic. Without it there is no life. With it there is a powerful conversion.

But Baptism is not an end in and of itself, it is a passage into a new life: An active, vibrant life. I fear too many today see Baptism as a life vest and Jesus as the person who will through it to them. They just have to swim to it and put it on and then float until someone hauls them up into the helicopter.

Running water, powerful water, cold, invigorating water: those are much better pictures to fix in your mind. You are placed in this water and you never leave. Instead you follow the stream, you are carried along, over all the stones, around the boulders, through the rapids to the fountain, the source of all good things.

No life preserver to float you along, no island to isolate you, just wonderful, life-giving water that is God’s kingdom.

When the Roman soldier pierced Jesus’ side as He hung on the cross, blood and water came out. Jesus’ blood shed for the forgiveness of our sins and the water into which we are baptized, both flowed out. They had not pooled in Jesus body, they flowed out from Him to us.

We are united with Jesus in His death through the waters of our Baptism. Flowing water, moving water, vibrant water, invigorating water that carries us into the kingdom of God.

Jesus suffered and died, but there was no obituary written about Him. For on the third day, He rose again. Death defeats every living thing, but it could not defeat the very Life of the world, and it cannot defeat those who are baptized into that Life.

Yes, our old Adam drowns. That sinful part of us that is so comfortable with the ways of the world, so content to sit and look at shadows, is to be drowned daily, so that the new man in us may rise again to live in Christ’s Church: the only one that worships the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as true God.
Obituaries, eulogies are mere memories. New life is in Jesus Christ. Now and forever. Amen.

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