About Me

My photo
Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Luke 3:15-22 Baptism of the Lord

Luke 3:15-22 Baptism of the Lord

2010-01-10 Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

On the church calendar, today is Baptism of the Lord Sunday. Our Lord's life is moving along lickety-split. Three weeks ago he was born. Two weeks ago he was 12 and left Home Alone by his parents in the Temple. Today he's beginning his ministry and being baptized by John in the River Jordan. They do grow up so fast. 

So today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord by John the Baptist. John must have been a Southern Baptist, because there was lots of water and dunking. Had John been Presbyterian, the Bible would be dryer. How many of you were baptized by immersion? I've never done a baptism by immersion. I could. I'm allowed to. But Presbyterians usually sprinkle. Baptists christen infants and immerse around age 12. Presbyterians sprinkle infants and confirm around age 12. Ordinarily good, peaceful Christians can get into really ugly arguments over who's spreading the love of God right and who's doing it wrong.

Call me crazy, but I don't believe your eternal fate rests on the amount of water the preacher uses at your baptism. Furthermore, I think arguing over it is just another flimsy human excuse for not getting along with people who believe in the same God. The symbolism and the promises made when we pass through the waters is important, but it's not the only sign of faith and life.

You see, there are two baptisms in today's scripture, and usually we only celebrate one. We jump to thinking the Baptism of the Lord is the when the Lord was baptized by John. But John himself says Jesus is going to baptize him, soon and very soon, with a whole new kind of baptism. The Baptism of the Lord in water, by John, is only the beginning of the story. It may be the first baptism of the Lord, but it won't be the last. In our own lives of faith, we might start out under water, but you can't stay under very long. We break beyond the surface pretty quickly. We grow up so fast. And so does our baptism.

When we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord, we're not just celebrating one event that happened a long time ago. We're celebrating all the baptisms that strengthen our faith and test our mettle, all life long.


You've probably heard me say how baptisms are my favorite part of being a minister. The baby's all dressed up. A lot of times they're wearing baptismal gowns handed down their family's generations. The congregation is shifting in their seats, craning their necks to get a good view to see whether the baby's smiling or crying or giving the preacher the evil eye. And then, as a minister, the best part, you get to hold the baby, and say the words that have been said across the millennia, "I baptize you in the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit." The moment is as close to pure as we'll ever get. For a moment it doesn't matter who the parents are, or how well the minister performs, or whether the baby is healthy or fussy or even asleep. For a moment the Baptism of the Lord is re-enacted in our own world, a brief flash of heavenly light among the shadows. 

Jesus rose up out of the water, and heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."

At a baptism, for a moment, all in heaven and earth that matters is God's declaration and our vows that this baby is a child of God. With God's help, we will live lives worthy of this beautiful little girl or boy. For a moment, all is right. All the love, and hope, and promise we can muster is channelled at one child who reminds us how wonderful life is supposed to be. 

How wonderful life is supposed to be.

And to all the people who came to the waters that same day Jesus did, to all the people ready to turn their lives over to God and wash away their sins, to all these, John said, "I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."

The church tells us today is Baptism of the Lord Sunday, but what it doesn't tell us is how to translate that one little word: of. Is it the Baptism OF the Lord in that "of" means the baptism received by the Lord? Or is it Baptism OF the Lord where "of" means the baptism the Lord gives? John says Jesus will baptize, but not with water. There's not one single instance in the Bible of Jesus baptizing anyone with water. Not one. But in almost every verse of the New Testament, Jesus tests the mettle of everyone who says they want to walk in his footsteps. Jesus may have received a baptism of water, but he brings a baptism by fire. He promises that every single one of his followers will have their faith tested over and over again. Baptists dunk, Presbyterians sprinkle, but all Christians, all followers of Our Lord grow up being baptized by fire - not once, not twice, but every day.

Water baptism reminds us who wonderful life is supposed to be. Baptism by fire tests our wonder and teaches us how to emerge.


If water baptisms are my favorite part of being a minister, baptisms by fire are the absolute worst. The worst part of being a minister is when someone looks you in the eye and says, "What did I do to deserve this?" It would be so much easier if you all were serial killers. Because then, I could answer, "It's because you're so baaaaaad." The worst part of being a minister is seeing people who are beloved and blessed children of God, whom over the years you've come to know and love, having to endure suffering that you know they couldn't possibly come close to deserving. 

I don't believe God causes suffering, or allows suffering, in order to test us. I think the world takes care of that itself. If the all-seeing, all-knowing God really knows us through and through, God doesn't need to see what tests we'll pass or fail. God didn't need a crucifixion to test whether Jesus would be faithful. Again, the world took care of that itself. It wasn't God's test, it wasn't Satan's curse, it simply was. Bad things don't happen to good people, they happen to all people. Sometimes visibly rotten people cause the bad things, but mostly they just happen. A miscarriage. A stroke. A car accident. No one deserves these things.

The entrance into our lives of faith is marked by water baptism. After the entrance, and along the way, every life is marked by baptisms of fire. The question, the test, is whether the fires will burn our faith away, or burn away the illusions of faith. 

The test boils down to this: After all you're been through, do you still believe in the hope, the faith and the love in which you were baptized? Will you be guided by that pure and wonderful glimpse of heavenly light? Despite all evidence to the contrary, do you still believe that you are a beloved child of God? 

These are the questions that put our faith to the test. These are the questions that separate the wheat from the chaff, divide reality from fantasy. When we say we are followers of Christ, will that faith lead us through the fire, or will it fizzle away to nothing?


When Jesus rose up out of the water, the heavens were opened and the Spirit descended, and a voice said, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased." At that point in his life, before his official work began, Jesus hadn't done a doggone thing. Except be the child of God.

When we baptize these babies, at that point in their lives, they haven't done a doggone thing. Except be a child of God.

They will grow up too fast, and their childhood will be tested. It's our job to teach them faith that stands up to the tests. We can do that through words and books, but what they really need to see is our example. They need to see our examples of good works, sure. But what they really need to see is our example of faith that sticks when life tries to pry it away.