Luke 3:15-16, 21-22
Martin Luther was a priest. He was highly intelligent, dedicated to the church and a student of the gospel, and he also struggled with self-doubt and despair as well as persecution for his honesty. Whenever he became fearful, or tired, or overcome by doubt, he would cry out loud, “I am baptized!” In that affirmation he found strength to pursue his work and continue his spiritual journey.
Baptism is one of two sacraments that we celebrate. A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of God’s grace in our lives. Through ordinary daily routines, and in the earthly stuff of our lives, God’s love is revealed in the sacraments of baptism and communion. Every day we bathe and we eat. So every day we can remember God’s goodness and grace. Today Tom Olson will be baptized. Today ordinary water and oil will come to mean something extraordinary—a sign of God’s love and a seal for eternity.
In baptism we become God’s people set apart for God’s purposes. We are named before God, water washed and oil anointed to be light for the world.
We are named before God. It’s not that God doesn’t already know our names. The psalmist declares that it was God who knit us together in our mother’s womb. In our baptism we claim our inheritance, or in the case of infants, the church claims it for us. We acknowledge in public that this one belongs to God. This is a child of God no matter what age! Isaiah imagines the ecstatic song that God and the angel choirs sing as we are welcomed into God’s family: “I have called you by name, you are mine. . . .Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you. . . . Do not be afraid, I am with you.” In baptism we are named, and claimed by God.
And we are washed in water for the forgiveness of sins, not once but continually. Just as parents bathe their children, God bathes us tenderly in love and forgiveness symbolized by water. Like our bodies, our spirits collect the dust from the road—the naturally occurring dust and grime that comes from living in the full community of creation. That sounds pretty obscure. But our spirits are affected by natural disasters that we cannot comprehend, or illness, injury, or the death of someone that we love, that can leave us feeling anxious, weary, gritty, edgy, numb, even angry. Or we accumulate the guck and smell of what our surrounding community does—and that sometimes includes our own actions. By that I mean the effects of mean statements and rude encounters, the spirit-bruising personal and institutional slights of racism, sexism, agism, and other –isms. I mean the grit of violence, greed, poverty, and insecurity. All that we read in the paper, all that we see on TV, all the unfairness on the playground, or anxiety in the classroom, or stress in the office, or loneliness in our families—they build up in our spirits like grime on our bodies.
The other build up on our spirits is sweat. Our spirits sweat from exertion and anxiety as much as our bodies—from trying to be perfect parents or super students, from trying to hold both halves or a marriage together, from trying to please everyone except ourselves, from trying to apply our childhood faith to our grown up world, from keeping excruciating pain hidden, from struggling to make ends meet, whether it’s money or nerves, our spirits can be drenched in sweat from trying so hard or being so afraid.
And we forget. We forget that we are water-washed and spirit-born. We forget that our spirits came clean from our Creator and they are washable. We are baptized once as a symbol, but we can be washed every day. That’s why the font stands at the entrance of the sanctuary. It is a reminder that we are water-washed and spirit-born and the water is there for us to touch so that we can remember our baptism and in our worship offer our spirits to God for cleansing and renewal. That’s why, after we touch the water and sing a hymn of praise, we join together to confess those things which have caused pain, confusion, or alienation to ourselves or others through us. We confess individually and as a people. We ask God to cleanse us so that we may see more clearly and free us to act differently. And then we hear words of forgiveness, hope, and challenge. We remember who we are. We are re-membered with the community of faith. We remember whose we are. We are re-membered with God who loves us more that we can ever love ourselves. When Martin Luther needed to re-member, he affirmed, “I am baptized,” not I was baptized. We are bathed continually in the living waters, they become a spring within us that well up and give us abundant life—not just ordinary life, abundant life.
We are water washed and then anointed. We are anointed with oil as a consecration to our priestly office. In Ephesians we read that “We are sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.” What an incredible promise! But there is more. We are anointed as Christ’s ambassadors in the world. We pray prayers of intercession on behalf of individuals, situations, and the world. We pray for reconciliation between individuals, peoples, and between those who are lost and the God who seeks them. We offer ourselves as a living sacrifice in worship to our loving God.
And we are sent. We become beacons of light in the darkness. Our words, our deeds, and our work should give glory to God. In all that we do we are to reveal the purposes of God by speaking truth, seeking justice, and working for peace.
I’ve given you a prayer that I have on a plastic card that hangs in our shower. I start each day by remembering my baptism. I hope you will do the same. Whenever you are assailed by doubts or fears, cry aloud as Martin Luther did, “I am baptized.” As you prepare for sleep remember your baptism so that the last words you say before sleeping may be to the One who has called you by name. And allow God’s song to embrace you as you sleep: “I have called you by name, you are mine. . . .Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you. . . . Do not be afraid, I am with you.” Remember that you are baptized, you belong to God who loves you more than you can image, and be thankful.