The First Sunday after the Epiphany
January 17-18, 2009
Text: Mark 1:4-11
Dear Friends in Christ,
In what things do you trust? Do you trust your car? Do you trust other drivers? That’s a little harder isn’t it? Do you trust in your furnace? Let’s hope so, this last week! Do you trust the government? Only as far I can throw my congressman. Do I trust the mafia? Actually, more than I trust government. At least with the Mafia they are honest crooks. Captain Jack Sparrow, in Pirates of the Carribean, made an interesting observation. You can always count a bad person to be bad. Do I trust Wal Mart? Yes, but rather like the bad person. Wal Mart is a store that you can consistently rely upon to sell you the cheapest stuff for the cheapest prices. If you keep that in mind, Wal Mart is perfectly trust worthy. Do you trust doctors? Well, to a point. My Grandmother Walter had the idea that doctors were supposed to be able fix anything. After all, years ago, Doctor Allen could. Many times doctors would just end up saying to her, look you’re an old lady. Stuff’s just worn out. Do I trust myself? Should I trust myself? No. Why don’t I trust myself? Because what is within me is sin. Christ tells us that it is out of own hearts that evil comes. And if a person is honest with themselves - something that is quite a feat in itself - we must admit that indeed evil, unbidden, springs forth from within ourselves. This is in fact the mark of maturity of faith - that we are able to recognize our own sins.
Yet, many Americans, many American Christians, are constantly seeking ways to place their trust in themselves. It my works, my faith, my trust, my, my, my...” But is it really my works? Well, again, Scripture is clear. If we are talking about my sins, yes, then they really are my works. But what does St. Paul say about the good things that we do? It is not me, but Christ living in me that does them. What about my faith and my trust. Surely these belong to me, don’t they? Do they? Consider the trust of an infant. It doesn’t choose to trust. But it learns to take comfort in the soft warmness of its mother’s arms and to trust those arms. It learns to trust it mother’s breast, that it will be filled. Often this trust is established before birth, or immediately upon birth. One of the saddest things we could ever see is a newborn who has no trust. But it does happen, when its mother has no care for it, and the hands it encounters are rough and uncaring. We don’t choose to trust. We learn to trust that which is proven trustworthy. So while we trust many things, we don’t own that trust. In fact trust is owned by the object of that trust. In other words if we have a friend that we trust, we don’t own that trust, our friend does. And if they violate that trust, our ability to trust them is lost.
Of course faith and trust are really closely related, virtually the same thing. And so if trust does not belong to us, neither does faith. Nor would a faith that we generate within ourselves be of any value. For what proceeds from the heart? Sin - fornication, slander, theft, murder and the like. Martin Luther goes so far as to say that we are not to place any trust in our own faith. Rather, we are trust in Christ, we are to trust in our baptism, we are trust in the absolution, we are to trust in the Holy Supper.
Today, of course, we are celebrating the Baptism of Christ. This event is one of the great theophanies - the places where Christ is revealed as God. This is why it is placed at the beginning of the Epiphany season. But more than this, by His baptism, Christ made water to be a holy thing. That is He sanctified the water. Christ made the water a thing fit for our washing.
Christ does not institute baptism until after His resurrection. The sedes doctrina, or seat of doctrine for baptism is found in Matthew 28. “Go and make disciples from the peoples of all nation by baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all the things that I have given you to do.” In these words, Christ is commanding baptism. But baptism was already an established practice among the Jews. It was even associated with conversion to Judaism. So Christ didn’t have to tell to disciples how to go about it. They already knew how to do it. Nor did Christ need to further define who should be baptized. Anyone converting to the faith or born to the faithful - just like circumcision. But already at His own baptism, Christ was setting the stage for His command to baptize. He was making this a fitting thing for His people.
In Baptism we are placed into the tomb with Christ and thus also rise to life with Christ. Baptism is a drowning of the old man, that is the man of sin, so that the new man can rise to life. This is a continuous action on the part of baptism. In the catechism we learn that the old man is daily drowned in the waters baptism when we make confession of our sins. You see, confession and absolution are simply the living out of baptism. Baptism is our new birth as a son of God. Christ develops this in John 3. In His conversation with Nicodemus, Christ is clearly speaking of baptism, as He would later institute it. Christ states that unless one is born again, they cannot enter the kingdom of God. That new birth would be of water and the Word. The new birth is needed because we are born under God’s wrath. We are sons of Adam. We are born in his image. That is, we are born sinners. In Baptism we are born anew, as sons of God. We are made part of His family and His kingdom.
Some will say that Baptism, as we teach it, is cheap grace. We are accused of saying that if a person is Baptized they are saved regardless of what happens after that. This is in fact not our teaching at all. I must note, however, that many who make this accusation are in fact proponents of some form of work righteousness and do themselves deny the grace of God. Certainly many later reject the gifts given in their baptism. Sadly we see this every day. This does not mean that God’s power wasn’t active, or that it was in any way incomplete. Nor are these gifts ever withdrawn by God. The gifts are still there for the person, even if they have rejected them. Thus, if they were to return to the faith, they are not rebaptized, but simply reconnected to the gifts which God had already given to them. What we are in fact saying is that the true believer is a baptismal believer. A true believer doesn’t trust in their faith, or even a some vague notion of Christ. They trust in their baptism, where Christ made us His brother, and a Son of God the Father. For us, Baptism is an unshakable pillar to which we can cling at all times, regardless of the trials and tumult of this life. Thus Luther could say to the devil, “Ah, but I am Baptized!”
Christ came to be baptized by John the Baptist. By this act, Christ sanctified the waters and prefigured His own command make disciples by baptizing. Baptism is no small matter, no insignificant thing. It is not a mere command. It is not a place to confess our faith. Baptism is the place where God acts to wash us clean from sin and death and make us His child. Christ went down into the waters with us, so that we would be made clean before God, forever. Amen!