A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

Not a Status Symbol July 31, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on August 2, 2020 in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Psalm 29
Matthew 3: 13-17

Junior High is an interesting time for youth, at least it was for me. Where do I fit in? With whom will I fit in? How will people know who I am and that I’m cool, which in 1984 was everything. Of course, there were the usual desirable clicks, athletes, the cheerleaders and the pom squad. What I immediately noticed from the older students is that wearing something that identified you in a certain group was preferable. In other words, the cheerleaders and pom squad were identifiable by their uniforms and I decided that was the status that would be beneficial in jr. high and probably beyond. I wanted the status symbol of the uniform, much like wearing Guess jeans or having a latest Madonna album identified you as cool in the 80’s. Of which I had neither. So I tried out for cheerleading, didn’t make the squad, not shocking but I did make the pom squad. I was so excited! I could claim the status symbol of the uniform that would signal to everyone that I was part of the “in” crowd. It was a status symbol in seventh grade that I had arrived…to where exactly I don’t know, and to do what, I also didn’t know. I liked being on the pom squad, but what I really loved was playing my violin in the orchestra, reading and church. Even with the external status symbol of the pom uniform, it turned out I was still an awkward, slightly, ok mostly, geeky violin playing, glasses wearing, 12 year old-I couldn’t hide that. It took me some time to claim that truth and that the pom uniform wasn’t fooling anyone.

This is the function of status symbols in our culture and in our psyche. Whether it’s a uniform, a upscale car, living in a certain neighborhood, wearing certain clothing or accessories, we use these items to send a signal to people about who we are and to make a claim on our place in society. We are hustled by media and corporations into thinking that claiming a particular status is what matters, and that status will give us purpose and direction. But just as I discovered in trying to claim a status of being part of an “in” crowd, we discover that claiming an external status for the sake of appearances isn’t all that fulfilling or truthful. So what do we claim about ourselves?

As Christians, we say that we claim our baptisms-that it is a status we have. Claiming our baptism brings us peace, or contentment, hope, or salvation. These things might be true and I believe that simply claiming our baptism misses the mark, makes our baptism into something that it isn’t: a status. Being baptized isn’t about being “in” and not being baptized isn’t about being “out” and we have to admit that we too often do think about it that way and judge others by that standard. We forget that baptism isn’t a status symbol of Christianity, it’s a calling and a way of life. It’s a truth of who we are and what we are to do.

When Jesus shows up at the Jordan river to be baptized by John, Jesus responds to John’s objections with the statement of not waiting, and for them to do this act together. It’s not about status, who is greater or lesser, who is more powerful or knowledgeable. It’s about something else, something that even John can’t quite place his finger on until…until Jesus comes up from the water and God’s voice calls out, booming over the event with a claim. Claim of truth, a claim of love. Jesus’ baptism isn’t about a special status, or being  “in” instead of “out.” Jesus’ baptism is a calling of being loved and being love. Jesus never speaks of his baptism again in the gospel of Matthew. Jesus never views his baptism as a status symbol, as a way to delineate himself from other people. Jesus’ baptism sent him to the desert, it sent him to the sick, the outcast, the oppressed, the devalued. Jesus’ baptism got him into trouble for questioning the powers and authorities for their neglect of the people in need. Jesus’ baptism sent him to the cross. Jesus’ only speaks of baptism again after his resurrection when he tells the disciples to go about their lives telling others about God’s love and baptizing them; calling all people of the world to be love.

The truth of our baptism is that it is not ours to claim, but it is God’s claim on us. We are claimed in God’s love and sent in love to call others to love. Baptism isn’t a status, it is a calling, it’s hearing God’s voice that tears through everything else in our lives, in our hearts and in our souls. Baptism calls us out of the waters and into the world. Baptism erases all status between us, all of us, and calls us beloved. Baptism doesn’t separate nor spare us from all the challenges, heartbreaks, tense conversations, injustices and hardships of the world. Baptism sends us to places we are afraid to go: to protest racism in all it’s insidious forms from redlining to incarceration, to stand up for the truth of what’s happening to our neighbors in this pandemic with lack of affordable housing, economic safety nets, lack of adequate healthcare. Baptism sends us to get into good trouble for the sake of the gospel being heard and lived. And we don’t go alone, we have the cloud of witnesses who went before us in this gospel work and we have each other. Baptism calls us together, to be and speak love in those places, to step in as Jesus shows us, with the truth that God’s voice and call, will tear through the noise again and again with words and actions that bind, heal and renew.

Baptismal calling is a life that never worries about arriving, never worries about being in or out, never worries about being greater or lesser than others. Baptismal calling is a life that is rooted in the truth of authentic faith community for the journey, a life that includes anyone and everyone, a life that seeks to serve, care and uplift people. Baptismal calling is a life that dares to be bold for God’s justice to prevail, to roll like waters, waters that destroy the hate, fear and despair that hold us in their grip promising status and security. Waters that cling to us like the promise of being in God’s grip of love and grace. Baptism is not a status symbol we claim, it’s God’s claim on us that calls us to life, to seek justice and peace now, today, for all people and creation. Thanks be to God.  

