I can remember the exact moment when my relationship with my Dad changed. It was at my college graduation. The ceremony took place on the football field at Gustavus Adolphus College.
At the end of the long, long, long ceremony, it was chaos on the field. Friends were hugging, students were shaking hands with their academic advisors, and families were wandering around lost, in an attempt to locate and congratulate their graduate.
Finally, after 10 or fifteen minutes of drifting around, I saw my family. They were all there, but my Dad got to me first. With a big smile, he shook my hand and he looked me in the eye and said “Todd, congratulations!”
But something was different. I could see it clearly. He was looking at me in a way he hadn’t before. In that moment, in his eyes, I had changed. And then he said the phrase which, in his vocabulary, was always the biggest compliment he could give. He said “I’m proud of you.” This was, by the way, as emotional as a stoic German could get.
That moment, was the beginning of something very new for us. From then on, he looked at me and treated me differently…Our conversations shifted…they were more adult…it felt like he respected my opinion more, and I know that my respect for his opinion increased.
Now, it could just be a result of the joy he felt because tuition payments were over and in another 30 days, I’d be on my own car insurance. But I don’t think so. There was something else there…in his eyes. And the words…I knew that when he said he was proud, he meant it. That day was the beginning of a new relationship between my father and me. He had always loved me, and I always him. But we bonded and connected in that moment…still father to son, but also man to man in a new way. And it changed our relationship.
Today’s Gospel is the story of another significant change in a relationship. Today we hear about the baptism of our Lord Jesus. To be honest, the baptism of Jesus has always been something of a mystery to me. After all, if Jesus, who was God, who was without sin, if he was in fact, God incarnate, why would he need to be baptized? Even John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, who was doing the baptizing, and who recognized Jesus as Messiah, didn’t want to baptize Jesus and didn’t consider himself worthy to baptize the one he knew to be the Lord, the Savior. But Jesus insisted. Why?
I think the answer is found in a simple phrase. “Behold this is my Son, in whom I am well pleased.” These are words that God the father spoke at Jesus’ baptism: In these words, two significant things happened.
The first is that in those words, Jesus, the Son of God, was somehow even more deeply bonded with God the Father. These are the words of a proud father, looking at his son. These are the words of a father who loves his child…completely. These are the words that change the relationship between a father and a son. There is transition here. There is a bond and a blessing in these words. In these words, God the Father, and God the Son and bound together. We know that for one person to tell another person that they love them brings a relationship to a new level of intimacy. But for one person to tell someone they love them publicly…in front of others, well that cranks up the meaning of the words even more. Now there are witnesses. Now it is public.
This is why the focus on a wedding is on public vows. It’s not enough for a couple to make promises to each other. There must be witnesses, to strengthen the promises and to hold the couple accountable.
Part of the strength in my father’s telling me that he was proud of me at my graduation was in that he said so publicly, in front of our entire family. The words could not be taken back. I love my Father for that.
And for Jesus, in his baptism, the words of God, and the gift of the Holy Spirit were said publicly, for all to hear. This bonded him to his Father. And Jesus loved his Father in heaven for that.
And for us, here at the font, the words and promises of God that bond us to him, they are said publicly, for all to hear. There is power in that gift.
Do you know what this is like? It’s Superglue. Yes, I said superglue. You’ve all seen it…for many of us, (especially those of us who tend to break a lot of things) it’s a common household product. It bonds things together.
Here, let me show you: We need a couple of items…before worship, I borrowed this coffee cup and saucer off of Tanyia’s desk. They will do the trick. Let’s just see how this works. You know, you have to be pretty careful with this stuff…it can …uh oh…nah…just kidding…
Ok, I’ll apply the superglue…just a few drops are really all we need. Then we’ll attach these together, and we’ll wait a moment or two.
Superglue is amazing stuff. It will pretty much stick almost anything together. The secret is that Superglue is not really an adhesive like other glues. Superglue’s primary ingredient is cyanoacrylate. In its liquid form, it consists of monomers, a small molecule that becomes chemically bonded to other monomers to form a polymer. When this happens in the presence of water long, strong molecular chains form, bonding the surfaces together. (Google is my friend.)
What does this mean? It means if you’ve got two different items…some superglue and a touch of moisture, you’ve got a bond. It means that Tanyia’s coffee cup, is now bonded to Tanyia’s saucer. It means that the molecules of the Superglue have literally changed from one chemical compound, into another compound, that reflect the molecules of these two pieces in such a way that an almost unbreakable bond is formed between these two pieces. It means that instead of two separate pieces, a cup and a saucer, we now have one piece: a “cupsaucer.” These two pieces are stuck, bonded into one new thing…probably permanently. Let’s give it a try, shall we?
(When worship is over today, I’m just going to stick this back on Tanyia’s desk where I found it like nothing happened.)
This is as close an comparison as I can come to, to what happens in our baptism. In a baptism, there are the elements: There is the child or the adult being baptized. There is God’s Holy Spirit. There is some moisture. And in the act of baptism…with the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the son, and of the Holy Spirit”, the gifts of God enter into the moment, and like a polymeric reaction, a bond is formed between the person being baptized, and God’s Holy Spirit. They are marked with the cross of Christ, and are sealed with Holy Spirit forever. It is a bond that is wrapped in the promises of God. It is a bond that is unbreakable.
This bond forms a whole new relationship between God and that person. It is a relationship that by the grace and love of God is made new every single day. It is based on the single phrase: “Behold, this is my child…with whom I am well pleased.” And every single day we can choose how we respond to that relationship. But ultimately, regardless of our choice, we are still bonded.
Thirty years ago, on that football field in St. Peter, Minnesota, the words of my father, “I’m proud of you”, bonded us in a way that changed our relationship. Eighteen years ago this past week, I lost my Father. And while my heart grieved the separation, I know that he too was bonded to God in his baptism. And I know that that because of the promise of the resurrection, because of the bond he shared with God, my Father lives today with Christ, and he and I are still bonded. I am grateful for that bond, and I have complete confidence that one day I will be reunited with him.
In our waters of baptism, you and I heard the words of promise. And we were bonded to our God. And we wander; sometimes closer to God, and sometimes farther. We sin and separate ourselves from Him. And while sometimes our heart grieves the separation, and while God’s heart always grieves the separation, we know that we have this bond. And because of the resurrection, we know that we will be reunited with God…we are still bonded.
Another thing happened at Jesus’ baptism, when God the Father spoke the words: “Behold my beloved child, with whom I am well-pleased.” There was a blessing, and a sending. God spoke the words boldly, so that all around could hear. It was a sign. God was telling everyone in earshot, “Pay attention. We begin here, and now. We move ahead to the reconciliation of the world.” And at these words, Jesus began his public ministry.
It’s the same for us. When we heard the words of baptism, it is a public sign. God is telling everyone in earshot to “pay attention. This person begins here and now, to help bring about the reconciliation of the world.” And each of the baptized, each of us, we begin our public ministry.
We must remember the gifts God has given us in baptism. We must remember that God does this daily and every day we can choose to remember and live as a baptized child of God. Martin Luther would use memory triggers. Every morning and every night he would wash, and when the cold water would splash his face, he would remember. “I am a baptized and loved child of God.”
Remember your gifts. Remember the gift of the Holy Spirit. You receive the promises of God. And do you know what God does? He says to you, “you are my beloved daughter…you are my beloved son…in whom I am well pleased.” And in that moment, you are fully bound to God and bonded in a way that you can never, never break. For ultimately, each of you, in the waters of baptism, you hear the words: you were sealed by the Holy Spirit, and you are marked with the cross of Christ, forever. You are bonded, blessed and sent.