“Baptism of Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire,” (Jan. 11, 1998) A Sermon for St. John’s Lutheran Church, Oakland, CA
Baptized by Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire!
Baptism of Our Lord – January 11, 1998
Isaiah 43:1-7. Psalm 29 Acts 8:14-17 Luke 3:15-17, 21-22.
Text Isaiah 43:2.
Children’s Sermon: Taking a candle and lighting it, I used it for an object lesson. “We can pass our finger through the flame quickly and not be burned.” After wetting my finger first: we can snuff a candle out with our fingers and not get burned. But we should only do things with fire when we are with an adult we trust. We should not play with fire in a sneaky way, because so many children have died because they played with fire.” Actually no children were present, and I merely showed the adults there this object lesson, that Christ can go through the fire with us and we will not be hurt. Christ goes through the water of baptism and the baptismal fire with us, and it turns out a new person in the “outcome,” because it is a creative fire and the waters of life.
The question often arises, if Jesus was without sin, then why did he become baptized? He had no original sin, because he was born of God and a virgin, and, according to the Hebrews passage, he was “tested in all respects, the way we are, yet [he remained] without sin.”
I believe that Jesus became baptized, because he wanted to be with us in all that baptism represents: the going through the waters of death and life and entering with that the very special relationship we have with each other and with God because we have become God’s children through baptism.
Christ needs to lead us through baptism, and indeed, Christ, his death and his life, his suffering and dying, and his resurrection and ascension, is our very baptism.
We are baptized by all the elements – water, fire, wind, and earth. Let us take each in turn. We drown in the waters of baptism, but from these waters we rise up new creatures ready to serve God out of new life. We receive a baptism of the fire of Christ. It is a fire of the passion that cannot be put out but in the embrace of Christ. It is a fire of love that burns so intensely, that divine children multiply one by one. Imagine the apostles on Pentecost, when the fire of the Holy Spirit burned so intensely that one after the other lit up with burning tongues of fire upon their heads. In the fire of the Holy Spirit one after the other lit up and burned in the holy flames. Each lights up in a new birth, and becomes wonderfully translated into the offspring of God. Sometimes we burn with sexual fire, but this is a spiritual fire that gives birth to children, teenagers, and grown ups who are made out of God’s love.
This baptism of fire warms your body and your soul. It does not leave your body cold and only warm your soul. It warms the body and the soul, while it burns away all sin, all hate, violence, revenge, and leaves a gentle warm hearted loving person who has a tenderness beyond all physical strength.
What a wonderful fire-baptism! It is the spiritual way God burns us up and God recreates us with this very fire from heaven. It is so wonderful that it can even warm up the cold bones of Deacon John Davis on these cold rainy California winter days, the way he cannot be warmed standing in front of the heater. It can also warm the coldest heart, even translate drive-by shooting murderers into those who bring new life and hope to the corners of our streets, and have fragile and vulnerable people, the people that God loves, standing in them.
Now the baptism of the wind is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In Hebrew the word Ruach as in Ruach Elohim, means both “wind” and “spirit.” the baptism of the Holy Spirit is not additional to that of water. It is still baptism into the death and life of Christ, into the Holy Spirit, when Christ comes into one’s heart by baptism. Whether our baptism is by earth, wind, water or fire, Christ goes through each with us. The wonderful
outcome is a new child of God, a man, woman, or child with Jesus in his or her heart.
Baptism by wind is baptism by the Spirit. But the Spirit is baptism by the Word. The spirit is dressed up in the word. The spirit is the inner life and the meaning of the word. The word is the wonderful physical sound and the little body in which the spirit comes to us. The spirit embodied in the word bears Christ into our hearts. Luther says, “With my bodily voice I bear Christ into your hearts.”
Listen to the words!
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.
And when you pass through the waters, I will be with you! And through the rivers,
they will not overwhelm you, when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God!
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior!
I give Egypt as a ransom, Ethiopia and Sheba in exchange for you,
because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you!
I give people in return for you and nations in exchange for your life. Do not fear, for I am with you!
Just read the whole passage!
You are called by God’s name – and do you hear the Word of God addressed to you? Whom do you think God is speaking to? It’s you!. It’s you!
Because you are buried with Christ, and have received the baptism of earth, you, too, hear God’s voice: “You are my son, you are my daughter, and with you I am well pleased!” Yes, the Holy Spirit-Word says: “You are precious in my sight, you are honored and I love you!” That is the Word of God! Hear it. Open your heart and allow yourself to be baptized in these loving words of God, this powerful Spirit of God, who addresses us with so much love we die and rise up newly made out of heavenly love.
What we have dealt with here so close to the shining light of the birth of Christ is the baptism of our Lord. And it is a baptism of earth, wind, water, and fire: all the four elements of this world.
And that is not where your baptism ends, because these elements have also composed the one who came to us, Jesus Christ, the one who really loved us, and became one of us to be with us – so that we could drink of the cup from which he drank, and be baptized with the same baptism with which he was baptized.
So we are baptized into Christ, into his suffering, his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension – into our heavenly humanity. And this makes a parallel: it is in the watery sorrows, suffering, and death, under the earth in his burial, raised in the Spirit of the resurrection, and lifted up in the fiery new glory of the Spirit.
We become baptized into Christ’s suffering, his death and burial, and then marvelously translated into Christ, we too are baptized into resurrection and ascension.
We go through Christ, dying, rising, and being lifted up, into these marvelously new persons loved by God so much, and so very precious in his sight, because we are the new creation.
So even if we as a congregation dwindle; even if it is cold and drizzling rain outside; even if hearts are cold as winter, and hate and violence flourish; even if this very congregation dies, if you and I die: that is our baptism! And that is just the doorway. That is just the move that comes after suffering and the move after death is the resurrection for new life, and then comes the move of glorious exultation. One move comes after the other, and another move comes next.
Because Christ was baptized and is there for us in our baptisms with us, therefore, whether personally – your baptism or mine, or whether it be our whole congregation, going through the river, the great River. Yes, it is all nothing but promise. It is all the fundamental experience of the love of God: the baptism of love.
Hear the Word of God! Do not be afraid! I have redeemed you from slavery and death. I have called you by name, You are mine.
You are precious in my sight. I love you!
Christ is our baptism of love, a baptism of earth, water, wind, and fire!