Text: Luke 3 : 15-17, 21-22
Today we recall Jesus' baptism at the hand of John the Baptist. John was a fiery preacher, a preacher of righteousness and repentance. But at Jesus' baptism, something tender and touching happened. When Jesus was baptized, Luke tells us, "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.'" That is such a wonderful verse.
Luke doesn't tell us whether other people besides Jesus heard God's voice that day or not. But it is a beautiful scene. Jesus is baptized and his Father God tells him how proud he is of him. It's good when any parent says, "I'm proud of you," to a child.
Pastor Andy Cook tells about a touching moment at the end of the 1980 Winter Olympic Games. That's the one in which the US hockey team beat the Russians. It was an incredible feat.
During the final game of those Olympics against Finland, the ABC cameras started following different stories. Jim Craig, the goalie, was very close to his father. "His mother had recently died, which made the two men even closer. And the cameras would show [Jim] in action, and his dad cheering.
"When the US team won the game, the celebration was unbelievable. Players embraced, fans were going wild, but Jim Craig wasn't celebrating. He was near the stands, looking like a lost little kid . . . and then we read his lips: 'Where's my dad?' he asked. 'Where's my dad?'
"Craig finally found his dad, and the celebration was complete. They embraced, they cried, and they remembered the years of practice, the years of playing, the years of drills, the years of discipline, the years of bonding. They remembered the woman they both loved, a wife for one, a mother for the other. For Jim Craig, such a moment demanded the presence of his father."
This is a very special moment in Luke's Gospel when Jesus is baptized and "a voice came from heaven: 'You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.'"
Every child needs to hear that message from a parent. The Father was giving His personal blessing to Christ's mission in the world. But here is what should be most heartening to us: God was also granting God's blessing to all who have been baptized. We read in I John 3 these words, "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" We incorporate that scripture in our service after the baptism of an infant when the minister holds the infant and walks her down the aisle saying, "This child is now a member of Christ's church and of this particular church. See here the love of God, that we should be called children of God, which indeed we are." Baptism tells us who we are. We are children of God. At our baptism there was an unheard voice from heaven saying, "This is my son, this is my daughter, whom I love."
The world tries to tell us otherwise. The media - Internet, TV, radio, newspapers, magazines - tells us we are not good unless we buy this or do that or use a particular product. But the Bible teaches us that God loves us and when we are baptized, God says, "You are my cihld, with whom I am well pleased."
Next week we will be celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. day. Dr. King often stood at the front of civil rights demonstrations as firefighters and police turned on him and his fellow demonstrators with high pressure water hoses. It had to sting badly.
Dr. King once remarked that he and the other demonstrators had a common strength baptism. Recalling the fire hoses that Bull Connor turned on peaceful civil rights demonstrators in Birmingham, Dr. King once said: "There was a certain kind of fire that no water could put out . . . We had known water. If we were Baptists or some other denomination, we had been immersed. If we were Methodists, and some others, we had been sprinkled, but we knew water." (Cited by David Reynolds, http://www.gbgm umc.org/elktonvaumc/sermons/2006%20Sermons/jan0806.pdf.)
The water of baptism can be a powerful force in our lives. When the water was applied to us in baptism something powerful was taking place. The Holy Spirit was taking up residence in our lives. We became part of God's kingdom on earth. As such, we became God's agents in our family and in our community. As we ponder our own baptism, consider the challenge that comes with the blessing. We are saved to serve.
Today as we ordain and install elders, we acknowledge that we are all called by God through our common strength baptism. God calls each of us to speak the truth with love and work for justice in the world. We can only hear God's call when we move beyond our obsession with ourselves.
Edward DeBono, the creativity guru, once told a wonderful story about elevators and mirrors.
You may have noticed in some skyscrapers, beside the elevator doors, there are often mirrors. Some years ago there were a lot of complaints about the time that people spent waiting for elevators and the higher the buildings grew, the louder the complaints grew. So engineers were called in to try to speed up the elevators or to see if new elevators could be added in the shafts that they had, but there seemed to be absolutely no solution to this problem at all. They spent a lot of money on their consulting fees, until someone spoke up and said, "Let's fix this with mirrors."
"What do you mean, fix it with mirrors?" Well, the person suggested, the problem really wasn't the speed of the elevators or the number of elevators in the building, but the real problem was in the minds of the people who were waiting for the elevators.
So he suggested, "Let's give them something to do. What do people like to do most?" Oh, they like to look at themselves in the mirror! "How can we enable them to do this?" they asked. "Put mirrors all the way around, and the time will just fly by." And sure enough, they did it. And the time flies by. (Cited by David A. Renwick, http://www.2preslex.org/S020217.HTM.)
Let me ask you a question: How much time to you spend looking at yourself in mirrors and how much time do you spend looking out windows, considering the needs of others and society? That's another way of asking, are you living a life centered in self or are you living a life of significance?
This is an appropriate question to ask at the beginning of another new year. God has called us to join Him in "reconciling the world unto Himself" (2 Corinthians 5:19). Baptism reminds us that we are God's children. Baptism offers us the opportunity for a new life, a life of purpose, a life of significance.
"A voice came from heaven: 'You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.'" That was the voice of God at Jesus' baptism. But it could have been our baptism. We are part of God's family. As such we are part of God's kingdom, God's ongoing plan to redeem the world. We belong to God. Wherever we go, whatever we do, God is there with us. There is no more important statement about our lives than this: We have been baptized.
Let's continue to live into our common strength baptism. Pray and ask God to show you the way. Look around at what others are doing in this congregation. Ask questions. Get involved. Support one another. Trust one another. Together we will make a difference in the world as we live into our common strength baptism.
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Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon at St. John's Presbyterian Church in Houston on January 10, 2010.