Sunday, January 13, 2019
Baptism of Our Lord / Lectionary 1, Year C

Introduction
The Baptism of Our Lord cannot help but recall our own and all baptismal blessings. We recall and celebrate our adoption as daughters and sons, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the promised company of almighty God when we “pass through the waters . . . the rivers . . . fire.” On this day the heavens open again for this assembly, and we receive the gift of the beloved Son of God in bread and wine.

Prayer of the Day
Almighty God, you anointed Jesus at his baptism with the Holy Spirit and revealed him as your beloved Son. Keep all who are born of water and the Spirit faithful in your service, that we may rejoice to be called children of God, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Amen.

Readings and Psalm
Isaiah 43:1-7 When you pass through the waters, do not fear, for I am with you
Psalm 29
Acts 8:14-17 Prayer and laying on of hands for the Holy Spirit
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 The baptism of Jesus with the descent of the Holy Spirit

Sermon
Title:  Our Watery Call

Last Sunday evening we hosted another unique memorial for someone who was active in the ballroom scene and community.  (If you have been watching the new show POSE, you understand.  Or maybe years ago you saw PARIS IS BURNING.)  This young man was of the House of Ebony and was well known for his mastery of vogueing.  His memorial even included a vogueing tribute.  We have hosted a number of these memorials over the years.  Trans folks, ballroom folks, drag performers, folks whose friends feel either the family did not offer an appropriate celebration of the life lived, or too often and too sadly, the family has not allowed friends to participate in any funeral.  So, they come to us asking if a truer celebration of the life and the authentic person can be held here at St. John’s.  They do the planning and typically they invite me to begin the servie speaking words of welcome, reading from scripture, offering words of comfort and consolation in the midst of their heartbreak and loss.  In return, the friends of the departed loved one always offer expressions of deep and sincere appreciation that St. John’s provides space for these events.

Now, the memorial for this past Sunday was planned a little differently.  Instead of being placed at the beginning, I was placed at the end.  And, according to the bulletin, I was given three tasks:  offer remarks, offer an invitation to Christian discipleship, and offer a benediction.  Now I was completely comfortable with one and three, but it was number 2 that sought to put my Lutheran self out of my comfort zone.  I had a sense what they meant, but just to make sure, I asked for some clarification.  Sure enough, the planners of the service were hoping to end with some sort of altar call.

I gently, humbly, and with all the spirit of hospitality that we seek to show, said that we don’t really do that here.  It’s not part of our theology, our practice, or our teachings.  And these two gentlemen were surprised and came back with a “what do you believe or do?”  And I tried, in just a few words, to point to baptism as our starting point and that we encourage people to live out their baptism every day.  And one responded, “you are Christ-centered, right?”  Of course, of course, I said.  Thinking, did I say something that implied that we are not?  In the end, I did speak a challenge and an invitation that, while not a traditional altar call, I believe, in the end satisfied them, our Lutheran understandings, the occasion of this memorial, and (most importantly) those listening who may have needed to hear such a word.

But in getting ready for this morning’s celebration of the Baptism of Our Lord, that conversation stuck with me and kept playing over in my head.  How do we link baptism into discipleship?

Now this word – discipleship –  usually does come up in the Epiphany season because every year we hear either the story of Jesus calling fisherman to follow him and/or we hear Jesus teaching what it means to follow him.  (This year we will hear the lake side call story in four weeks.)  But having that conversation at the memorial and hearing again this story of Jesus’ baptism (which always brings up the question:  If Jesus was without sin, why did he need to be baptized? A totally different sermon.)  My aha for this week is that discipleship begins at baptism, not later when we feel called to do something.  Because discipleship does not begin with our action, (answering that call or committing our life to Jesus – as is encouraged at altar calls  – or gaining a deeper understanding what it means to follow Christ in all things).  No, discipleship does not begin with our YES to God’s invitation.  Discipleship begins with God’s action, God’s YES to us.

Today, we see Jesus standing among those who have been baptized, praying – perhaps for himself and for them.  He is displaying for us the first step, the first action of his earthly ministry.  And upon that one who is standing among us, as fleshy as we are, God opens the heavens and descends upon him as the Holy Spirit and calls him beloved and God is pleased.  For with this anointing, Jesus can begin his journey that will lead him to confront deep need and suffering, face sickness and death. This journey will offer him opportunities to teach of God’s love and mercy, opportunities to practice radical welcome of the outcast and untouchable.

Yes, Jesus is standing among us because we are joined to his baptism.  The same baptism in which God claims us, calls us beloved, fills us with the Holy Spirit, comforts us with the promise of eternal presence and companionship.  That action that saves us from sin and death so that we can live.  That action, filled with grace, that burns away our chaff and plants seeds that have the potential to grow and bear nourishing fruit.  God’s action in baptism promises us that God is with us, through raging waters or burning flames, God is leading us, walking with us, encouraging us onward.

Without this action of God, we cannot answer the call of discipleship, we are powerless to confront earth’s principalities, we left to our own foolish wanderings.

No, there will be no altar call this morning.  No invitation to give your life to Jesus. Because, in baptism, God does the claiming, Jesus does the giving of his life to us, the Spirit fills us with the wisdom that leads us.  It is all ours as cherished children of God born of water and the Spirit.

Now we can wake up every morning responding to God’s claiming action.  We can take every step serving in Jesus’ name and following his example.  We can proceed fearlessly knowing the Spirit fills us.  We can live, confident that nothing will separate us from the love of God that claims us in the waters of baptism.  We are beloved children of God, called to be disciples of Jesus, and instruments of the Holy Spirit.  Thanks be to God.

The Rev. Mark Erson,
Pastor

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