I had the privilege of being with the good people of First Lutheran Church in South Sioux City, Nebraska yesterday. I was invited by Pastor Doug Dill to preach on stewardship for Baptism of Our Lord Sunday. It was a joy to be with them again. What follows is the majority of the manuscript that I preached from for both the congregation’s traditional and contemporary worship services. Within the text below, you will see an option to watch a video of the sermon from the traditional service as well.
Grace and peace from God in Christ who is with you, for you, and loves you. Amen.
Good Morning First Lutheran. It’s great to be with you again today on this Baptism of Our Lord Sunday. It’s really one of my favorite Sundays for thinking about stewardship, and hopefully why it’s one of my favorites will become obvious. But before I explain why, I want to share greetings from Bishop Brian Maas, your Assistant to the Bishop, Pastor Kristen Van Stee, and from all your 100,000 sisters and brothers in Christ who with you are the Nebraska Synod. And thank you again Pastor Doug, for the invitation to be with you all today, and to all of you for the warm welcome.
Setting the Stage
This is the time. God says in today’s story, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” God is affirming and claiming Christ as God’s own. It’s the same affirmation, claim, and promise that is placed on all of God’s children in the water and the word. God might as well be saying, “Yes You. I See You. I Care about You.” This claim and promise changes everything. And with it, baptism isn’t just a sprinkling of water and a sign of repentance. Though that all happens. Baptism is now something where God’s word meets the earthly ordinary foundation of life, water; and through it becomes extraordinary.
Today’s story about Jesus being baptized in the Jordan by John is a familiar one. We hear a version of this story every year in the week after Epiphany. God in Christ is being revealed today, which is certainly an Epiphany in and of itself. This is the time that God is being revealed. This is the moment John had been called out into the wilderness and to the River Jordan for. This is the moment when Jesus publicly enters the scene, and God’s own voice announces to the world to wake up and pay attention as God claims Jesus as God’s own.
In this baptism, God in Christ is on his way. His formal ministry is about to begin. We have skipped nearly thirty years since last week and the Magi’s arrival to see the Baby Jesus, and we’re probably about 18 years after the story we heard two weeks ago when Jesus was a teenager in the temple.
The story changes 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.
The powers that be are going to take notice. John certainly did. The people that had come from far and near to the Jordan did. The disciples will. The scribes and Pharisees will. The Herods, and Caesars, and Pilots of the world will, though they will never be able to fully understand or appreciate what God is up to.
God in Christ’s baptism changes the story. And just like when Christ was baptized, we too are baptized in Christ’s name. In baptism, though you may not see the Spirit descending like a dove as it did for Jesus, we believe that we are all set apart, and sparked with the fire of the Holy Spirit- a fire that burns in each of us to share God’s love and light with the whole world.
What’s Going to Happen Next?
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 Jesus’ life and ministry? And what is going to come next in our lives as baptized Children of God? What might God be calling you to be a part of next?
As the gospel narrative goes, Jesus will be swept out in the wilderness and tempted by the devil next. But after that time of discernment and prayer, Jesus emerges not only baptized, but ready to fulfill his calling. Jesus has been marked, and sealed, but most importantly God has claimed him, as God claims all of us- sealing and marking us in the promise that we know most clearly through the promises of God in Christ, for us.
Amid all of this, and the awe-inspiring experience of the dove descending and God’s voice speaking from heaven, God is present. God is fulfilling what God has said will happen. God is showing up in the world through the Son and the Spirit, and in 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.
Promises from God
What doesn’t change is the promise that is central to baptism. And because of this promise, baptism and stewardship go hand-in-hand. Now a word about stewardship. As I preached when I was with you last summer, let me remind you, the psalmist says that, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it…” Put another way, everything is God’s and our stewardship involves just about everything that is a part of our lives. We believe that God entrusts us with all that we have and all that we are, and thus we are stewards of all of what God entrusts to us to live fully and abundantly, but also through whom some of God’s work is done for the sake of our neighbors and the whole world which God has created and loves.
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 with God’s promises, we ourselves promise to live and grow as Children of God as disciples and stewards.
God’s promises include and are like those we hear the Lord makes for us in the story from Isaiah today. 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.”
God calls us. God knows us, deeply even better than we know ourselves, and we are God’s. In all of this we are reminded that 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 rather that no matter if you find yourself in the good, bad, or ugly of life, God will be and most certainly is with you.
There is no distance God won’t go, to be with us. God will be born as one of us and walk alongside us. God will be handed over and crucified for us, going to the grave, just to break it open and beat death at its game once and for all, being resurrected and ascended for us.
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, is how do we live into this radical and baptized life as a Child of God, who is claimed, marked, sealed, loved, and called by God?
