Rev. Jen Kindsvatter Sermon
at Christ the King, Houston
January 9, 2022 – Baptism of our Lord
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
I bring greetings to you from Lutherhill Ministries – the outdoor ministry of our synod and your church. Since 1954, Lutherhill has been a place set apart for rest and play – for people of all ages. Whether you’re drawn to the live oak trees and rolling hills of Lutherhill in La Grange or a walk to the seawall among the waves in Galveston – know that you are welcome, any time to visit us at the hill or at the beach.
I also bring a word of gratitude! Lutherhill is dependent on the faithful partnerships of congregations like yours and I am so grateful for you!
Christ the King has invested in Lutherhill through generous financial support, board leadership both in the past and at present, shared ministry with a Day Camp held here on your campus, and by sharing your most treasured gift – your youth and young adults with us as campers and summer staff!
We know that faith formation is essential in the life of a congregation and I am so grateful that you share a small portion of that process with camp. My spouse Matt serves as our Executive Director and he likes to refer to camp as the fun uncle of faith formation. We shake the kids up, fill them with sugar – aka s’mores – and then send them back to the congregation to wreak havoc. While this is a bit over-simplified – there is some truth. I wholeheartedly believe that camp can be a transformational experience that reignites faith for campers –the whole family and the congregation, too.
Thank you for all the ways you invest in Lutherhill! We are grateful.
Our scripture today sparks the imagination with vivid images of water and fire. A little water is good.
– Like a cool drink of ice water in the middle of a Texas summer.
– Or a freshly drawn bath to wash away the dirt and grime of the day.
– Or the pool at summer camp, after walking up and down the hill all day – not to mention the joy of a good cannonball off the diving board.
– Or the infinity flow of the baptismal font – the living water that promises new life, fresh starts, and fresh hope.
– Water is good.
A little fire is good.
– Like the candle on a birthday cake with people gathered around singing and celebrating another year of life and love.
– Or the gentle glow of a candle inviting you in to a time of solitude and centering.
– Or the crackling of a campfire that draws everyone together to remember the day, deepen relationships and relax.
– Or the flickering light of liturgy, the candles that leads us – into worship – through the word, to the table and into the world.
– Fire is good.
Water and fire are indeed good. But water and fire also have the power to destroy. Living near the Gulf of Mexico, on the bayou or along the Colorado River – we know the power of water to destroy. Much like living through a Texas drought or in the drylands of California teach the power of fire to destroy. There’s a dangerous element to these earthly elements.
In our Gospel reading today, John – the one who baptizes – speaks to the power of water and fire. His followers have been submerged in water as an entry point belonging and being. Lest they think too much of John, he quickly redirects them. John says,
– ‘While I point to salvation, I am not the one who saves.”
– That one – the one who is to come, I am not even worthy to untie his shoes.
– I initiate you with water,
– The one who is to come will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire
– And this unquenchable, refining fire will burn away the deadly parts of you so that only the lifegiving parts will remain.
– And when this happens, when the old you has been burned away – you will be born anew. This is the promise of baptism through Jesus.
Lutheran Christians acknowledge two sacraments – baptism and communion. These two sacred acts combine God’s command and God’s promise with an earthly element.
For baptism –
– God commands us to “make disciples, baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 28:19)
– God promises, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:16)
– And the earthly element is water. I know, it would be a little more exciting if we took John’s advice and kept fire as the earthly element, But alas, it’s water.
Luther teaches us that, “The word of God in and with the water makes baptism – sacred. Ordinary water becomes life-giving water, rich in grace and new birth in the Holy Spirit.”
Every once and a while, we get to celebrate a baptism at camp. A couple months ago, the family and friends of Juliette gathered to mark the milestone. Juliette is 2 years old – a little bigger – and much more mobile than the infants I’m used to baptizing.
Before the liturgy began, I gathered with Juliette’s family at the font to show her the living water. She was pretty tentative at first, touching the water gently, dipping a finger in. This hesitance persisted through the beginning of the liturgy. She was not very impressed as water dribbled down her face in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Then – just before the liturgy ended – it was like a switch just was flicked. Juliette started to tap the water, then slap the water, then pound the water until there was a splash zone all around the font. She looked around at her gathered people and splashed with reckless abandon and a giddy grin. Her mom nervously laughed as we declared the spirit at work through Juliette.
As everyone ate cake and sipped punch, Juliette brought her adults – one person at a time back to the font. And then she’d start splashing all over again. You could tell who Juliette had christened because their Sunday best were soaked through by the baptismal waters.
What a beautiful reminder of God’s abundant gift, grace for all.
Every night, I get to take part in a holy ritual – bedtime. Matt and I resign to being – somewhat willing – captives of our twin daughters Emma and Lily.
Just after the girls nestle into their beds and before we sing our collection of nighttime songs, I pull up the covers, brush back the hair from their faces then mark the sign of the cross on each of their foreheads and speak a blessing –
Remember that you are a beloved child of God and God has made you precious, just as you are.
This simple blessing is drawn from our scripture readings today.
In Isaiah – God tells our ancestors the Israelites that they are precious in God’s sight.
In Luke – God speaks from the heavens and calls the newly baptized Jesus a Beloved Child of God.
This blessing is a simple reminder at the end of the day that God calls Emma and Lily beloved and precious, just as they are. Not when they do everything right, not when they behave perfectly all day, not when all has gone well. God calls them beloved and precious, just as they are.
Some nights, my sweet Lily will reach up to give me a blessing in return. Although she adds a little 6-year-old flare. After marking the cross on my forehead, she likes to trace the outline of my face before grabbing the back of my neck and drawing me in for a big kiss after the word precious. Then holding me close, she stares into the core of being and says ‘Just as you are’.
In these moments, I feel truly loved.
One last thing.
One last thing, Isaiah reminds us that the God who calls us by name, travels with us through water and fire – so that nothing in this life will overcome God’s love for us.
You may recognize this as the lyrics of a beloved camp song. Isaiah 43 is a rite of passage for our guitar players as they master the instrumental bridge. It’s humbling to hear 150 campers and young adult summer staff sing God’s promise –
– When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. And the waves they will not overcome you.
– When you pass through the fire, I will be with you. And the flames they will not all consume you.
– Do not fear for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine.
This text from Isaiah contains the only time in all of scripture that God speaks directly to God’s people and says “I Love You.”
When we hear, and believe that we are loved by God:
– We know that our temporary afflictions and accomplishments do not define us.
– We know we are precious, just as we are.
– We live as God lives – with compassion and mercy.
So hear this blessing today, You are precious in God’s sight and God loves you. Remember that you are a beloved child of God and God has made you precious, just as you are. Amen.