On June 21, 1959, I was baptized. It was one month to the day after I was born.
In the Lutheran church, once we’re baptized, that’s it. I have not returned to the font to be re-baptized. But in today’s readings we find different kinds of baptism.
Today is the second Sunday in the season of Epiphany, what we call the Baptism of our Lord. The Scriptures for this day show us that baptism is not simply a one-time deal but repeated again and again. We might even say that baptism is a way of life!
Our second reading is the story of some Samaritans who were baptized but, Luke writes,“only” in the name of Jesus. Later, these newly baptized Christians receive a baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Likewise, in Luke ch. 3, John says that he baptizes with water. But he promises the arrival of someone who would baptize not with water but with fire and the Holy Spirit.
When was the last time you were baptized?
Many of us have heard the term “baptism by fire.” It often means beginning something new with great difficulty—learning something the hard way! Maybe sometime during your life you’ve taken on a new job or new responsibilities and it was no fun; you might have been ready to quit! It was baptism by fire.
Most of us would prefer to avoid such experiences but over the course of a lifetime sooner or later difficulties and hardships will come our way. In fact, they may be a regular part of our life experience.
The prophet Isaiah acknowledges this when he says,
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.
Notice that Isaiah doesn’t say “if” but “when.” It’s not a matter of if but when in our lives we feel like we are drowning, or feel like we’re walking through fire. We pray that we will be spared such hardships. It’s even part of the prayer Jesus taught us: Lead us not into temptation, or, as we sometimes say, Save us from the time of trial. Although we don’t go looking for hardship, sooner or later it finds us.
But it’s in those difficult times that God promises, as he promises through Isaiah, “I will be with you.” You shall not be overwhelmed. You shall not be burned. You shall not be consumed.
In fact, maybe you can recall examples from your life when some experience that felt at the time like the end of your world taught you something about yourself and about life. What felt like the end was also the beginning.
Baptism. Baptism by fire. Baptism by the Holy Spirit.
When the waters were poured over my head back in 1959 it was not a once-for-all ritual that saved my soul from hell. When Pr. Biedermann poured those waters over me—not just in the name of the Father, not just in the name of the Son, but also in the name of the Holy Spirit–it was setting the tone for the rest of my life. It was the beginning of many baptisms. Just as your baptism has been for you.
A baptism by water is the beginning. But we are baptized anew by the Holy Spirit throughout our lives. Whatever turns our lives take we have the unshakeable promise that the Holy Spirit is at work in each and every one of us. We have the unshakeable assurance from God—as we hear this morning through the prophet Isaiah– “I love you.” At Jesus’ baptism a voice from heaven was heard: You are my Son, the Beloved.
You also are sons and daughters, God’s Beloved. So each day, remember your baptism. Remember it whenever you have the opportunity to show love for another person. Remember that what was true for Jesus is true for you: your baptism is not a one-time event but a way of life. God’s yes to you is God’s yes to the world. God’s love for you is also God’s love for the world.