Saturday, January 2, 2016

Wind and Fire

Those of us who baptize babies are accustomed to baptisms which are pretty benign.  The children are brought to the font by the parents and godparents.  Everyone, including the infant, is dressed in their finery, and the congregation is all smiles as we administer the water.  Little evidence there of what St. Luke reminds us of in the gospel text for this Sunday, Luke 3:15-17, 21-22, the Lukan version of the Baptism of our Lord.  In this account, John the Baptist declares, "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."  Is this a word of law or gospel?   Or is it both?

(The following questions are from my guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted.  They are an attempt to get at some of the key issues for Law/Gospel preachers.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  I hear an interwoven theme of law and gospel throughout this text.  On one hand, John's words that "the One who is coming" already has "his winnowing fork in his hand, to clear his threshing floor" is clearly a word of law.  "The chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire" is a reminder that baptism is a dying to sin, as St. Paul makes clear.  On the other hand, we have the voice from heaven which is pure gospel:  "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."  This is the Word revealing Jesus to us.  This is God's assurance that Jesus is the Christ, our Savior.

2.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  We are the people who are "filled with expectation."  We are "all the people [who] were baptized."  We are those who are privileged to watch and listen as God's Son is revealed to the world.  We are also those who are called to repentance as we feel the Spirit casting us up into the Spirit's cleansing wind and watching as the "chaff" in our lives is revealed and separated from us.

3.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  This text is not one that calls us to discipleship.  Discipleship will come to the baptized in short order as Christ calls all the baptized to follow and to become servants in the world, but neither this text, nor the others appointed for this festival, give us this word.

4.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  Several couplets come right out of the text:  chaff/wheat, unclaimed/beloved, unnamed/child of God.

5.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  Ronald Neustadt, in his analysis of this text, archived under 2013 Gospel C, does a nice job of highlighting our attraction to deeds of power.  The diagnostic portion of the analysis he calls "loving might" and in the prognosis, he terms the solution, "mightily loved."  He talks about how we are so easily seduced by things that look powerful, but end up only being "chaff."  Check out the complete analysis at study.

6.  Exegetical work:  This Sunday might be an excellent opportunity to do some teaching on baptism.  One of the best sources for Luther's insights on baptism is his treatise, "The Holy and Blessed Sacrament of Baptism," (LW, Vol 35).  A few examples; "Baptism is an external sign or token, which so separates us from all men not baptized that we are thereby known as a people of Christ, our Leader, under whose banner of the holy cross we continually fight against sin." (29)  "There is a fine sentence of St. Augustine which says, 'Sin is altogether forgiven in baptism; not in such a manner that it is no longer present, but in such manner that it is no longer imputed.'"(33)  "We must humbly admit, 'I know full well that I cannot do a single thing that is pure.  But I am baptized, and through my baptism God, who cannot lie, has bound himself in a covenant with me.  He will not count my sin against me, but will slay it and blot it out." (36)   Another tack might be to do some teaching on the work of the Holy Spirit on this Sunday.   Robert W. Jensen, in the second volume of Christian Dogmatics, provides a fine summary of the work of the Spirit in scripture.  Here are a few pieces from the essay entitled "The Spirit that Spoke by the Prophets":  "The Spirit is experienced as moving transcendent force, to create or throw down, whether in nature or in society." (110)  "The Spirit is freedom for, and the power of, the word that opens the future." (113)  "Jesus does not bear the Spirit only for his own empowerment; he bears him in order to give him, and this gift is eschatological, a baptism with the fire of judgment." (115)  "Life 'according to Spirit' is life that rejoices in being moved and inspired by God, to be just so itself spirit." (118)

Blessings on your proclamation!

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