Sermon for Baptism Of Our Lord Year C, 11/01/2004
Based on Isa 43:1-7
By Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church,
& chaplain of the Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
Sometimes I feel as if there should be a law against January. You know, the post-Christmas and New Year’s blues; the recovery from overeating and trying to go on a healthy diet; over-spending and the dread of facing all of those terrible bills; over-celebrating to the point of making yourself ill; maybe the feeling of guilt for having missed out on sending a gift or a card or a letter or an e-mail to someone; the disappointment in yourself for not living up to your own expectations—along with the disappointment in others for also failing to live up to your expectations of them; the shock of having to adjust to the freezing-cold weather—along with the struggle to motivate yourself enough to get out and do the things that need doing, even though you’d rather stay home and hibernate for a month; in addition to all our inner-personal struggles—there’s all of those “outside struggles” at work, at school, in the larger community, as well as in the larger world. When we combine all of these and other pressures, anxieties, and struggles—no wonder we sometimes feel a tad down-in-the-dumps or depressed. Sometimes we can feel as if we are living in exile—like strangers and aliens without even leaving home or being abducted. L Sometimes we feel so burdened and oppressed that we wonder whether anyone, including God, really care for us.
Well, guess what? We’re in good company! That’s exactly how the Israelites felt too, when they were living in Babylonian exile. They were down-in-the-dumps; they were depressed; they were living in a foreign land as a defeated people. Their hopes and dreams of the future had all but dried up and disappeared. But then, out of their “singing the blues” so-to-speak; out of their hurts, pains, struggles and anxieties comes a wonderful, upbeat message of Good News from God. The prophet delivers a message to them that is pregnant with God’s love and hope; restoration and deliverance; affirmation and acceptance. Listen again carefully to what God promises to do for those oppressed and down-in-the-dumps Israelites, living in exile: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. I will be with you…For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour. …you are precious in my sight, and honoured, and I love you…”
What a fantastic message! One that is upbeat and full of hope. A message that clarifies who God is, who Israel is, and, most importantly, whose Israel is. Did you happen to notice that The Chief Actor, The Great Initiator in this message is God, not humans? God comes to Israel in one of their most depressed, vulnerable moments. God comes when they feel down and out and at their lowest. God comes to pick them up again; to remind them of their true identity and worth. God comes and acts in a beautiful, loving, affirming way. God assures them that they have not been forgotten; they are indeed very special to God; they belong to God; they are loved by God and shall be restored and delivered out of their exile by God. What a wonderful message!
In another time and place someone told the following story:
A fellow bought an old organ which had been magnificent in its day, but now it was dilapidated, banged up and hardly played at all any more. So he called in experts from all over the world, hoping they could restore it.
When they had finished the organ looked like new. The little angels were shiny and clean; the ornamental carved leaves had smooth curves and corners. The botchy varnish was gone.
The only problem was that the insides were sitting in boxes on the floor. The owner continued to advertise for organ experts to fix and restore his organ. But no one could do it.
One day a little wizenly, half-blind old man knocked on the door. The Butler laughed at him saying, “What makes you think you can fix it? We’ve had experts here from all over the world.”
But the owner overheard the discussion and answered saying that it couldn’t hurt to try. So the stranger set out to work. After several days, he had the organ operating like new. When asked how he could do this, he replied, “I made it.” 1
“I made it… I made you… I have redeemed you… I have called you by name… I love you… you are mine…” That’s what God says and does for us. That’s our true source of hope and deliverance now and in the future. As the maker of the organ could best fix and restore and give new life to the organ because he made it; so, too, God who made each one of us is The Only One who can truly fix, restore and give new life to each one of us. It doesn’t matter how down-in-the-dumps we may feel; God can and does and will lift us up and deliver us from all of our forms of exile.
That’s the message of Christ’s baptism and our baptism. We are a very special people because we’ve been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our baptismal covenant is what gives us the assurance of God’s true identity and our true identity. We are precious; we belong to God; we are one with Christ and therefore our calling and purpose; our whole life is bound to be lived out in the service of Christ and his Church.
In our baptism, God has called you by name and given you a ministry. Some churches—like ours—either on their sign outside or in their bulletins will give the name of the pastor, and then write: “Ministers: The People.” This way of saying it affirms the reality of the priesthood of all believers, which we all are by virtue of our calling and ministry given to us when we were baptized. Pastor and professor, William H. Willimon was right when he said: “Pastors are only here to help you ministers do your ministry, not to do your ministry for you.” 2 When ministers rely on pastors to do their ministry for them, two things happen: the ministers become too co-dependent and passive and unrealistic in their expectations of their pastors; and pastors become workaholics and eventually become either seriously disgruntled or ill or burnt out or all of these together.
In an old jury roll call in Sussex County in England in 1658 there is a list of 39 Puritan names. Among them are the following: The-Gift-of-God Stringer; Live-in-Peace Hillary; Joy-from-Above Brown; More-Fruit Flower; Faint-Not Hewett; and Search-the-Scriptures Morton. There was also a young Puritan maiden listed who, when asked for her baptismal name, replied: “’Through-Much-Tribulation-We-Enter-The-Kingdom-of-Heaven,’ but for short they call me Tribby.”
If we were to follow this practice today, what might we be called? Certainly all of us should be called “Grace-Given-to-Me Smith” or “Give-God-the-Glory Jones.” 3
My prayer for you today is that you would be uplifted by the Good News of God’s Word; that in your baptism the LORD has called you by name; that you would always remember your baptism by accepting your identity as precious and loved by the Lord; that you would take seriously and faithfully do the ministry God has given you to do with the gift of the Holy Spirit working in and through you. Amen.
1 Unfortunately, I’m not able to remember the source of this story.
2 Cited from: Wm. H. Willimon, Pulpit Resource, Vol. 26, No. 1, Jan., Feb., Mar., 1998 (Inver Grove Heights, MN: Logos Productions Inc., 1997), p. 8.
3 Cited from: R. Andersen & D.L. Deffner, editors, For Example (St Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1977), p. 127.