Photo: New members joined Trinity Church yesterday by Affirmation of Baptism around the font on Baptism of Our Lord Sunday. 

Baptism of Our Lord – Sunday, January 13, 2019
Trinity, Worcester
Texts: Isaiah 43:1-7; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Click here to watch (Minute 20:30)

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

We have a problem.

On this day we celebrate Simon’s baptism …
on this day when 11 new members join the congregation …
on this day we observe the baptism of Jesus and experience the heavens opened, the dove descending, and the voice proclaiming Jesus God’s beloved …

We have a problem.

The problem is found in the first three verses of today’s gospel reading. Like a grumpy, stubborn, party pooper on this day, these verses are not so festive. In fact, they are downright uncomfortable. The images in these verses are of a baptism of fire … a winnowing fork … wheat gathered into the granary while chaff tossed into the unquenchable fire.

I don’t imagine any winnowing forks, chaff, or unquenchable fires appearing on any baptism cards given to Simon today.

So, what do we do with this problem?  What do we do with these verses?

Perhaps we set them aside and deal with them a different day? In fact, in the three-year cycle of lectionary readings, in the other two years on the Sundays we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord these images are not included in the record of Jesus’s baptism.

But yet, here they are this year. And perhaps because these words aren’t included on the Sundays the other two years, we need to pay attention to them this year. Both the image of the winnowing fork and fire, and the heavens opened and voice proclaiming, are there for us to receive on this day.

So, what do we do with these words?

As we begin to deal with them, it’s important to remember that as Lutheran Christians we understand God’s word speaking to us primarily in one of two ways.

God’s speaks to us as Law.

And God speaks to us as Gospel.

God speaks Law in all the ways God commands, instructs, and restrains. The Ten Commandments are the clearest word of Law in the scriptures. The Ten Commandments, and God’s Law, includes both Thou shall’s: remember the Sabbath, honor thy father and mother … and Thou shall not’s: … murder, commit adultery, steal …

God’s Word spoken as law directs our attention to our actions. One effect of the Law in the life of a disciple, is that it reveals how much we fail to live according to God’s commands and drives us to the mercy of Christ.

On the other hand, God speaks Gospel in all the ways God speaks promises, comforts, and reassurances. God’s Gospel word of promise is found throughout the bible, not just in the four book of the Bible we call gospels, and not just in the New Testament.

Our First Reading this morning from Isaiah, from the Old Testament, contains gospel promises … hear them again:

“Do not fear, I have redeemed you, I have called you by name …

          “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you …

          “you are precious in my sight, and I love you …

          “Do not fear, I am with you …”

Ultimately, our hope as Christians, is that this work of God proclaimed in Isaiah, these promises, are fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

God’s Word spoken as gospel directs our attention to God’s work on our behalf. What God is doing as a gift of grace, and promise, throughout all of history, but manifest primarily in God’s work in Christ.

Verses 15-17, these troubling images in today’s Gospel, act on us as Law. In those places in our lives, in our minds, and in our hearts, where we are comfortable in sin, where we profit and benefit from sin, when we turn from others to live only for ourselves, in those places we can expect God’s winnowing fork of judgment.  God’s power revealed in Christ is a power that defeats sin. Sin does not rein triumphant – Christ reigns.

This Christmas, when I was home in Iowa, my Mom was holding my 2 ½-year-old nephew who was crying. I asked my mom why he was crying. My Mom replied: “Because I told him NO.”

I realized in that moment, why I had such a wonderful mother. She understood the right order of things. She was the adult, adults make decisions, and children obey the decisions made by adults. Because she understood the right order she was able to set limits and say no, even if it caused my nephew, her grandson, to cry.

God speaks Law to save us from ourselves, to protect and preserve us, to restrain sin, and to make crystal clear our need for Jesus Christ to save us and lead us.  Because God understands the right order of relationship – that God is God and we are God’s children – God speaks and we obey.  Because God always preserves this right relationship, God comes in Christ with winnowing fork, not for punishment, but to separate out from our hearts, minds, and actions, those behaviors which harm, rupture, and destroy relationships among the people of God.

But, while we recognize the importance of God speaking as Law …

Our true joy, our rejoicing, our very life, is found in God speaking as Gospel. Our life is not found in our actions to please God, our life is found in the Gospel – in what God does on our behalf because God loves us.

At the baptism of Jesus, God spoke: “You are my Son, the Beloved,  with you I am well pleased.”

In faith today, we can imagine God’s voice speaking those same words today. You, Simon, are my Son.  With you, I am well pleased.

And as new members join Trinity today by Affirmation of Baptism, in faith, we can hear God’s word speaking to them … You Jose, you Lillie, you Nathan, Amanda, & Noah, you Claris, you Kirsten, you Brad, you Kurt, you Beth, you Kate … You are my children – with you, I am well pleased.

People of God, anytime you remember your own baptisms, in faith, hear God’s word spoken for you: You are my beloved child, with you I am well pleased.

This is God’s word speaking as Gospel giving life to us and to the world. God’s liberating, forgiving, and redeeming work in Jesus Christ and spoken in Jesus Christ as unconditional love and pure promise.  In faith and prayer, we claim the same voice that spoke to Jesus speaking to us today, an eternal voice, speaking across time and space, speaking at the beginning of life and speaking in death.

Yes, my nephew cried after my mom said no. He didn’t get his way. But you should have seen the pile of Christmas presents he received from my mom!  It was similar to the pile of Christmas presents all of her grandchildren received.

Yes, God speaks the Law to us.  In Christ, the winnowing fork stands ready.  And yet, you should see the pile of gifts God pours out upon us through faith! Eternal lifetime promises, that in the grace and mercy of Christ, we are named & claimed as God’s beloved children forever.

In faith, not believing or trusting in our own perfection or our own work, but relying instead on the forgiveness Christ announces for us in the water and in the bread and cup – there we have the gift of new life in Christ.

I believe that is what we do with this problem today.  We trust that we have a loving God who speaks both Law and Gospel to lead us from death to life.

May the Holy Spirit grant us the faith to live in Christ. In faith, may we cling to the Gospel promise of God’s work on our behalf: that in Christ, God works forgiveness, healing, and life on our behalf, forevermore.

Thanks be to God.