Our Saviour’s Atonement Lutheran Church
Reverend John Zachary Flack
I sometimes think one of the most preposterous things we can do is to try to prove the existence of God. I’m not sure anyone anywhere has ever been convinced by a proof, beginning with complete premises and led, by iron-clad logic, to an unquestionable conclusion. If fact, if God could be proven, as one can prove the infinity of prime numbers, the Pythagorean Theorem, or the First Law of Thermodynamics, I would be very much disappointed. I like to think the conditions for proof are something God created, along with things like space, time, and light—things that are wonderful and amazing in and of themselves, and may be signs that God is real, but do not thereby prove God is real. Because God is not another object in Creation, like time, space, and light. God is not subject to natural forces or logic or the laws of mathematics. God says, “Let there be light,” and light comes to be. One of our great American philosophers, Harry Frankfurt, said that God would be able to create stone too heavy for him to lift, and lift it. As Paul writes so powerfully in Romans, God gives life to the dead and calls into existence things that do not exist, and if proof is a matter of showing something to exist or not, then we cannot expect that God, who is the Lord of existence, can be proven. It would be like trying to throw a strike in soccer game. We would be playing the wrong game altogether.
Today is the Baptism of Our Lord. Our Lord Jesus not only ordained and commanded his followers to receive baptism, but also he himself was baptized at the hand of John in the Jordan river. But when we say the baptism of Jesus, we mean more than this moment we heard today from Mark. Because although Jesus was washed in
the river by John, it was the voice of God that revealed him to be God’s Son, and he is revealed on the cross to be the Savior of the world. We celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection, which his own baptism proclaims. His Baptism is a sign of who he is—the one who dies and is raised for the sake of the world. We celebrate today the content of our faith—the cross, our faith that God gives life to the dead, that God calls into existence things that do not exist, that baptism is sign for us of the eternal and everlasting covenant God has made with his people, bound and promised to each of us by the same voice that spoke over the formless void and the Jordan river.
That voice—that Word. That runs through all of Paul’s work. He goes to Ephesus, where he encounters believers, but who don’t really know what they are doing. They always tell pastors to wait a while and learn the terrain before suggesting any new changes, but Paul didn’t go to a Lutheran seminary. “You haven’t heard of the Holy Spirit?” he says. By the time he is done, they had heard of Her! What else did he tell them? Perhaps he told them, as we have written in the letter to the Ephesians, the Spirit called them to one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all through all and in all. Maybe he told them what he told the
Colossians, that when they were buried with Christ in baptism, they were also raised with Christ through faith in the power of God. Or maybe he told them what he then told the Romans years later, when he said, “Do you know that all of us who have been baptized int Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” Maybe he told them, when they received the Holy Spirit through their baptism, that they received a spirit of adoption, so that when they cried out their Abba in their prayers, it was that very Spirit bearing witness with their Spirit. Maybe he told them that Spirit cried out with that Voice, that voice that is beyond existence and proof and reason, that voice and the Word that even puts death to death and calls new things into being.
To be baptized is to die. Jesus himself, as he approaches Jerusalem in his final days, asks his disciples, “Are you ready to be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” They must have been perplexed, since some of them were probably baptized by John. And perhaps some others had heard what had happened when Jesus was baptized. But they did not know that was prefiguring what was to come. They did not know that Jesus then spoke about his baptism on the cross, his death. And then he told them, “You will be baptized in a baptism like mine.” And this he says to each of us.
Do you guys remember a year ago, those of you that were here in this place? A year ago Sheila was baptized here, right here, on this day. It was a day when God spoke to her in the same way God spoke to Jesus, and to every person who has been baptized: you are my child. Now Sheila is still waiting for a thunderous voice, and sign,
and lighting strike and a thunderclap, and for God to explain all the injustices in the world, especially against children. But if you talk to her, really deep down, you’ll know--it’s different when God makes you his child. Faith is not a package that come from Amazon, that can be opened and measured, but it is a living thing, an engagement and trust with the God beyond all knowing, who speaks in many and various ways, and she, like all of us, still wrestles with faith.
But Baptism is our new birth into God’s reign. Because in this world, we will are hounded and afflicted. We suffer. We watch ourselves and our loved ones age and passaway. The years of our lives drip from our hands, and soon are gone. And yet we expect and receive all the intense sweetness of life. These things we need no one to prove to us. All the pain and joy of life are present to us. But God, who is beyond all these things, has a word for us in a voice that is somehow clear and yet beyond all hearing: you are my child. I have brought you into being. You are good. You are mine forever. Nothing can separate you from my love in Christ Jesus. Not even death. Amen.