A few thoughts on baptism

The following is something I wrote on baptism for my Preaching Perspectives course. It goes along with a sermon I will give in a few days, all of which are based on Mark 1:4-11.

4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

 

Have you ever noticed what your eyes are first drawn to in your church’s sanctuary? Is it the altar, the pulpit, or maybe a prominently displayed cross? In my home congregation, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Glenville, NY (and at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg), you may think the altar, where the bread and wine of Holy Communion are blessed, is the main focus. But if you pay attention from the second you enter the sanctuary, you will notice the baptismal font. In fact, there is no way to avoid walking past the baptismal font before sitting down for a gathering in the pews.

Baptism is central to our lives as Lutherans: it marks our unity with all baptized Christians, our anointment with the Holy Spirit, our delivery from sin and death, and our rebirth into a new life. In baptism we are joined with Christ in his death and resurrection, and “marked with the cross of Christ forever”. In the water (an earthly element) and the Word (by the power of the Holy Spirit) we are claimed by God as God’s children.

As Lutherans we tend to baptize infants (although many adults are baptized into the family of God, too!) to emphasize baptism as a gift of grace. There is nothing we can do to earn God’s favor and salvation, it’s a gift from God, no strings attached! It doesn’t matter if you just finished Middle School or have earned your PhD, if you come to church every Sunday or every few months, if you only pray when you’re in a tight spot or petition and thank God every morning. We are all loved unconditionally by God and baptism is a reminder of this: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).

But this doesn’t mean baptism is the end! In Mark 1:4-11, baptism marks the beginning of Jesus earthly ministry. So too, for us, is baptism the beginning. Our church community vows to help us receive the Word and the sacraments each Sunday, and encourage our growth and learning. This community effort continues up to and beyond the time when we make public affirmation of our baptisms in Confirmation.

So, rejoice! By the power of the Holy Spirit we are reminded in the simple sprinkling of water of God’s limitless love. We are blessed and sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever, not just for our own good, but so that we can “let our light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven”.

Interested in learning more about baptism? Check out your Lutheran hymnal (ELW beginning on p. 225), check out what Martin Luther and some of our early church theologians have to say on the subject in the Book of Concord, or leave a comment asking for more resources!

 

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