In baptism, everything changes. And this is the time in today’s story, where the story of God with us, changes, just as we are all changed in baptism. We’re not perfect though, and this baptized life will be one filled with regular confession and forgiveness. But in baptism, God says I am with you and I am for you, and you are mine.
All of this is true, just like as the Lord says in Isaiah today, you are precious in God’s sight, just as all God’s children are, and God loves you.  Today God says to Jesus, you are mine, and God does this for each of us with these waters, just as God does today for Pursius and Kieran.
Our Role and Promises in Baptism which grounds our stewardship
These baptisms that we will all witness are God’s work, but we have a role in them too. On behalf of the newly baptized, we make promises as a community, and we ourselves affirm these promises made by us or at least for us in our baptisms, in confirmation and regularly in worship. Before God and one another, we promise 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,
- And 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 we remember today through Luke’s account.
Joyful Response, this is the Time
First Lutheran, I am grateful for you. I am grateful because you take the Great Commission seriously to baptize and teach. Today you are living that out. I am also grateful for you, because of all the ministry that you are a part of and doing up here in the larger South Sioux City and Sioux City community.
I am grateful that you have felt called to step up this year, recognizing that this is the time. God is calling you for a time such as this, to take seriously your baptismal promises. To live and worship together. To share the Good News of God through all that you do and say. To meet, listen to, and serve your neighbors as Christ serves us, and willingly gets down on his knees to wash another’s feet. We do this too. And in this day and age where sin, fear and division might seem rampant, you are living as disciples and stewards, bearing the good news of God and the hope and promises that we know through our baptisms into Christ Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.
This is the time. Your congregation’s council is diligently living into this, and you as a whole congregation will be invited to respond to God’s call and promises to you once again in your annual meeting next week. You will do so by adopting your annual mission support plan, affirming your council- faithful disciples like each of you, continuing to grow in faith, love, and service in God’s work together. You will hear discipleship reports, and accept reports and hear more stories of ministry and faith in action that you are all a part of. And then you will be invited to step up and say, “yes” to God’s call to each of you, in that you are all part of God’s on-going story through your baptisms, and now being called together as this congregation in South Sioux City in 2019. God has called you altogether for a reason.
One of these reasons I deeply believe, is that we do more as God’s people together than we could ever do apart or individually. I know this to be true through the way that your congregation participates in the work of the larger church. You joyfully respond to God’s love and promises for you, by sharing your mission share, your undesignated offering with the Nebraska Synod and the larger ELCA. Through this, you do ministry that spans the globe changing lives. Bishop Maas is fond of sharing stories of individual’s whose lives have been changed around the world because of your generosity.
I could do that, but instead I want to paint a vast picture. Because of you, we as the whole church together are able to help grow and support the faith of our youth and young adults right here in Nebraska through the support of Lutheran Campus Ministry and Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministry. Because of you, we are able to support and raise up and develop new pastors, deacons, and lay leaders of our church. Because of you, we are able to spread the gospel by sending missionaries around the world, and creating and supporting new and renewing ministries across Nebraska. Because of you, we are able to answer the call of our neighbors in need, near and far, through supporting our serving arm partners of the church like Lutheran World Relief, Mosaic, Lutheran Family Services, Lutheran Disaster Response, and so many more.
You have answered this call based in your baptismal promises time and again. And I’m excited to see and hear some of the ways that you are discerning that God is calling you to step up as God’s baptized children in South Sioux City this year.
Now What? For What? So What?
I would be lying if I said any of this work is easy. All we need to do is look at the rest of the gospel to know this is true. I mean, Jesus isn’t going to be just a peace-maker. There will be challenges. There will be conflict. Jesus is going to be tempted by Satan, and then go to and through the point of death on a cross. Though our lives hopefully aren’t as dramatic, change is not always easy. And certainly living out our baptismal promises as God’s stewards and disciples will not come without its challenges as we live in and are part of God’s beloved creation, but one that is also full pain, hurt, sin, and brokenness.
But through our baptisms, God claims each one of you and says, “you are mine.” With that claim and promise, life will never be the same. And with it, God is not only with us, God is for us. And God loves us, and uses us to do some of God’s kingdom building and restorative work in the world for all of God’s children. Friends, thank you for answering this call and for stepping up. And thank you for being open to wrestle and wonder about what might be next. For this is the time that God has called you each for. And I’m excited to see what God might be up to here with you, for you, and through you. Thanks be to God for all of you, and thanks be to our God who is with us, for us, and loves us. Amen.
Citations and References:
 Luke 3:22, NRSV.
 As Pastor Nate Sutton, from Peace Lutheran in Puyallup, Washington summarized the gospel on Twitter this past week.
 Psalm 24:1, NRSV.
 Isaiah 43:1-2, NRSV.
 Isaiah 43:4-5, NRSV.
 The Baptismal Promises, as found in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), 236.