March 6, 2019 -Ash Wednesday, Marked With the Cross of Christ, the Promise of Baptism- Mark 1:1-13, Psalm 23:4

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The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.  Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.  I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him. Mark 1:1-13 (ESV)

The Gospel of Mark omits the genealogy of Jesus and the Nativity narrative and goes straight to Isaiah’s prophesy of John the Baptist. John the Baptist was considered by scholars to be the last of the Old Testament prophets. He was the one who prepared the way of the Lord and baptized his followers for the sake of repentance. Jesus gets baptized by John, was called beloved by God, and then He was plunked into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. There’s a whole lot of action packed into 13 verses, and it’s not even the end of the first chapter of Mark.

Jesus’ baptism is different from our baptism in an important way. He had no sins to be washed away, rather, for Him, in His baptism He took on the sins of humanity and the burden of the human condition. He showed solidarity and unity with those who would become part of His body, the church.

Our baptism serves as a tangible seal and constant assurance that we are marked with the cross of Christ forever.  As we are tempted by our own flesh, the world and the machinations of Satan, we can have confidence that Jesus not only has been tempted like we are and far worse, but we also know that He is with us no matter what temptation or trial we face.  We will face trials.  Jesus taught us in Matthew 10:24 -“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.”  The difference is those who trust in Christ have hope. All of humanity is subject to the consequences of sin, suffering and death.  But those things are not the end, and even through all of our suffering and trials we are not alone in them.

The liturgical season of Lent begins today, Ash Wednesday, and lasts 40 days not counting Sundays. (Sundays are “in Lent” but are not counted as part of Lent.  Sundays in Lent are like mini-Easters spread out through Lent, so that we still get to celebrate and worship the risen Jesus, even in this penitential season.)  Many liturgical churches impose ashes on the foreheads of believers in the sign of the cross.  This symbolism reminds us that we are marked with the cross of Christ forever (the ashes just make it visible for a time) even as we are made of dust and will return to dust.  Mortality is the reality of life on earth, but there is life beyond this life in Christ.

These 40 days of Lent are an opportunity to remember our mortality, to consider that time Jesus spent in the wilderness, and to remember His Passion and His sacrifice to save us from the curse of sin. Jesus has done it all for us.  We can’t earn or deserve our salvation, as it is a gift given by faith alone. There is no circumstance too difficult for Him to resolve, no wound too great for Him to heal, no suffering too great for Him to bear.

Even though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.- Psalm 23:4 (ESV)

January 8, 2019- Jesus is Baptized – Mark 1:1-11

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The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”  Mark 1:1-11 (NIV)

Of all the Gospel writers, Mark is the one who gets right down to business. Rather than going through the genealogies and the details of Jesus’ birth, Mark starts right off with Isaiah’s prophesy that tells of Jesus’ coming. Mark goes right on to tell us how Isaiah’s prophesy is fulfilled with John the Baptist paving the way.

Even though Mark does not go into the details of Jesus’ miraculous conception and birth in the way that Matthew and Luke take pains to do, he makes it clear: Jesus is God who became human like us. He took away the sin of the world and put death to death. In His baptism He took upon the weight of the sins of every person ever, so that they would be put to death and buried with Him.

In the Lutheran tradition we take the sacrament of Holy Baptism for what Scripture claims that it is- a means of grace through which God the Holy Spirit works saving faith in us. The old Adam is put to death.  Our sins are washed away.  We die to sin, death and evil, and rise again with Christ.  Even so, as long as we live in this world of not-yet, we can take comfort in “putting on our baptism as daily wear” as Martin Luther taught.

When God looks upon us in our baptism He sees Jesus. We are baptized with the Holy Spirit and faith is made alive in us. We become God’s beloved, and for the sake of Jesus we become children with which God is well pleased.

October 1, 2017 – Named and Claimed by God in Baptism- Matthew 3:13-16

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Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. Matthew 3:13-16 (NRSV)

Lutherans observe two sacraments. A sacrament is defined as a special way to connect with God that was specifically instituted by God, and that has a tangible connection to the elements of the earth. When the Word is brought together with an earthly element, such as water or bread and wine, God makes that a sacrament.

Baptism is the first of the two sacraments. We baptize because Jesus was baptized, and we are baptized into His death- and into His resurrection.

Baptism is first and foremost an act of God, a tangible reminder of His covenant of grace. It may be done with human hands, through a human pastor, with plain city tap water, but it is the Word flowing through the water, the Word being spoken through the pastor, that accomplishes the saving work of God.

In Baptism God names and claims us as His own. In Baptism we are given the gift of salvation, freely and without any condition save our faith in Christ, which is also a gift from God. We do not “choose God.” God chooses us.

This is why it is not only appropriate but fitting that we baptize people of all ages, regardless of cognitive ability. One does not need to understand or make a conscious choice to come to the font for the water and the Word to be effective.  It is all God’s doing.  It doesn’t matter if the person is three days old or ninety five years old.  It doesn’t matter if the person is sprinkled with water or dunked in the river.  God is the One at work in Baptism, and it is not just a one-time event but a way of life.

Luther taught that we are to “put on Baptism as daily wear.” When we wash our faces or take a shower it is an opportunity for us to remember our Baptism- that through the water and the Word we have been named and claimed by God, and set apart by Him for the purpose He created.

It is always good to take a moment now and then to remember that in Baptism we are named and claimed and set aside as children of God.