Grace to you and Peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Do you remember your baptism? I don’t. I was only four months old when it happened and so I have no recollection what-so-ever of that event. But there are stories told about the event.
This morning we also heard the story about a baptism - the baptism of Jesus.
This is a special story - and a special baptism.
John the Baptist lived in the wilderness, calling people to come and repent their sins. He proclaimed the coming of the Messiah, the Savior, who will baptize all with the Holy Spirit. John prepared the people for the coming of the Lord.
But when Jesus finally comes, no one, neither John nor his disciples, recognize Jesus as the Messiah. No one calls out: “Behold, there is the Lord!” Jesus gets baptized like the rest of them. They did not recognize him - because he was not what they were looking for.
They had hoped for a warrior king, a strong fighter who would free their land from the occupation of Rome. They were looking for someone who would give them political power and freedom. They were looking for the strong, the glorious, the powerful. And so they couldn’t recognize Jesus when he came: simple, humble, human. Just like one of them. And like one of us.
Only two weeks ago we have celebrated the coming of Christ. The coming of God with us. God in the human form. We have been told that God is living with us. But when I look around I have a hard time seeing God with us.
Where is God in the violence and warfare that hurts so may people around the world?
Where is God when people, children die from hunger?
Where is God when people loose their homes due to foreclosure?
Where is God in all the pain and darkness around us?
Where is God/Jesus in all this?
Maybe we make the same mistake John and his disciples did: we look for Jesus in the wrong places.
Because I really want to have a God that fixes all my problems. I really want the suffering to stop. No more hunger. No more pain. No more war. If only God would listen to me!
But am I willing to listen to God? Because it is much harder to listen to God than to tell God what God should do!
Jesus listened to God. When he came out of the water after his baptism he heard God’s voice, calling him Son and beloved. And he saw the Spirit of God coming to rest in him.
This is not the first time we have heard of the Spirit today.
Our first lesson describes the beginning of creation. It describes the darkness and void before God’s light came into the world. But it also describes the presence of God’s Spirit even in this darkness and void. Even this darkness and emptiness is not empty of God. God is there in the midst of all this. Calling the world and the light into being. And with the light comes the life.
This is the beginning of the story: the Spirit is moving in and through the darkness. And it keeps moving until the baptism of Jesus. At that baptism it comes to rest. Our gospel text today says: the Spirit descending on him. But a closer translation from the Greek in which the gospel was written would be “descending in him”.
The Spirit comes to a rest in Jesus and is with him.
That sounds wonderful. But what does that mean for us?
When we are baptized, we are baptized into Jesus. We become part of God’s family. And becoming part of this family means that the Spirit comes also to rest in us. In you and in me. We are all part of the family. Nothing can change that!
Maybe you feel that you are not really part of this family. Maybe you feel that what you have done has taken away from you the right to be a child of God. But God loves you! No matter what you do or have done: you are part of this loving family of God’s children.
Let me tell you a story:
There was a young man at my congregation in Germany. He had been asked to help with the youth program. But he felt that he couldn’t do that. He had done some bad things in his past and now felt that he was no longer part of God’s family. Maybe God still loved him. But he definitely wasn’t good enough to do anything at church.
He was asked over and over again but his answer was always the same.
One day he came to the Youth Group Committee asking if they would still be willing to have him help. We were more than happy and willing because he was really good with the kids and everybody could see that this was one of his gifts.
When I asked him later what made him change his mind, he told me: “You know I was praying, asking God what to do now and I heard God saying: Young man, I have forgiven you all those things a long time ago. Why can’t you forgive yourself?”
Through baptism we are all called into God’s family. God forgives us our sins. God does not separates Him from us but we sometimes separate us from God. But the good news is: God is always there. Waiting with open arms for us to just accept His forgiveness and love in our life! And that might be the hardest. Forgiving ourselves. Accepting that God loves us. Accepting that there is nothing we can do to stand any better with God. Because that also means: accepting that we are not in charge. God is in charge. He forgives. Over and over again. And even though we will sin and break His heart over and over again, we will still be part of His family. Because He loves us. We are, like Jesus, His beloved!
