Preaching on Stewardship- January 13, 2019- Baptism of Our Lord Sunday

Welcome back friends. As you might have noticed, there were no stewardship preaching blogposts for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, the Season of Christmas, and Epiphany. I trust that you all had a wonderful month of telling and living into these stories of the incarnation, God with us, and sharing this good news which are central to our faith. As we now move into the time after Epiphany, the blog resumes with its more weekly rhythm. Which means, every Monday I share a few tidbits, nuggets, or ideas for incorporating some stewardship themes in your preaching. This week’s nuggets based on the appointed readings from the Revised Common Lectionary and Narrative Lectionary for Baptism of Our Lord Sunday are as follows:

Sunday January 13, 2019: Revised Common Lectionary- Baptism of Our Lord (Year C)
First Lesson: Isaiah 43:1-7
Psalm 29
Second Lesson: Acts 8:14-17
Gospel of Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Baptism and stewardship go hand-in-hand. Out of the baptismal waters that we are washed in, then sealed and claimed with, we are not only marked by God and claimed by God and with God’s promises, we ourselves promise to live and grow as Children of God as disciples and stewards. In this sense, Baptism of Our Lord is one of my favorite weeks of the year to preach on stewardship.

In looking at this week’s readings, there are a couple more particular themes and ideas worth consideration and some time digging into. The first one for me is the presence of the Lord’s voice. In the Isaiah passage, the Lord is speaking. Psalm 29 describes what the Voice of the Lord does. And in the gospel story, it is one of the few times in the gospels and New Testament where a voice from heaven, we presume to be God, speaks for God’s self.

This matters. What’s happening here is important and we’re called to take notice. In thinking about baptism, this gets at the sacramental nature of it, as with the ordinary element of order, what makes it extraordinary is God’s Word and promise working in, around, and through it.

The second element in these readings are the promises included that God makes to God’s beloved children. The Lord says, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you” (Isaiah 43:1-2, NRSV). God is present. God is with you. God is for you. Jesus will ultimately make this even clearer through his passion. But these promises are ones that do not say life will always be easy, but that no matter if you find yourself in the good, bad, or ugly of life, God will be and is with you.

Further, the Lord says, “Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. Do not fear, for I am with you” (Isaiah 43:4-5, NRSV). If that’s not clear enough, God goes even further. “I will say to the north, ‘Give them up’, and to the south, ‘Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth— everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made’” (Isaiah 43:6-7, NRSV).

You had to expect that this was coming. Thinking about baptism, has me thinking about my daughter Caroline being baptized this past fall by Bishop Brian Maas. It has me thinking about God’s work and promises for her, but also the promises we as her parents, and all of Caroline’s God’s parents, and her whole congregation made on behalf of her.

These are promises of God for the people of God. They are promises of God claiming us, and God being with and for us. They are promises and announcements of God’s deep and abiding love. In baptism, God claims us once and for all. The question in terms of stewardship then for me, is how do we live into this radical and baptized life as a Child of God, claimed, marked, sealed, loved, and called? We are changed after all. We’re not perfect though, and this baptized life will be one with regular confession and forgiveness. But in baptism, God says I am with you and I am for you, and you are mine.

The psalmist points to one way as being through worship, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name; worship the Lord in holy splendor” (Psalm 29:2, NRSV). This fits well with what we know are our baptismal promises that we make (or are made for us) and that we all affirm for ourselves. Promises to:

  • Live among God’s faithful people,
  • Hear the Word of God and share in the Lord’s supper,
  • Proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
  • Serve all people, following the example of Jesus,
  • Strive for justice and peace in all the earth.*

These are promises of a life of discipleship and stewardship. They are promises of an active, learning, and growing life. And this life is really only possible because of the life of God in Christ, whose baptism today we remember in Luke’s telling.

Picking up a portion of the story we read in Advent, “John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire’” (Luke 3:16-17, NRSV).

Jesus isn’t going to be just a peace-maker. There will be challenges. There will be conflict. Change after all is not always easy, and certainly bringing justice for the oppressed and marginalized will not seem welcome to everyone who profits and does well in life because of or in spite of a sinful and broken society, system, and world.

