Sunday, January 11, 2004

The following is a sermon given yesterday by the Rev. Lowell D. Case at St. Augustine Roman Catholic Church in the District.

Some will ask, “If Jesus is indeed the one without sin, then why did he submit to the baptism by John in the Jordan River, standing in line waiting like any other sinner who needed to repent?”

First, mainly because he was saying “yes” to God, answering His call. This baptism was not an end in itself, but a beginning, an inauguration, an ordination. After His baptism, Jesus began to call other people to join and follow Him.

In the Gospel of Luke, John the Baptist protests his own unworthiness to baptize Jesus, feeling unworthy to do this task — because Jesus would give a Baptism of Holy Spirit and Fire.

Jesus was baptized because He is Emmanuel, “God with us, mankind.” He shows us how God is with us by uniting with us sinners. He shows us that God is with us sinners and wishes us to be joined to Himself. Today at the baptism of the Lord, Jesus is an adult and begins His public ministry. He gets in line with the tax collectors, Roman soldiers, prostitutes, inviting them to come and follow Him and do what He will do. Throughout His life, Jesus will define His purpose: “I have come to seek and save the lost.” Jesus shows us that He is the Higher Power who will go to any lengths to save us.

Jesus, by calling us, wants us to know that we are called not just to follow Him to Heaven but into the world to where people are at war, starving, dying from illness and the stock market booming again. We now have the opportunity to answer for God, “Here, we are, follow us.” We can offer experience, strength and hope to others, to the world.

Jesus receives His Father’s blessing. While He was praying, Luke tells us that the Spirit descended upon Him, blessing Him. Today, God has a voice in the Gospel, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Every one of us knows how important it is to receive such a blessing. We have been blessed by our Heavenly Father in this sacrament. As we witness the baptism of a young child today, let us recall our own call to service, to salvation and to the Word.

We pray today that God will renew the grace of our own baptism in each one of us. We have been blessed by God. Let each of us be renewed by the memory of that blessing to sustain on those “difficult days ahead,” mentioned by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The memory of [blessings] have been given grace and called to service, may it sustain us as it did Dr. King, whose memory we will recall next weekend, on the anniversary of his birthday.

This baptism does not promise riches or good health, but the presence and nearness of God in our lives as we have bright days and gloomy ones, as we have good times and bad. Being Blessed and filled with God’s grace does make all the difference in the world.

This sermon is based on Luke 3:3-22:

“And [John] came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins; As it is written in the book of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth;

And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

“Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.

“And now also the ax is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. … Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened, And the Holy Ghost descended in the bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.”

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