1st Sunday after Epiphany  

First Reading: Isaiah 42:1-9

1Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
  my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
 I have put my spirit upon him;
  he will bring forth justice to the nations.
2He will not cry or lift up his voice,
  or make it heard in the street;
3a bruised reed he will not break,
  and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
  he will faithfully bring forth justice.
4He will not grow faint or be crushed
  until he has established justice in the earth;
  and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

5Thus says God, the Lord,
  who created the heavens and stretched them out,
  who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
 who gives breath to the people upon it
  and spirit to those who walk in it:
6I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
  I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
 I have given you as a covenant to the people,
  a light to the nations,
  7to open the eyes that are blind,
 to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
  from the prison those who sit in darkness.
8I am the Lord, that is my name;
  my glory I give to no other,
  nor my praise to idols.
9See, the former things have come to pass,
  and new things I now declare;
 before they spring forth,
  I tell you of them.

Psalm: Psalm 29

1Ascribe to the Lord, you gods,
  ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2Ascribe to the Lord the glory due God’s name;
  worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
3The voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the God of glory thunders;
  the Lord is upon the mighty waters.
4The voice of the Lord is a powerful voice;
  the voice of the Lord is a voice of splendor. 
5The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees;
  the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon;
6the Lord makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
  and Mount Hermon like a young wild ox.
7The voice of the Lord
  bursts forth in lightning flashes.
8The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
  the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. 
9The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe and strips the forests          bare.  And in the temple of the Lord all are crying, “Glory!”
10The Lord sits enthroned above the flood;
  the Lord sits enthroned as king forevermore.
11O Lord, give strength to your people;
  give them, O Lord, the blessings of peace.

Second Reading: Acts 10:34-43

34Peter began to speak to [Cornelius and his household]: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Gospel: Matthew 3:13-17

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

Children’s Sermon:  Most people in the United States cannot state the five freedoms of the first Amendment of the Consititon of the United States.  Turn to your neighbor and see if between you, you can name our five freedoms.

Our five freedoms: The five freedoms protected are: speech, religion, press, assembly, and the right to petition the government.  The right to bear arms is the second amendment!

Let us pray:  Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptible in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Sermon:  Declaration of Dependance

January 6 we celebrated Epiphany, the coming of the Wise Men or Magi to see the baby Jesus whom they knew had been prophecized to be “King of the Jews.”  They had seen his star and came to worship.  The 12 days of Christmas from Dec. 25th to Jan 6th are completed and the Epiphany season starts with the baptism of Jesus, his Declaration of Dependence.  As we start 2023, we are deciding how we will live with our dependencies and be public about our relationship with Jesus and how our faith will mark us as “children of God.”

         In 1776 the 12 colonies that were to become known as The United States pulled themselves together and with much debate and discussion wrote the Declaration of Independence from Britain and King George’s rule.  The signing of that document changed history, set in motion a series of events in the colonies, and provided the foundation for governance and debate. We still live into our identity as citizens of the United States of America even today.  I would propose today that Jesus’ baptism and hence our baptism is like the Declaration of Independence except baptism is a Declaration of Dependence.

13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan,

to be baptized by him.

         Jesus went to John the Baptist to make a public statement, a Declaration of Dependency.  When I hear the word “dependency,” I think of “co-dependency.”  The Internet defines co-dependency as “an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. It is also known as “relationship addiction” because people with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive.”  I cring at the definition because it is definitely implicit that independence is the desired mental state valued by most and that value has formed me. Dependency can be destructive and abusive.  As Americans we do not want to be labeled co-dependent.  I must ask myself if as Christians, we are addicted to a relationship with God and is it unhealthy?

         We believe Jesus is part of the Godhead, part of the Three-in-One.  He incarnated as True God and True Man.  The whole Christmas story declares this mystery that we believe but have trouble explaining.  A star shone that men from afar could see.  Prophecy declared the birth since long ago.  The religious advisor in Jerusalem knew about it.  Angels appeared to shepherds declaring a “Messiah”, a “Savior’ had been born.  When Jesus was baptized, he was not suddenly becoming someone he did not already know himself to be.  He was doing a public act that defined him.

         When we as parents or adults step up to the baptismal fount, we are not asking God to suddenly change us or our baby into a different person.  I would maintain, though, that we are declaring that we do not want our child or ourselves to be dependent on this world for our identity but that we are declaring that we want our identity to be dependent on God and his Word.

