Sunday, January 13, 2013

Sermon -- 1st Sunday after the Epiphany (January 13, 2013)

LUKE 3:15-17,21-22
JESUS OPENS HEAVEN THROUGH BAPTISM.

In the name + of Jesus.

     There is no doubt that people want to be accepted.  They want to belong.  Some people have contests about who has more Facebook friends.  And there is something disturbing when someone “unfriends” you, even if you haven’t seen that person since high school or never comment to each other.  When you are unfriended, you feel rejected.  You feel like an outcast.  Of course, some forms of rejection hurt even more.  A man who loses his job feels useless.  A man or woman who is divorced feels belittled and betrayed.  Sadly, this desire to be wanted compels some girls give themselves away to alleged boyfriends who would rather use them than love them.  It often seems that we would rather be used than be rejected.
     It is perhaps the “why” which torments us when we are rejected.  Why did she leave me?  Why did he unfriend me?  Why don’t they like me?  Of course, there are times when we know the “why.”  If you’ve burned the bridge or betrayed a secret, you know why he turned his back on you.  So you know why, not that it helps.  You are still banished, forsaken, and rejected.  Even if you cause the break-up, severed and strained relationships still hurt.
     You and I are so eager to feel like we belong that we cozy up to worldly attitudes and adopt worldly ways.  We act out on our greed, our jealousies, our selfishness, our resentment, and our discontent.  Then we tell our stories to our friends, expecting them to approve of our actions.  No matter how wrong we are, our friends usually come through and tell us that we are right.  Our friends don’t care what God says.  They just want us to be happy.  And we just want to be accepted.  As long as we have that, we feel good.  As long as someone is pleased with us, we are pleased with ourselves and our actions. 
     John the Baptist warned that the Christ was coming.  He does not give tacit approval to whatever we do.  He judges whether or not we have obeyed God and loved our neighbor.  That is how we get God’s approval.  John declared, “He who is mightier than I is coming….  His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Luke 3:15-17)  Whether you sinned on purpose or in weakness, you are guilty.  God’s anger rightly burns against you.  You should be rejected as chaff.  
     And yet, God does not unfriend you.  The Christ who comes does not come first with judgment, but with mercy.  He comes to reconcile you to his Father.  He comes to make you acceptable and to find a place for you in his kingdom. 
     When John the Baptist preached, he summoned the people to be baptized in repentance for their sins.  Jesus also came to the Jordan to be baptized.  Jesus, however, did not come in repentance, for he had no sins for which he needed to repent.  Jesus did not come for his sins, but for sinners.  He came for you.  In his baptism, Jesus united himself to you and to all sinners.  In those baptismal waters, he soaked up all of your sin and guilt, taking it upon himself.  In doing this, he also would take upon himself your judgment, your punishment, and your death.  Jesus, therefore, was banished by his Father.  He was rejected and forsaken upon the cross; for he was carrying the sins of the world.  He was punished and condemned in your place, so that you will not be punished or condemned. 
     When the priests served before the Lord throughout the Old Testament, they had a daily reminder that man has been cut off from God.  Each day, the priests would enter the temple to make the morning and evening sacrifices.  In front of the altar of incense was a huge curtain.  Behind the curtain were the Holy of Holies and the ark of the covenant.  It was the dwelling place of God.  The curtain, a hand-breadth thick, proclaimed loud and clear: “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God.” (Isaiah 59:2)  That which is sinful cannot enter the presence of God.  That which is corrupt cannot exist with him who is holy.  And at the moment Jesus died, that curtain was torn in two from top to bottom.  Your iniquities had separated you from your God, but your sins have been taken away.  You do have access to the Most Holy Place.  God is pleased with you.  You have been reconciled.  You belong in God’s kingdom.  God calls you his friend.
     What Jesus secured for you at the cross is applied to you in your baptism.  Just as Jesus united you to himself in baptism, so he also unites you to him through your baptism.  Jesus’ baptism, therefore, testifies as to what you have received in your own baptism.  When Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22) 
     Jesus opens heaven through baptism.  Just as the curtain of the temple was torn open when Jesus died to pay for sins, so also heaven was opened up to you when you were baptized into Jesus’ name.  For sin had separated you from your God.  But when you were baptized, your sins were washed away.  Though you had been corrupt, you were purified from all unrighteousness.  And since you are clean and pure in God’s sight, you are accepted by him.  You belong in his kingdom.  He cannot reject you, for God does not despise that which is holy.
     Jesus opens heaven through baptism.  When Jesus had been baptized…, the Holy Spirit descended on him….” (Luke 3:21)  You, too, have received the gift of the Holy Spirit.  He has made his home in your heart and has given you a right spirit.  That is why you are eager to do what is good and right.  You can even love, forgiven, and have patience for people who are unlovable; for that is how God treats sinners.  You do not need to flee to find acceptance with the wicked.  You do not have to resort to worldly attitudes and actions to feel like you belong.  The Lord has made his dwelling within you.  You are acceptable to him.  You are his.
     Jesus opens heaven through baptism; for God’s favor is yours.  When Jesus  had been baptized…, a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22)  Yes, God is pleased with you.  Since you have been united with Jesus who gives you his righteousness and takes away your sin, God can only be pleased with you.  What is more, he calls you his child!  You not only have a place in the kingdom, you are part of the family.  You are heirs of his kingdom.  You have a place at his table.  You own his blessings.
     The Lord had revealed Jesus as the Christ and the Son of God at his baptism.  Heaven itself opened up to declare it so.  And so it is through your baptism.  Jesus opens heaven through baptism.  The Holy Spirit comes to you through baptism.  The Father declares that you are his beloved child through baptism.  The Lord is pleased with you.  You have been accepted.  The Holy of Holies is your dwelling place.  And God is your friend.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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