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Sermon Illustrations for Baptism of Our Lord (2019)

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Isaiah 43:1-7
God is speaking through his prophets. That can include the pastors whom God called. It sounds like a promise of protection for life. Protection from whatever God may allow to come and test your faith.

Being baptized as a child is like being adopted. Both are by the choice of parents, and when a child grows up, they have the choice of accepting or rejecting either one though they are still legal in effect, even if they change their mind.

I had neglected my baptism from the time I was in college until I was almost 30 years old. Then I had an experience that made me reconsider. It was such a powerful experience that I even went down to the seminary to see if I should become a pastor. One thing after another came along until I decided to be a good son and obey the calling to become a pastor. I have never regretted that decision and decided I belong to God.

Some of my children are still struggling with that decision. They haven’t walked through the fire yet.

Two were adopted as infants and had trouble accepting it as teenagers, but when they felt our love and protection, they returned with love, though one is still struggling with her baptism. But when she had a daughter of her own she rethought her own baptism and has given her own child God’s adoption. Now all she can do is wait like my folks did for me.

This passage seems to tell us that we don’t know what God may have for us in our life.

I had asthma when I grew up and it kept me from doing some of the things I wanted to do in sports and entertainment. Then my folks took me to the doctor and he performed some tests that hurt a bit and gave me some medicine that I hated. My folks told me not to lose faith because God still loved me.

I have known some who passed through terrible times before they realized that God was their savior. Sometimes it took a terrible time like the death of a loved one or surviving a car accident. Sometimes it meant losing a job. But even through tragic times they felt the presence of the Lord. It sounds like we should have faith even if we don’t have a moving experience.

My folks told me that whatever I had to endure, they still loved me because I was their child. They also told me that regardless what I might have to endure that God still loved me because I became his child when I was baptized.
Bob O.

* * *

Isaiah 43:1-7
I wonder what might happen in our lives if we actually followed God’s instruction, “Do not fear, for I am with you.” Fear runs so much of our lives. We are afraid to be thought poorly of, so we don’t speak up. We are afraid of failing, so we don’t begin. We are afraid of anger, so we don’t stand up for ourselves or others. We are afraid of loss, so we don’t commit to each other. We are afraid of being labeled one of those people, so we don’t proclaim our faith. In 2009, DC Talk recorded a song in which some of the lyrics were, “What will people think if they know that I’m a Jesus Freak? What will people do when they find that it’s true?”

Well what would people say if you proclaimed your faith, if you spoke up without fear about your relationship with God through Jesus? Someone once told me there are 365 times when God tells us not to be afraid. That’s one time for every single day of the year. That might be a good reminder as we awake in the morning — to remind ourselves that God is with us and there is nothing for us to fear.
Bonnie B.

* * *

Isaiah 43:1-7
This is a lesson that testifies to how precious we are in God’s eyes. John Calvin made that point. Writing about this text he observed:

The Lord always cares for the godly; and wickedness never abounds to such an extent that he does not at the same time preserve his people, and provide for their safety. (Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol.VIII/1, p.317)

In a similar manner Martin Luther spoke of the awesomeness of God’s love, how precious we are to him:

God, who is infinite and indescribable, also gives in a manner immeasurable...Therefore he is Giver Who gives from the heart and out of unfathomable and divine love... Our heart should expand, and all sadness should disappear, when we look at this unfathomable love of God’s heart and sincerely believe that God is the supreme and greatest Giver and that his giving flows out of love.... (What Luther Says. P.819)

What former Beatle John Lennon once said when he was describing how precious human love is applies even more to how God’s love regards us as precious:

We’ve got this precious gift of love, but love is like a precious plant you can’t just accept it and leave it in the cupboard or just think it’s going to get on by itself. You’ve got to keep watering it.
Mark E.

* * *

Acts 8:14-17
This is a short passage, but one that is ripe with meaning and historical relevance. Try to think back to the hatred that existed between Serbs and Muslims in Bosnia, or the enmity between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. It was only a few years ago that there was intense feuding between street gangs in Los Angeles and New York. Recalling these examples will give you some idea of the feelings that existed between Jews and Samaritans in the time of Jesus.

It goes all the way back to the days of the patriarchs. Jacob had twelve sons, whose descendants became twelve tribes. Joseph, his favorite, was despised by the other brothers, and they attempted to do away with him. God intervened and not only preserved Joseph’s life, but used him to preserve the lives of the entire clan. Before his death, Jacob gave Joseph a blessing in which he called him a “fruitful bough by a well” and the blessing was fulfilled when the tribes of Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, were given the fertile land that eventually became Samaria.

Then Israel divided into two kingdoms. The northern kingdom, called Israel, established its capital at Shechem, a revered site in Jewish history. When Assyria conquered Israel and took most of its people into captivity, they brought in Gentile colonists from Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath, and from Sepharvaim to resettle the land. The foreigners brought with them their pagan idols, which the remaining Jews began to worship alongside the God of Israel and intermarriages also took place.

Meanwhile, when the southern kingdom of Judah fell to Babylon, its people, too, were carried off into captivity. But 70 years later, a remnant of 43,000 was permitted to return and rebuild Jerusalem. The people who now inhabited the former northern kingdom — the Samaritans — vigorously opposed the return and tried to undermine the attempt to reestablish the nation. For their part, the full-blooded Jews detested the mixed marriages and worship of their northern cousins. So, while walls were being rebuilt around Jerusalem, walls of bitterness were being erected on both sides. These walls were there for the next 550 years.

Now, we come to our short text today. Peter and John’s coming down to Samaria because they’d received the word of God was significant. The leaders of what was still primarily a Jewish church were moving into previously hated lands. The Holy Spirit breaks down the walls that have been dividing these people for almost half a century.
Bill T.

