Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord, January 11, 2014
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Texts: Genesis 1:1-5 and Mark 1:4-11
Sermon Theme: “Hovering Over the Water”
(Sources: Lutheran Worship: History and Practice; Lutheran Book of Worship: Manual on the Liturgy; Anderson’s Preaching Workbook, Cycle B; Emphasis Online Illustrations; original ideas; Sancta Missa Online Roman Catholic Views on Baptism; Water, Water, Everywhere! Online Lutheran Baptismal Liturgy.)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
We can be glad that our awesome God is not like us, Can’t we? What if He were?
In the beginning, it was nine o’clock, so God had to go to work. He filled out a requisition to separate light from darkness. He considered making stars to beautify the night and planets to fill the skies, but thought it sounded like too much work; and besides, God thought, “That’s not my job.” So He decided to knock off early and call it a day. And He looked at what he’d done and He said, “It’ll have to do!”
On the second day God separated the waters from the dry land. And He made all the dry land flat, plain, and functional, so that – behold – the whole earth looked like Idaho. He thought about making mountains and valleys and glaciers and jungles and forests, but He decided it wouldn’t be worth the effort. And God looked at what He had done that day and said, “It’ll have to do.”
And God made a pigeon to fly in the air and a carp to swim in the waters and a cat to creep upon dry ground. And God thought about making millions of other species of all sizes and shapes and colors, but He couldn’t drum up any enthusiasm for any other animals. In fact, He wasn’t too crazy about the cat. Besides it was almost time for The Late Show. So God looked at all He had done and God said, ”It’ll have to do.”
And at the end of the week, God was seriously burned out. So He breathed a big sigh of relief and said, “Thank me, it’s Friday!”
Yes, indeed, we can rejoice that our awesome God is not like us! Not even like our most educated homo sapiens!
“When God began creating the heavens and earth, the earth was a shapeless, chaotic mass,” says the Living Bible. A surgeon, an architect, and a politician were arguing about the age of their respective professions. The surgeon pointed out that in the Garden of Eden, an operation took place. “Eve was made from Adam’s rib,” said the surgeon, “and that was certainly a surgical operation.”
The architect listened patiently until the surgeon finished. The architect frowned and said, “You’re right about the operation with regard to Eve. It was the first surgical operation. But, before that operation took place, order was created out of chaos. That was an architectural job.”
The politician lit his cigar, smiled knowingly, and said, “Sure, but who do you think created the chaos in the first place?”
In the beginning, the earth was formless, empty, and dark, says our translation on the insert. In other words, there was chaos. And God created something wonderful for us out of that chaos.
Centuries later, due to sin, that wonderful something fell into chaos again, and our merciful God created Baptism as part of our redemption.
As I’m sure you’ve noticed over the years, the three Scriptures for each Sunday are carefully chosen so that the Old Testament reading and the Epistle clarify or enhance the Gospel text. Today, perhaps you wondered how the creation account in Genesis could be tied into our Gospel about Baptism, and Jesus’ Baptism in particular. Members of the earlier church would have understood that no doubt better than we do.
The creation account in Genesis 1 says that in the beginning the Spirit of God hovered over the waters. Then God spoke light into existence. There we have it, the three building blocks of creation – God’s Spirit, water and the word. Those are also the elements present when God recreates or redeems His human creation. God’s Spirit and God’s word combine with the waters of baptism to create new spiritual life.
In other words, God’s Spirit created the world through water and the word. Jesus was enthroned as Messiah through water and the word (the Gospel). We are adopted into God’s family and empowered for ministry through water and the word.
From the earliest beginnings of the Roman Catholic Church, and even today, the Baptism ritual included two exorcisms, one with the blessing of the Baptismal water. Holding his hand above the baptismal font, and making the sign of the cross three times, the officiating priest says, “God’s creature, water, I cast out the demon from you by the living God, by the true God, by the holy God, by God who in the beginning separated you by His word from the dry land, whose Spirit hovered over you, who made you flow out of Paradise.”
The other exorcism was known as the “salt exorcism,” which I will explain in a minute.
Martin Luther, having been schooled, trained and ordained in the Catholic church, modified the Catholic baptism considerably in 1523 by publishing a small book entitled Little Book of Baptism. However, in his Little Book of Baptism, he retained the water exorcism and the salt exorcism. Six years later, in 1529, Luther wrote the Small Catechism and the Large Catechism, to give us our current Rite or ritual of Baptism.
The salt exorcism consisted of putting salt in the mouth of the child being baptized and saying, “Receive the salt of wisdom. May it aid thee to eternal life.” Boy, am I glad I don’t have to do that when I baptize babies, or adults for that matter!
Today, those exorcisms have been eliminated in Lutheran churches, but some Lutherans still have a blessing of the water.
In the LCMS Lutheran Worship (our blue book), as you know from following the Rite of Baptism just recently, starting on page 199, there is no blessing of the water nor any exorcisms. In the Rite of Baptism in the ELCA Lutheran Book of Worship, there are no exorcisms, but there is a blessing of the water, whereby the pastor holds his hand over the baptismal font and says, “Pour out your Holy Spirit,” as the Spirit of God is invoked upon the water and thus upon all who are baptized (reminding the people of the Spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters in Genesis I).
I mention all of this to show the connection between today’s Old Testament lection and our Gospel.
The Explanation to Luther’s Small Catechism says, “Without God’s word the water is plain water and no Baptism.” Also involved is trusting the word of God in the water. The most essential action needed is baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as that is commanded by God and not a man-made tradition. Today’s Gospel text says that John was proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John says that the one who comes (Jesus) will baptize with the Holy Spirit.
In his Large Catechism, Luther refers to Repentance as the third Sacrament, and then he goes on to say that repentance is nothing other than Baptism. “Therefore,” he says, “if you live in repentance, you walk in Baptism.” You see, a person who does not repent, actually has no faith, and salvation is by grace through faith, with baptism serving as a means of grace.
A theology professor once said, “God’s Word creates what it declares.” Genesis tells us that the earth was in chaos, confusion, and darkness until God intervened. God spoke, “Let there be light,” and there was light, and God saw that it was good. God’s Word is the first step in bringing order, sense, and light to a chaotic and dark world.
Here in Genesis, God brought light and order to a dark and confused world. Thousands of years later, God intervened again through His Word. This time the Word brought orderliness, sense, and light to the chaos and darkness of the sin, sickness, and death in our lives. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us – the Word was the life and the light of humanity.”
God continues to bring light and order to a dark and confused world. That is the comfort and hope we take into this New Year. We have faith that He will hear our sighs and sobs and will answer us with the tenderness of a Father’s love, and that His Son, the Word made flesh, will soothe our anxieties and heal our wounds and hold us up to meet all the challenges and struggles of 2015. Let us stay true to Him and our faith by daily renewing our baptismal vows. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.