Baptism of Our Lord
January 7, 2023
I’ve been a pastor now for over 10 years. I’m still young in the ministry compared to a lot of pastors, many of which are still working past retirement because we can’t seem to get teens and young adults interested in church work anymore. And to be honest, this is a problem that the Christian church needs to deal with. Why are teens spending so much time going after the world and so little time with the things of God, the church, before Word and Sacrament?
But that’s for another day. I’ve been a pastor for over ten years, and like all pastors, except those who are intentionally trying to be flashy and appealing to the world, we’ve all been accused of preaching sermons that are either impractical or in one ear and out the other or too much doctrine and not enough preaching on the things people really need or want to hear. That if we want to save and bring people into the church, we need to preach relevant sermons, sermons about things people want to know, like day-to-day stuff…not old stuff, but NEW stuff…something…real.
Well, you asked for it, so you’re going to get it – and this is as real as it gets: The life you live, right now, at this very moment, is temporary. You will die. Teens, listen up, you are going to die. You are not invincible, you are not unbreakable, your bodies cannot take everything you throw at them, put in them, or put them through, and each one of us is on a clock and the clock is running out – it has been since the moment we were conceived.
Further, you do not know when your life will end. It could be today, it could be tomorrow, it could be 50 years from now. And between now and that moment when the clock stops, what is it that every human being is wound up to do? We are each wound to fill up the emptiness, the holes in our lives, those places, those conditions each of us has which we try to hide such as loneliness, fear, or uncertainty. Everyone of us feels these things, even pastors. There are kids and teens in this room who have great fear over tomorrow and what tomorrow will bring. There are husbands with great fear over their marriages, wives who fear they’re losing their husbands, parents who fear their kids are going in wrong directions. There are people in this room carrying great guilt and shame for decisions they’ve made, sins they’ve fell into or maybe sins that have become habitual and destructive.
We all put on a good smile and a good show, but God only knows what goes on on the inside. Sometimes each of us wishes we could just die. Sometimes each of us wishes we could find a desolate island in the middle of nowhere where we can go and live by ourselves without troubles or people.
These are the holes each of us struggles to fill at just about every moment of our lives; there’s no way around it…we are each dying, dying to live.
We are people born empty, permeable; all of what was good in us was drained away long ago and now it’s all about refilling ourselves so we can be whole again. But think about how we go about filling our inner spaces and breaches. See, we need to fill them with something concrete, something that will last and make us strong, but that’s not what we do, is it? Instead, we try to fill our inner voids and darkness with things of the world. Imagine trying to build a wall with whipped cream or Jello. Imagine trying to firm up a foundation with peanut butter or silly putty. Heck, we might even try to be clever and fill these inner voids in us with something that, at first seems strong and good and right, but then, like cornstarch and water, what seemed to be strong only turned out to be slush and goo.
Oh, Tv and internet tells us to fill our darkness with entertainment, technology, with money and power, with promiscuity and adulterous sexual behavior, with work and career, alcohol and drugs, with trying to make our friends think we’re cool by doing what they do.
Loneliness? Gotta have a girlfriend or boyfriend, one after another after another after another. Uncertainty of the future? Fill your days and hours with endless work and clock punching so you can have more and more and more money. Not sure what you’ll do when you get out of high school? Spend a majority of your days and hours throwing a ball or swinging a bat or hitting a puck…maybe the answer’s there. Were you hurt by someone in your past, fill the hole that hurt creates with your favorite alcoholic beverage or smokable plant.
And every time we try to fill our holes, the inner voids in our hearts, everything we dump in there falls right out; it doesn’t make us stronger, wiser, or better people. It only leaves us more scarred, more scared, more unsure, more lost in our darkness.
Simple question: Do you want joy? Do you want peace? Do you want hope? Of course you do, we all do! Yet why do we keep shoving into our souls the very same things that do NOT bring us joy or peace or hope? Why do we keep sinning knowing that sin, ultimately, leads only to death? Why do we keep doing the things of darkness, the things we hope no one ever finds out about, rather than doing the works of the day, which are good and godly?
If you know that drunkenness is a sin, and you know sinning against God leads to death, why do you keep doing it? If you know adultery is a sin and that you are not to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage, and you know sinning this way leads to death, why would you do it? If you know theft is a sin and sin leads to death according to the Word of God, why would you do it?
And this is the most perplexing thing about us human beings, isn’t it? We know when we sin; we know it. Let’s not try to find loopholes that don’t exist here. And we also know that sin leads to death, to condemnation, to hell. Yet…how often do we just go “oh well,” or we forget, or we pretend it’s not sin, or we think we fool God in some way by putting on a good smile? Paul says it like this: “The good that I want to do, I do not do, but the evil I hate, this I keep doing.”
