Our Gospel message comes to us today from the 3rd chapter of Matthew, beginning with the 13th verse.
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17)
All mighty God, we thank you for your word and the way that you in it revealed to us who you are and what you’ve done for us in Christ. Now, as we open that word, we pray that your Spirit may be present, that all thoughts of worry or distraction may be removed and that the Spirit will allow us to hear your voice. And so, oh God, fill us with your Spirit through the reading and proclamation of your word this day. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
“Baptism of Our Lord”
♫ “O How I love Jesus
O how I love Jesus,
O how I love Jesus,
Because he first loved me.” ♫
Because he first loved me. Before I could do anything, before I could even think of needing to do something, Jesus loved me. Now, this is dessert first! Imagine getting the good stuff first, before eating the spinach or meat and potatoes. Imagine being loved before we even breathed our first breath! We read in Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5).
We are conditioned to think that we must earn something like dessert. You know, eat your vegetables and then get the ice cream. Not so with God. We hear the good news that we are “my sons and daughters, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” All this before we do anything. It is merely a fact.
Jesus even gets the dessert first. Here he is being baptized, and only after does he begin his ministry. Before he has done anything, he hears the words from God, spoken for everyone around to hear, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” All of this before he goes into the wilderness to prepare for his ministry, to be tested. Then he returns to heal the sick, comforts the lost, and gives sight to the blind. He has done nothing, yet he is declared “beloved, well-pleasing to God.”
Jesus returns from the wilderness to do as God wishes. Jesus returns to give life and hope to all people, sharing the love of God to all without price or consideration of worth or deserving. Jesus loves all people simply because we are lovable; we have been declared loveable by God.
This is the love Jesus shows to each of us—a love without deserving, without having to do anything. This is the love that God showers upon all of us who are baptized. A love that requires that we do nothing to deserve, that, in fact, we can do nothing to earn it.
Of course, we love Jesus “because he first loved me.” There is nothing we can do that will make God love us; God in Jesus Christ loves us already.
With our identity and worth established, we are free to live as God would have us live. To live by God’s measure and not by anyone else’s. In baptism, we commit ourselves to a life lived in response to this great love. How could we not share God’s love with others once we have experienced it ourselves? Our journey in faith is to learn how to live a life of response to this love. We commit ourselves to teach our children to live in response to this love despite all the messages they may receive to the contrary.
Along with Jesus, our ministry begins with our baptism. As Jesus went into the wilderness to be tested, we, too, are tested. Life as a baptized child of God is not one that is without pain and suffering. In fact, as we baptize our children, we commit ourselves to make their lives more difficult because we seek to teach them to live open to the needs and hurts of others. We are to live with Matthew 25 in mind, looking for those who are hungry, naked, and thirsty because it is in people such as these that we find Jesus. All of this is in response to the love that was first given to us.
Sometimes we take baptism lightly. Sometimes we see it as something to be done, and that’s about it. We do not really hear the words—they become repetitive and lose their impact. We forget that it all begins with a declaration of our worth, ignoring God’s view of the world, one based on love. Baptism becomes the end rather than the beginning.
We begin our funeral service with the words from Romans, “When we were baptized in Christ Jesus, we were baptized into his death. Therefore, we were buried with him through baptism into death so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:3-4). This is the new life that is lived according to the will of God, driven by love. In response to one who first loved us.
Imagine if we actively sought to see Jesus in all whom we met. Imagine how our response to that person would change. We sometimes get a narrow view of ministry, something done by certain people. In baptism, we are all given a ministry. As we seek to live out our baptism, we find all of life to be ministry. With our identity as loved and the delight of God clearly in mind, we can do what God wants without regard to how it makes us look.
Baptism leads to community and commitment. We baptize into the Christian community because we need each other. Living out our baptism is not easy. There will be struggles and pain. We need others with whom to share these struggles. We need to tell each other the stories of how we have grown through suffering. We need to explore what our baptism means to each of us in our varied stages of life. We need the encouragement of one another when we find it hard to live out our ministry.
We also need to celebrate with one another the joy of living a life that is full of purpose and meaning as we live in harmony with the purposes of God. Life as a child of God is not always easy, but it is always right.
We should begin every day by remembering that we are baptized. When we feel the water on our faces in the morning, it should remind us of the waters of baptism. To do so is to enter daily with a renewed sense of ministry. Who will I meet today? How will my activities today be a ministry to others? How can I share the dessert first with others in this community of faith and beyond?
“Oh how I love Jesus,” it’s no wonder, “because he first loved me.”
Let us pray: Dear heavenly Father, thank You for Your deep love towards me and thank You for sending Your only begotten Son, my Savior Jesus Christ, to suffer on the cross for my sake so that my sins could be forgiven and that I may live with You forever, in heaven. Lord, I know that I do not warrant Your love, and yet You have showered unconditional love and grace towards me through Christ—for which I praise and thank You.
But Lord, You desire all Your children to love others as Christ loved us, but my love is poor and weak and far removed from all You desire of me. Fill me, I pray, with the love of Christ that I may love others in the same way that Christ loved me—so that as Your love pours into my soul, so I may be used as a conduit for Christ’s love to stream out to others with whom I come into contact.
Help me to demonstrate Your love not only to those that are lovable but also to those who lash out at me through pain or anger, disappointment, or loss. May the love of Jesus be manifested in me, and may the love of Jesus be distributed, by grace through faith—to all with whom I come in contact. In Jesus’ name, I pray, Amen.
Scripture is taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Sermon contributed by Rev. Roger Haugen.
“Oh How I Love Jesus” We hear the words spoken to Jesus at his baptism, before his ministry has begun that, “This is my beloved, with whom I am well pleased” and the same is said to us without us having to earn it.