When You Pass Through The Waters

Baptism of Our Lord Year C Isaiah 43:1-7 Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

One of the interesting things I noticed when I became a Lutheran some years ago was the amount of time people spent talking about baptism. ‘Remember your baptism’ was a phrase unfamiliar to me but commonly on the lips of the Lutheran pastors I knew. When kids were confirmed they were ‘confirming’ their baptism. There were other times during the year that we were specifically called to remember our baptism, one of which is the festival we celebrate today—the Festival of the Baptism of Our Lord.

The ironic thing about all this to me was that virtually none of the Lutherans I knew could not remember their baptisms at all because they were infants or young children when they were baptized.

Because my parents were of different denominations—my mother

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Methodist and my father Missionary Baptist—there was much discussion between the two of them about when and how I would be baptized. My father won the discussion and I was, therefore, baptized not as an infant but as a slightly older child. So, unlike so many Lutherans, I do remember my baptism. Quite well, actually.

More than anything else, I remember being terribly afraid that the curls my mother had fought and struggled to get into my hair would all be washed away in the small amount of water the pastor would place on my head. However, I have a suspicion that the injunction to ‘Remember your Baptism’ is a little something more than this.

Baptism is not something we enter into lightly, be it as an adult, a child or an infant, even if it is something we’ve come to view as routine. We do it at the command of Jesus who told the disciples and us to go into the world and baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And in this, in these waters, we are joined with Him with all that entails. Joined with him in his baptism, joined with him in his life, and joined with him in his death.

There is a community of Christians in Africa that have an unusual baptismal practice that vividly illustrates what we believe about baptism. When the pastor dips the infant into the water, he says ‘I kill you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit’. This is a piece of the rite we do not often acknowledge. The water with which we baptize is a life giving thing, of course, but it is no coincidence that water is also a force mightier than us; a frightening force that can take away life.

The prayer that begins our rite, called the flood prayer, speaks of, among other things, God’s action in the flood and his saving Noah, his family and the animals in the ark.

But the pastor in those African congregations does not stop there. He again dips the infant in the water and says ‘I raise you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.’

Now, I am not advocating we change our baptismal service but this does remind us of something very important about what happens in those waters. The sinful part of us is crucified; buried with Jesus in his death. And then we are raised in those waters to new life. Raised to a new life in Christ. When we bear witness to any baptism, we see, whether we realize it or not, the death of the old Adam in that person. The sinful part of him or her in which we all share. We witness death. And we witness life. All because of Jesus and his own baptism

In today’s Old Testament lesson we have a powerful statement about God’s love for us that has a particularly baptismal sound to it.

But now, says the Lord, he who created you, Do Not Fear, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name and you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you… for you are precious in my sight and I Love You.

Let’s go in our minds for a moment to the banks of the River Jordan where Jesus is being baptized. Here he makes his first public appearance on the stage of human history. John the Baptist, eyes surely blazing with the Word of God and preaching repentance in the wilderness, had been preparing the way of the Lord, preparing the people for the coming of the Messiah who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.

And here he finally is! Jesus, the Messiah, and he is going under the water and coming up out of the water. While John prays, heaven itself opens, the Holy Spirit descends like a dove, a voice comes from heaven speaking to Jesus and all who are gathered can hear: “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well-pleased.”

Yes, Jesus, you’re my boy, and I am so very proud of you!

This is the same thing God says to us all in our baptisms: “This one is mine!” he says. “I see my image in her! Don’t you see my image in him? And here comes my Spirit, my Spirit to sustain and guide as you go about doing all that I would have you to do on earth.”

It is quite possible that our emphasis on baptism comes from Martin Luther and his own focus on this moment and all it means. He wrote that every morning when you wash your face you should remember your baptism. In other words: remember that you ARE baptized. Luther is famous for his struggle with overwhelming feelings of unworthiness and questioning whether or not he deserved God’s love and grace. Legend says that he even had this written over his desk: Remember, you have been baptized.

Luther’s emphasis and ours is well founded. The truth is that God chooses to bring us into the world and he claims and reclaims us over and over again. Luther knew that we don’t need to spend a whole lot of time fretting over whether or not we are perfect enough or good enough or worthy enough. With the exception of Jesus, none of us are perfect enough. But our being “enough” isn’t really the point of baptism. Or of God, for that matter. The point is we are given unshakable hope in God’s grace and mercy so freely given to us. Freely poured over us like running water.

In our baptism we are united with that grace, with Jesus himself, and we are granted the gift of the Holy Spirit. From our baptism onward, we live inside the promise that we will have a strength that comes from God enabling us to live our lives differently. God says: “Do you see my child down there? I am so proud of him. She’s not perfect, but she’s mine.”

Children of God, we may remember that we are baptized and rejoice! Hear the word of the Lord, the words God speaks to us in our baptism: Do not fear, I have redeemed you. I have called you by name and you are mine. When you pass through the waters—through all the difficult and dangerous things in life, even death itself—I will be with you. For I am the Lord your God, your savior. You are precious in my sight and I love you.

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