 

Flooding the World with God’s Love: Don’t Water Down Baptism Mark 1: 4-11, Year B January 18, 2015

We love baptisms, or at least I do! I love the joy, the families, the special outfits, the fun pictures, the pretty napkins, the beautiful quilts, the crafted faith chests. And let’s not forget the cuteness of babies! Babies who squirm as we sprinkle cool water on their warm heads while being held in the safety of mom or dad’s arms. It’s a sacred and joyous day! It’s a day that as families we plan for, grandparents and sponsors fly in, sometimes a party is held and it makes a nice page in our children’s baby book. Now, we know that it’s so much more than that as well. Baptism is a common thread that weaves directly from Jesus to us today. It’s a public proclamation that God names and claims us. Baptism is God’s action of love, grace and forgiveness towards us, the children of God. It’s also about the promises made by family and the community of God’s people to journey together and share with one another the tenets of our faith. It’s also a ritual that connects us to the ancient Christian church. We tell the story of faith from generation to generation. But, please excuse the pun, I wonder if we’ve watered down baptism.  God uses this very destructive, untamable and unpredictable element of water, to declare that God’s activity is loose in the world through Jesus and through us.  I wonder if by focusing on just the day we’ve diluted the wildness and the adventurous journey that baptism really is. I wonder if we really understand why Jesus’ baptism and our baptism matters.

The gospel writer of Mark, begins his entire witness of the ministry of Jesus Christ with the baptism of Jesus. Not with serene stories of an adorable baby, angels singing or special gifts from foreign visitors but with Jesus going to the wilderness, leaving behind the town in which he grew up. Jesus didn’t go to the temple or to a nice clean synagogue to begin ministry or even do much ministry at all. But, instead, he headed to the middle of nowhere, with a large motley crew of people from all walks of life, to a swiftly flowing river; a river that during the spring runoff can be volatile, a river that served as a border that divided people and cultures. For Mark, this river running through wilderness is where the story begins. Jesus at the Jordan, submersed completely under the water, holding his breath, being baptized by a rough and tumble looking guy (no pretty albs or stoles), trusting that John will pull him up from the destructive waters, emerging to the sky tearing open and the Holy Spirit of God dive bombing him like a kamikaze dove. Then the words of acceptance and inclusion booming “You are mine and I love you.”

This moment for the writer, is not about just this day but about the rest of Jesus’ life on earth, how Jesus’ baptismal day shaped all of the rest of his days and how it reveals the promise for everyone of eternal life to come. Jesus’ baptism is not about a pretty gown, a party or a certificate for Jesus’ scrapbook. This near drowning experience was the first day of a risky journey that began out in the middle of nowhere, progressed to a cross on a hill outside of the city, and then to a tomb that would be empty of death, yet full of life and hope. It seems that risk and God’s love go hand in hand.

Each and every episode of Jesus’ ministry in Mark, flows from this one. Jesus washes people with healing, love, forgiveness and grace. Jesus tears through the clouds of people’s lives with the words that they are God’s beloved children and God is pleased with them just the way they are. Jesus goes to the wild places of people’s lives and declares God’s loving activity in the midst of chaos, disease, hunger, poverty, loneliness, division and fear. Jesus’ baptism is not a once and only experience that is a nice story for family reunions, but his baptism is a launching point that set into motion his journey of now and forever revealing God in the world.

Jesus’ baptism mattered, not because God didn’t claim him before the water touched his head, because God did, Jesus’ baptism mattered, not because it made him part of a special club, because it didn’t, but Jesus’ baptism with wild water mattered because God wants us all in the flow of God’s radical, unpredictable, untamable and always risky love for us and to us. In baptism, the human and yet divine Jesus brings us all into the living water that floods out the world’s truth conditional, “if-then” clauses of acceptance and fills us God’s truth of unconditional acceptance of us no matter what.

Our baptism matters, not because it’s a marker of who’s in or who’s out, but because God launches us from the shore of the font, so that we flood the world with love, mercy, and forgiveness everywhere we go so that all people will know that God splashes them too. God offers the world the freedom from drowning in the rigid “in or out” systems of the world: consumerism, elitism, divisions, and all of the ways that we separate ourselves from one another. Jesus’ baptism matters as it is God’s action that flows through Jesus to us in our baptism so that, every time we walk out the doors of this church or our homes, we are a flood of God’s love for all of creation. Our baptism into the revelation and flood of God’s love for the world, matters when we feed people through The Action Center or Denver Rescue Mission; our baptisms matter when we act with integrity at our jobs, at school or with coworkers; our baptisms matter when we speak out against injustice and hate for someone of a different race, social class, religion or sexual orientation; our baptism matters when we can stand in the complexity of solidarity with people who have been victims of injustice as well as the people who bravely live to protect others, keep peace and promote justice. Our baptism matters as it is a revelation of God connecting all people through common water to be one people of God.

Every day is our baptismal day. Every day God’s activity is loose in the world-through the love of Jesus Christ, the movement of the Holy Spirit and through each of us. Every day we participate with God in the journey into the wilderness and uncertainty with the words of being God’s beloved child ringing in our ears. Every day we risk to live out our story of faith, revealing to our neighbors what it means to be submersed in the waters of God’s promises of unconditional love and eternal life for us all.  Everyday Jesus’ love, hope and mercy matters to the world and so does our participation with God. Every day we are all God’s beloved children. Thanks be to God.

*Another way that we talk about being God’s hands and feet in the world is to say that we reflect the light of Christ. We offer a candle to the newly baptized to remind them of this fact. We will now remember that our baptism matters as we reflect what God is already doing in the world, by lighting a candle and singing “This Little Light of Mine.”