         At baptism, Jesus publicly claimed his intentions to live pleasing God, not the religious or political system of the day.  He stood before people and owned his missional mandate.  He knew who he was at age 12.  At the baptism, he declares it.  And so the first question to reflect on today is to ponder what our missional statement is that we are living out.  Are we dependent on God for living our life or do we carry him in our pocket like a driver’s license.  Our picture is on the card for ID when we get to the pearly gates but we choose which rules we will obey and which we will fudge about.  We might change states or churches but formost we function as Americans.  Or, do we function formost as God’s representatives as we enter 2023? 

“I need to be baptized by you,

and do you come to me?”

         When immigrants take the oath to become Americans, they change their allegiance and they declare to be part of the system of community in the USA.  Baptism is a declaration of dependence on God but it is also a declaration of membership in the Church (capitol C, universal church), the body of Christ.  Look at each other and say, “We’re in this together.”  John the Baptist did not feel worthy to baptize Jesus but Jesus chose the act to identify with people preparing for the coming Messiah.  Jesus did not have sin to repent of so he did not need a baptism of repentance being done by John.  He did not need the gift of the Holy Spirit as he was God.  But as True Man he was under the law and so submitted to baptism by John to fulfill the law of righteousness.  He and John were equals and we are partners with those others in the body of Christ.,

         As an elder who worries about the spiritual journey my children and grandchildren are taking or maybe even a neighbor or relative, I find comfort in baptism as a declaration of dependence on the universal church.  Not all flowers are roses and not all trees are fir trees and likewise God has many flavors or denominations.  I may not agree with them all, but I believe the God who helped me through my youth, young adulthood, and following years, that God can speak through other voices than mine and guide my loved ones.  I can release my doubts and fears into his hands.  Even as soldiers are Americans when they are on foreign soil, we are God’s children when we are filled with doubts, filled with anger, filled with despair and when we are filled with praise.  Baptism is the start of a relationship that we know God will be faithful to pursue and that identifies us with his people…  Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Romans 8 says,

         “38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

         God-parents stand with parents and commit with the parents to shepherd the child’s faith.  We as a congregation commit to shepherd the person being baptized too.  I pray that is not just a formality but we realize we are committing to caring for each other when we feel good and when we are sick, during periods of faith that moves mountains and during dark and cloudy days when we struggle and grieve.  Being church is not just about hearing a sermon or gaining knowledge.  It is about relationships, about being the body of Christ, and baptism declares that is a relationship we want.

17And a voice from heaven said,

“This is my Son, the Beloved,

with whom I am well pleased.”

         Baptism is a declaration of dependence on God not our world for our identity.  Baptism is a declaration of dependence on the Body of Christ as our communal identity.  But most importantly, we believe baptism is a Declaration  of Sacramental reality.  God says, “I am well pleased.”  Soak in that statement from the God of the universe.  When we choose relationship with him, he is well pleased.  There are now no hidden agendas from God.  God is not saying to Jesus that he will be pleased with him after Jesus is faithful to die on the cross and do all the miracles and teach all the good lessons he taught.  NO!  At the point of baptism God says, “I am well pleased.”

         Luther’s Small Catechism defines a sacrament as a sacred act that is commanded by God, that has visible elements or means, and offers God’s grace or forgiveness.  The Great Commission given by Jesus as his last words were for us to go and baptize all nations.  In baptism, water is combined with God’s command.  We baptize for the forgiveness of sins.  Now a days we don’t like to think of babies as sinners because they seem so innocent.  I have heard sin explained like this.   We can spell sin with a capitol “S” and that is our separation from God that needs to be restored. We do not walk and talk with God in the Garden face to face anymore.  Sin spelled with a small “s” are the deeds we do that separate us from each other and from God.   Babies are born separated from God and eventually we will see the selfishness present itself. In Jesus’ baptism we hear God say, “I am pleased” and I hear that as not only are there no issues waiting to be discussed, no hidden agendas, no separation anymore but there is actuallly positive warm feelings from God.  We no longer need to work to appease an angry judge but we can live in the love of a loving father.

         The Constitution of the United States or of any group declares membership, puts parameters around relationships, and states the rights and privileges of members.  The Constitution declared our independence from England and our rights to be self-governing.  As Christians our baptism declares our freedom from judgment by the laws of the land and declares our dependence on the laws of God: to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Our baptism unites us with a universal church found in all languages and with people of all ethnicities whom we call brothers and sisters.  Our baptism is sacramental, removing barriers between us and the God of the universe and forgiving the sins we do that alienate others.   We are forgiven, valued and dependent on God.  Sounds like a pretty healthy relationship to me!

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