This certainly could be worth some time today. But I bet there will be ample time for this, in the season after Epiphany to think about how we ourselves are bearers of God’s light, offering ah-ha moments of Epiphany and experiencing them for ourselves as we sense and discern together what God might be doing- and how we’re called to be a part of this kingdom building and restorative work, like which we proclaim in our baptismal promises.

For this week, perhaps spend some time with these last two verses. “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’” (Luke 3:21-22, NRSV).  God speaks here, as mentioned earlier. This matters.

Through this Son, God is well pleased. Why? Well, we know the answers obviously because we know the rest of story. But that story changes today, because as of today, Jesus isn’t just growing up anymore. The gospel narrative is about to take off as Jesus enters the world doing the ministry to which he has been called. There’s no turning back now. It’s out there, it’s public. Jesus is baptized, and just like when we are baptized, we are set apart, sparked with the fire of the Holy Spirit, and burning and sharing God’s love and light with the whole world.

What’s going to happen next? That’s a big question. And it’s a fair question for stewardship. Now what? And what’s going to come next in our lives as baptized Children of God? Maybe this is the week to pose that question to your context and see, hear, and listen for what God might be calling you to be a part of next.

Sunday January 13, 2019: Narrative Lectionary- Baptism of Our Lord (Year 1- Week 19)
Narrative Theme for the Day: Jesus’ Baptism: Matthew
Focus Passages: Matthew 3:1-17
Psalm Accompaniment: Psalm 2:7-8

The Narrative this week moves from the Magi and the slaughter of the innocents, ahead a few decades to John the Baptist in the wilderness, and Jesus’ coming to meet him and be baptized by him. In terms of stewardship themes, many stated above for the revised common lectionary apply here, so, I will try not to repeat myself.

Now with this particular version of the story, there is a bit more background included in the longer narrative. We’re situated a bit better and more detailed as to where we are in the story. “In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, ‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight”” (Matthew 3:1-3, NRSV).

People came from near and far “and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:6, NRSV). This is important to note. For with baptism there also comes renunciation of sin and the evils and powers of the world, confession, and forgiveness. 

John explains, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:11-12, NRSV). John knows when Jesus comes and is baptized, the world is going to change. Things will be different, and there will be no turning back to the way things were.

When Jesus comes to John, he says he is not worthy. But Jesus says, this is right and the way God has called it to be. So John relents. “And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased'” (Matthew 3:16-17, NRSV).

This voice means “pay attention.” “World wake up!” In some ways, it fulfills the accompanying psalm, “I will tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to me, ‘You are my son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession” (Psalm 2:7-8, NRSV).

In terms of stewardship, Matthew perhaps more than the other gospels offers some room because of the length and breadth and detail of this familiar story, to think about how as stewards and disciples we might be reluctant to take on this radically new life that we live into and are claimed in through the water and Word of Baptism.

John is a perfect example. He was very reluctant to baptize Jesus, because he knew exactly who Jesus was called to be. But Jesus helped John realize that John was precisely called for something as big and radical as this. Even so, I am sure John was a bit trembling throughout the whole experience. I mean, wouldn’t you be? You are baptizing the Son of God, and just after the baptism, the Spirit descends, and a voice from whom we can only imagine is God’s self comes for all to hear… This is huge!

Amid all of this change and awesome and awe-inspiring experience, God is present. God is fulfilling what God has said will happen, and God is showing up in the world through the Son and the Spirit, and God’s own voice. Things are different now. What’s going to happen next? And in terms of stewardship, as we ourselves are claimed, marked, and baptized, where’s this life as a baptized Child of God going to lead? The fun of the answer is that there isn’t just one answer, and that the answer is always changing, evolving, growing as we ourselves grow as stewards and disciples of God’s love.

Wherever you might feel called this week, may God’s love and promise be with you and made known to and through you.

*Baptismal promises as found in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (Augsburg Fortress: Minneapolis, MN, 2006), 236.

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