You keep filling your life, your heart, your voids and holes up with these sins, these worldly things, these things that just do not last, and where do you think it will get you? Millions and millions of people, just like you, doing the exact same things, all over the world, and though it’s been many, many centuries, we have not learned our lesson. You cannot fill your life with the created things and expect your life to get better or be better or be great. For the more you give yourself to created things the more difficulties that come. The more you give into the passions of your flesh, the more your flesh will want.
And let’s be honest, the devil and his demons, they’re not locked away in hell, but they are right here roaming this creation, and they are NOT on your side. And they will use every trick in the book to get you to say, “I don’t need God, I don’t need church, I don’t need His Word or Sacraments, I don’t need to remember my baptism, I don’t need to repent, because I have everything I need in my possessions, my relationships, my sports, my games, my food, my drink, my drugs, my school, my sexuality, my knowledge, my friends; I don’t need God in my life.”
And even at this moment, the devil and his demons are looking for you; they’re looking for a way in, a way to take over, to fill the holes in your life with evil and corruption and dark. And anyone who says or has convinced him or herself of the great 21st century lie, “I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian,” WATCH OUT, because Satan is right there giving you every reason in the world to believe this lie.
But now let me tell you what will truly fill the holes in your life, the void in your heart, the emptiness in your soul. Let me tell you what makes you alive and filled with true joy, peace, and hope. Actually, allow me to let St. Paul tell you…
“Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” In other words, are we to continue to live filling holes with worldly passions and desires since God just forgives us anyway? Emphatically, emphatically, NO. You have DIED to sin! How can you possibly live in it any longer? For as each of you has been baptized into Christ Jesus, you have been baptized into His death. Death no longer reigns in you, no longer controls you, because you have been raised up to new life in Christ, that is, unless you have abandoned Christ and no longer consider Him Lord and God.
And how is this new life in Christ that you have been raised into different than the old life? Well, first and foremost, it is a life connected to, fueled by, and protected in Jesus. You are not some random individual roaming around a chaotic plane looking for moments of brief pleasure where you can find them, but you are a child of God, a brother, a sister of Christ Jesus, a citizen and heir of His kingdom eternal, and have freely received the greatest blessings and gifts of heaven. Your identity – the answer to the great question, “Who am I” is in Christ Jesus, you are God’s child, God’s beloved.
That old way of life, characterized by sin and depravity and making merry with the world, it is DEAD and GONE. Behold, the new has come, a real life, real living where death has no power over you.
This is what your baptism gives you. It gives you a sure connection to the throne of God, to the living waters which flow down upon all who believe for refreshment and purity.
Now you might respond to God’s mercy and love and say, “But Pastor, I still want to have a physical relationship with my significant other outside of marriage, and since God forgives me, what’s the problem?” You might say, “But Pastor, I still need to work 70 or 80 hours a week and skip church week after week after week so I can work, doesn’t God just forgive me?” You might say, “But Pastor, I still want to get a good scholarship when I graduate, so sorry, but I can’t receive the Sacrament more than once every couple of months because I’m just too busy with school activities, won’t God excuse me in this situation?”
God knows things are tough, He knows it’s hard for Christians to live in this villainously fallen world which constantly takes more and more and more time away from being with God and His people. He knows we are tempted, and He knows we are weak. As Christians we may still suffer fear or insecurity or run off and try to fill a void by breaking the commandments. We may that church and the Word and Sacrament is secondary to every other concern in our lives. No, living in a fallen world and living in these fallen, broken bodies is no excuse to sin or break God’s commands. But God knows our weakness and what we go through day after day.
But this reality is WHY Jesus has given His life for you. He didn’t give you His life so that you can just keep on living like the world and breaking His commandments without a care in the world. He gave you His life so that you can have a real life. So that when your day comes and God calls you to account, you won’t have to look back and wonder if there’s even a remote chance that He’ll save you. He gave you His life so that when your life draws to a close in this side of paradise, you rest comforted in Him and His cross and mercy and faithfully sleep knowing that when your eyes open again there standing before you will be your God and Savior.
So today, if you hear His voice, if you hear His Word, if my preaching is “real enough for you,” today, do not harden your heart as the people of old who were destroyed by fire. Instead, repent of your sins, acknowledge that you have failed God, and fall to your knees seeking His mercy, because He will surely pour down mercy and grace and forgiveness and salvation upon all who call on His name and confess their sins. Remember your baptism and live in your baptism, because it is in your baptism where God lives and remembers you. Amen.