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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Baptism of Our Lord 01/10/2016

A couple of weeks ago we got to hear the story about Jesus as a boy in the Temple – he was twelve years old. And then, in Luke there's really nothing about Jesus' formative years – Scripture is quiet except for the side note about Jesus "[increasing] in wisdom – and in years – and in divine and human favor." Luke doesn't give us an idea of how Jesus does this, or what the young man Jesus was doing between the ages of twelve and thirty, but we can guess. Most likely, he was at home in Nazareth, his days spent working as a carpenter and builder. In the evenings, there is a good chance he joined in nightly discussions of "the law" with the local "haberim."

"Haberim" means "the friends", and it's likely Jesus had a group of colleagues and wasn't home alone. "Friends" was the name of a movement that sprang up in the villages of the Holy Land around the time of Jesus. In all the local villages, serious-minded Jews gathered together, and they devoted themselves to studying the Torah and applying its laws to their daily lives. This was a lay movement, think "lay school" here, so everybody kept their day job, and in their spare time, then, they discussed the law. We can actually be fairly sure that Jesus was part of the "haberim" because in the Gospels, he demonstrates the rabbinic style of debate that was developed in this type of group.

After leaving the Temple back when he was twelve, Jesus has had eighteen years of local, village-style theological education, and now he is ready for more. It appears he is heading out of Nazareth to hear from the prophet who has been creating such a stir.

Today, we have John the Baptist out in the wilderness, still – if you'll recall, he was with us twice for Gospel readings a few weeks ago in Advent, first reminding us that we've all messed up and need to repent and then preaching ethics to us. In the wonderful season before Christmas when this sanctuary was beautiful, the children very sweet, and the music amazing, John the Baptist entered our readings to make sure we realized that repentance should be on our minds, that repentance was entirely appropriate as we awaited Christ's birth, that the way to Christ was then, and is now, through the wilderness.

The people in our text today are waiting for a Messiah, and the Baptist is actually a pretty good candidate. He is a prophet, telling it like it is, and he is a preacher; he's out there baptizing with water. People back in this time are desperate for the one who will usher in a better world – someone who will get rid of the Roman oppressors, restore their fortunes, and guide their nation toward one of peace and justice.

But John is the Baptizer is making it clear: he is not the Christ. Yes, he has a huge following and even disciples, but John is not the one. One more powerful is coming, and John says, "I am not fit to even be his slave, to untie his sandals." He goes on to speak of this powerful one baptizing in the Holy Spirit. John baptizes with water but Jesus with the Holy Spirit. This will be a mark of Jesus' work and that of the church, but not of John. The two men are not to be confused.

In fact, at this point, after he has proclaimed the wonderful news of the one to come, John exits. He's gone from the story. There are three missing verses today, 18-20, and what they're about is John having been led off to prison for speaking his mind about Herod – the evil ruler.

So out there in the wilderness after John disappears, all the people have now been baptized with water. Jesus has been baptized with water, too, and he remains there in this community of the baptized, praying. In Luke, Jesus isn't like coming out of the water when heaven opens up and the spirit descends – Jesus is praying, and as he is praying, God identifies Jesus as "my Son, the beloved."

God is speaking directly to Jesus, and we're not so sure anyone else is aware that the heavens have opened or that God has spoken. It isn't the baptism in water giving Jesus his unique role – there are all kinds of people out at the Jordan that day who have been baptized in water – but it is baptism in the Holy Spirit – the revelation of God during prayer – that makes it unique.

At Jesus' baptism, God names him "my beloved Son." At our baptisms, God names each of us. We belong to God. We are made new beings in Jesus Christ by this divine love.

Knowledge of this, for me, prompts the question: how often do I identify myself as one who belongs to God? In the midst of busy, busy days, juggling all my responsibilities at work and at home, is Terry – as child of God – central in my life?

Me. A child of God.

It isn't simple to keep this front and center. It takes effort to remember God's claim on me because so much of life's "stuff" is always getting in the way.

How about you each of you today? Take a moment and think about how you identify yourself. Are you one who belongs to God?

I think it often doesn't even occur to us to think of ourselves as a "child of God." It's much more natural to define ourselves based on qualities and characteristics:

  • Like – what is my job out in the world? How does this speak to who I am?
  • Perhaps it's our geography. Where are you from? And what does this say about you?
  • Or maybe our education? – do we hang our hat there because we're so proud to be a graduate of "fill-in-the blank"?
  • Or do we define ourselves in terms of our relatives – I am daughter of so-and-so, wife of ___, mother of ____
  • You get the idea. There are so many ways to identify and describe ourselves – the list is big - who are my friends, what car do I drive, what teams do I root for, where have I travelled . . . ?

I don't know about you, but for me, I allow myself to listen to the many voices that attempt to identify who I am. And whenever I get on that kind of a path, it isn't long before I have this incredible sense of dissatisfaction – there's no way to be truly happy with these identifiers.

No way. Any small amount of satisfaction is quickly replaced with a longing for something more.

It doesn't matter who I think I am – what matters is whose I am, and in my baptism, I have been claimed by God. I have been promised God's love and grace – now matter how much I mess up. I have God's protection and provision – no matter what lies ahead. And I have the comfort of God's community – this community of Bethany Lutheran and all of God's church.

The baptism of Jesus is an important point, when the Holy Spirit is sent as a dove and the voice proclaims Jesus as the beloved son. The Father, Son , and Holy Spirit having a moment together.

Gifts are given to each of us in our baptism, and when we are tempted to identify as anyone other than "child of God", recognize it for what it is – our natural need and desire to be part of this world.

But when this isn't enough – and trust me, it won't be enough – remember by whom you are claimed.

And I know this is easier said than done. I'm not saying remembering is going to be easy. Clinging to the promise in the midst of all the things happening in this world, all the unknowns that lie ahead this 2016 – clinging to the promise will be a daily struggle.

But the Son of God has come this Christmas. God made God's move toward us in sending Jesus to be the light of our world. And now the Spirit has descended at Christ's baptism. The Father is well-pleased.

Through our baptisms, we get to claim the gifts of God's love and grace; God's protection and provision; and God's community in Christ. Amen.

Vicar Terry Frankenstein


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”


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