January 12, 2020

Baptism of the Lord

Contemporary Service:

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Traditional Service:

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The Baptism of Jesus

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 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. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved,[a] with whom I am well pleased.”


  1. Matthew 3:17 Or my beloved Son

Sermon: “The Power of a Name

Roy Orbison, sad to say, died of a heart attack in December 1988 at the age of fifty-two.

Even so, you can hear him in concert this year on a double bill that includes his friend and fellow Texan Buddy Holly—who died in 1959 when he was only twenty-two years old.

Here’s a recent clip of “Orbison” performing.

Roy Orbison

Orbison and Holly part of a growing number of holograms going on tour, accompanied by live bands and orchestras, backup singers, and whizbang technology.

Why? To paraphrase Jerry Lee Lewis, there’s a whole lot of dyin’ going on—or there will be soon.

The top three grossing touring acts in 2019 were the Rolling Stones, Elton John, and Bob Seeger. Mick Jagger is seventy-six years old. Bob Richards is seventy-five. Sir Elton is seventy-two, and Bob Seeger is seventy-four. They aren’t the only rockers with seventy or more candles on their birthday cake.

Bob Dylan is seventy-eight years old. Paul McCartney is seventy-seven, as are both Simon and Garfunkel, Carol King, and Brian Wilson. Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, and Debbie Harry are all seventy-four, while Neil Young is seventy-three and Don Henley seventy-two.

The youngsters in the bunch are James Taylor at seventy-one, and Jackson Brown, Billy Joel, and Bruce Springsteen, all at seventy.

What’s a geezer to do when he or she is too old to tour? Worse yet, what are a geezer’s kids to do when maw or paw moves on to that great concert hall in the sky?

Now, there’s a new way to make money off your deceased parental units—send them back on the road as holograms.

Frank Zappa, Whitney Houston, and opera great Maria Callas will all tour this year, as will Orbison and Holly.

Years ago, we wondered if it was “real or Memorex.” Someday soon, as technology continues to improve, we may have to wonder if it’s real or a hologram.

Sad to say, some folks aren’t much more than holograms themselves, hazy imitations of people without soul or substance. How can we be sure that we aren’t just real, but who we’re really meant to be?

We learn who we are once we discover whose we are. That brings us to Jesus’ baptism, one of those rare events described in all four Gospels.

That’s due in part to the fact that it was such a huge problem for the early church that all the gospel writers knew they had to deal with it.

What was perfect, untouchable Jesus doing in that muddy water, putting himself squarely on the side of sinners and the lost? Why did God choose that moment to part the clouds and call Jesus God’s Son?

John himself gives voice to those very doubts in verse fourteen. “I need to be baptized by you,” he says to Jesus, “and you come to me?”

Jesus gives what sounds to us like a puzzling answer. “Let it be so now; for it’s proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”

 What in the world was Jesus getting at?  “Righteousness” in Scripture includes everything about God’s commitment to set right the things that are wrong in our world.

Jesus understands that John’s baptism and preaching are ways of declaring a new world where God will set right everything bent and twisted by the powerful in Jerusalem and Rome. Jesus wants to be part of that revolution.

After Jesus’ baptism, Matthew tells us, “The heavens were opened to Jesus 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.’”

What about the rest of us? In my faith pilgrimage at least, descending doves and thundering voices from heaven have been pretty darn scarce.

Frustrated by an empty sky where we long to see a descending dove and silence where we strain to hear God’s voice, we have two choices–walk away from our faith or decide to stay.

Staying won’t free us from coping with the turmoil and challenges that sometimes threaten to undo us. After Jesus’ baptism, remember, the Spirit drove him into the wilderness, where he struggled with the powers of evil. Many people find themselves in a similar wilderness today.

In 2017, more than 17 million American adults had at least one major bout with depression, as did three million young people ages 12 to 17.

Forty million adults now suffer from an anxiety disorder, a full fifth of the adult population. These are the known cases, remember. The actual numbers must be mind-boggling.

Suicide statistics tell the saddest tale of all. Overall, the suicide rate for Americans went up 33 percent between 1999 and 2017.

 It rose 86 percent for children aged 10 to 19 between 2007 and 2017, and 190 percent for younger kids aged 10 to 14 during those same ten years.

 Author Lee Siegel, writing in The New York Times on January 2 of this year, described the backdrop for these frightening statistics.

…Decades of social and political division have set against each other black and white, men and women, old and young….The country is racked by mass shootings, the mind-bending perils of the internet, revelations of widespread sexual predation, the worsening effects of climate change, virulent competition, the specter of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, grinding student debt and crises in housing, health care and higher education. The frightening environment helps cause depression, depression causes catastrophic thinking, and catastrophic thinking makes the environment seem even more terrifying than it is.


Siegel himself has struggled with depression for a good part of his life. In the article, he shared some of the things that help him cope.

One image he used is that of pitons, the iron spikes that climbers drive into rock as they make their way up the side of a mountain, often hand over hand.

There are pitons in life, Siegel says, that make it possible us to climb out of our despair. For him, work, art, and music, as well as the love of his family, are all pitons that he keeps a tight grip on.

For us as people of faith, our pitons are, “I am a child of God and I am loved.” We can drive those words, iron hard, into the mountains of depression, doubt and despair that sometimes hem us in.

Clinging to them, we’ll find our way to new and renewed life. We trust in God’s hope, not the sometimes convincing but nonetheless empty holograms of selfishness and hatred that surround us.

 We leave here today, friends, armed with our last, best, name, the one given us in baptism—Christian.

May we face both challenges and opportunities knowing that we are God’s own beloved children, called to join the one whose name we bear in the struggle to fulfill all righteousness in our lives and in our time.