* * *

Acts 8:14-17
The Gospel of Luke and Acts are linked, two volumes of a single work by a single author, and it is a shame that they are separated in the New Testament by the Gospel of John. If they were printed one after the other in our Bibles we might link this short passage about the arrival of the Holy Spirit in Samaria with Luke’s Parable of the Samaritan and the Man Left For Dead.

Notice that I did not call Luke’s famous story the Parable of the Good Samaritan. It is not so called in the gospel, and linking the words Good and Samaritan together causes some believers to think that Samaritans were intrinsically good. But that wasn’t Luke’s intention. He knew the people who Jesus spoke to thought of Samaritans as evil. These listeners were meant to be shocked by a Samaritan who acted in heroic fashion, and therefore forced to re-evaluate how they defined the word neighbor.

There was a long history of enmity between Jews and Samaritans. Some of the Samaritan ancestors were the poorest Jews who had not been deported after Jerusalem was destroyed by Babylon, but who remained behind to farm the land. Others were the descendants of other nations who were relocated in the region that had formerly been Israel and Judah. Their faith and their scriptures were very close to those held sacred by the Jews.

That same surprise would have been felt by the Apostles in Jerusalem, as Luke refers to them, regarding Philip’s activity in Samaria. The good news of Jesus Christ was heard and believed in Samaria. A follow-up trip by Peter and John led to the gift of the Holy Spirit, a clear sign of divine approval for the Samaritans.

As individuals and as sports fans, churches, states, and nations, there are Samaritans we despise even though outsiders couldn’t tell us apart. God’s Holy Spirit does not share our prejudices. God’s Holy Spirit knocks down the barriers we put up against others.
Frank R.

* * *

Acts 8:14-17
Moody’s Sunday school teacher, Edward Kimball, was a wonderful man. Moody came to his class with little very knowledge of the scriptures. Kimball, a kind and gentle man, worked patiently with the shy lad. Soon Kimball knew that it was time for his student to surrender his life to Jesus.

Kimball walked to the store where Moody worked, desiring to share with the youth God’s plan of salvation. Reaching the door, Kimball paused, uncertain about entering. Kimball questioned if it were proper to witness to an employee during business hours, and if he did so would the boy be embarrassed and laughed at by the other clerks. Realizing it was his duty to share the Gospel message, Kimball dashed into the store.

To his relief, Kimball found Moody alone in the rear of the store boxing shoes. Kimball put his hand on the 17-year old’s shoulder and made what he felt was a weak plea for Christ. But it must have been strong enough, for Dwight L. Moody accepted Jesus Christ as his savior. Moody described the change in his life with these words: “Before my conversion I worked toward the Cross, but since then I have worked from the Cross; then I worked to be saved, now I work because I am saved.”
Ron L.

* * *

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
One of my favorite rites of the church is baptism. The sacrament is so meaningful with promises made by an individual or their parents, the congregation, and through the minister, by God. The welcome into the community of faith, the reminder that one is a beloved child of God, the prayers and the water are all so meaningful. As a pastor these were some of my favorite occasions. As a grandmother who is a pastor to have baptized two of my three grandchildren was a special gift. As I poured water on their heads, as I said the sacred words of promise and blessing, and as I introduced them to the congregation gathered, my heart was full to bursting.

Imagine the heart of God so moved by the actions of his son in being baptized that the heavens open and the voice of God proclaims, “You are my son, the beloved. In you I am well pleased.” Simply imagine the wonder and joy. Let it fill you today and remember, God sang and danced and spoke the day you were born and were baptized as well.
Bonnie B.

* * *

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
In dealing with what difference baptism makes in everyday life, Martin Luther linked the sacrament to the gift of the Holy Spirit. He put it this way:

In the first place you give yourself up to the Sacrament of Baptism and what it signifies. That is, you desire to die, together with your sins, and to be made new at the last day... From that hour he [God] begins to make you a new person. (Luther’s Works, Vol.35, p.33)

Baptism gives us a new way to live. It opens us to the future. Living with openness to the future is a wonderful way to live. Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller nicely described this sort of future-oriented, new-opportunity style of life: “Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday’s successes or leave its failure behind and start over. That’s the way life is, with a new game everyday...” To live the baptized life is to live the way Tony Campolo described it: “Your past is important but it is not nearly as important to your present as the way you see your future.” Baptism makes the future very bright.
Mark E.

* * *

Luke 3:15-22
Even today some are wondering in their hearts about their baptism. They have to wait until they hear the Holy Spirit speaking to them. That is one function of the church — to preach the message of John the Baptist. When I was a child back in my hometown, I wondered if our pastor was Christ. He was treated with such respect and reverence. When I saw him put water on a baby’s head at baptism, he looked and sounded like he was God.

Our prayer is that the one who is more powerful than John or the pastor will come into our lives through God’s Holy Spirit. Some churches say that you can only tell if the Holy Spirit is in you if you can speak in another tongue. We know that there are many ways the Spirit can be evident in your life. When I feel great love in someone — parent, relative, school teacher — yes and even a pastor, I sense the presence of the Spirit. If God is love as the Bible says, then when we feel love, we know God’s spirit is present. God’s love works through people. His spirit confirms his love through our parents first.

God’s love came to the Nepali first because often the parents made their children struggle for their new faith by sometimes comparing it with the old faith.

I like the fact that God’s spirit worked through Jesus as he works in us. Jesus had to experience most of the things that I experience. The Bible says that he was even tempted in the way I was tempted. For example, maybe he was tempted to marry the friend named Mary and become a carpenter like his dad. I can think of many examples that I have felt that only his Spirit led me in the right way.
Bob O.
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