So where is God in our darkness and our void? He is right with us. He stands by us and rests in us.
We often have a hard time seeing God because, like John and his disciples, we look at the wrong places for God.
God is not the warrior God, who destroys those who do harm. He is also not the meddling God, who miraculously makes all problems, pains, and fears disappear. As much as we would like God to do all this: He does not do it. But He is the loving God, who suffers with us. Who cries with us. And who is with us. All the time. Every day.
He is with us through other people who help us, listen to us, and be with us. He is in the warm sunshine after a bad night full of nightmares. He is in the people and things that make us feel loved and cared for.
But why then when God loves us so much, is He not ending all those pain, darkness, and suffering? Where is the love in that?
When God created us, He created us in His image; as people with a free will. And we use this free will. All too often we use our free will not the way God wants us to, but the way we want to. We sin. We cause other people harm. We cause ourselves harm. But God does not stop us, because He loves us so much. And loving someone means giving him or her freedom. Even the freedom to sin and break God’s heart.
God does not stop us. But He does not leave us alone either. He is with us in our sinning and in our suffering. No matter where we turn to and walk to, God walks with us. Today and every day.
Today we are called. We are called to remember our baptism. A baptism that made us into children of God. And made us part of God’s loving family.
We are also called to follow Jesus. We are called to follow him into the wilderness and become servants of one another. We are called to become God’s hand and feet. God offers us a new life through our baptism. We don’t have to worry anymore about forgiveness. We are forgiven. Through God’s grace we are freed from our sins. There is nothing we have to do to be forgiven. God gave it to us. Free. Without any strings attached. Not because of what we have done or because we are so lovable. But because God is so loving and caring. This is what God’s grace is all about. God gave us His love and forgiveness for free. We don’t have to show our collected merit badges. We don’t have to show off our wonderful portfolios. We are loved and forgiven the way we are. We are loved so much that God gave His only son so that all our sins may be forgiven. For free. Nothing left for us to do.
And since we are free from having to do something to be forgiven and be back in God’s family, we are called to use our time for others. We are called to share God’s good news with all. With those people inside this building and outside.
We don’t have to do good works in order to earn God’s love and forgiveness. But since we are connected with all God’s children through our baptism we are called to share our gifts with all in need. We don’t have to use those gifts to be loved by God. But we are called to use them to help others. We all have gifts.
We might be good in Youth Group work like the young man back in Germany. We might be good singers and offer our voices to the glory of God, as the choir does every Sunday. We might be good cooks, able to cook when someone is in need. Or we might be good listeners, being able to be with people in need.
No matter what our gifts are, God wants us to share those gifts with all His creation.
God calls us out of our old life. He calls us to leave our fears, our doubts, and our old self behind and follow him. And even though leaving this old life will be challenging at times, we know that we are not alone. Like it did in Jesus at his baptism, the Spirit comes to rest in us at our baptism. We are all part of the same loving Creator. The water of baptism connects us with God and our neighbor. And so we are called to become servants and family to God and neighbor as well.
No matter what kind of darkness we might encounter by following Jesus, we know that we are not alone. God’s Spirit is in us; giving us strength, love, and comfort for all we have to do.
God is with us indeed. We just have to start looking at the right places: not in the places of power and might, but in the places of humble servant-ship. Jesus is not the warrior king John, and at times we, looked for. But he is not powerless either. Through his faith in God he is able to follow God’s call in his life. We are called to do the same!
We heard stories this morning. Stories about God’s love and call.
Stories about light and darkness. Let us go out and share our stories with others. Let us go out and share that the light has come and is living with us through Jesus. Let us go out and invite others to become part of God’s story of love and care. But most of all let us go out and live our call, and let us become the loving and serving children of God He wants us to be.
May the Love of God which surpasses all our understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.