Sermon Baptism of Our Lord Yr C

Baptism of Our Lord Yr C, 7/01/2007

Acts 8:14-17 & Lk 3:22

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta


“The Holy Spirit’s Blessing”


One of the important questions that many people struggle with is the following: Am I blessed? This seems a rather simple question, yet it has very profound implications for every human being. I know, because after many years of ordained ministry I’ve experienced blessing upon blessing. I also know, because during these many years of ministry, I’ve also met some people who have suffered throughout their lives without being blessed—or at least that is what these people believe. The Bible is full of blessing stories—including today’s second lesson from Acts and today’s gospel, when Jesus is baptized and the Holy Spirit comes to Jesus and blesses him. The following story, as told by Pastor John Sumwalt is a good example of how a person can suffer if one does not believe they are blessed or cannot recall whether they have received a blessing.

Steve couldn’t believe what he had just done. He had gotten up in the middle of the sermon and walked out of the sanctuary—and he didn’t know why. He felt angry inside, so angry that he couldn’t sit still for one minute longer, but he didn’t know what his anger was about. Was it something the pastor said? He wasn’t sure. Steve tried to remember what the pastor had been talking about but he couldn’t remember anything about the sermon. He felt embarrassment for himself and for his family. It wouldn’t have been so bad if they had been sitting in the back, but they had been up front in the third pew, their usual spot since the kids had been old enough to sit with them through worship. How would he explain it to them? Should he say that he had felt sick? Steve decided to walk home to spare everyone the awkwardness of explanations after the service. He would tell them exactly what had happened and apologize for his abrupt exit when everyone got home.

Later that afternoon after a long talk with his wife in which neither of them had been able to come to any understanding about the source of his anger, Steve decided that he needed to talk to someone outside the family. He phoned the pastor, apologized for disturbing him on a Sunday afternoon, and asked if he could see him some time in the next few days. The pastor suggested that they meet on Tuesday evening. “That will be fine,” Steve told him. He felt some relief just knowing he had taken some action that might help to sort things out.

“Are you still feeling angry?” the pastor asked Steve after he told him why he had left the service early on Sunday.

“Yes,” Steve said, “And I still don’t know why. It doesn’t make any sense to me.”

“Tell me everything you remember about Sunday morning, starting with whom you talked to when you arrived at church and everything you can remember about the worship service,” the pastor suggested.

Steve told about whom he had talked to and, as best he could, recalled what had been said. He remembered nothing that seemed significant, certainly nothing that was in any way upsetting. Then he described what he could remember about the worship service. The pastor was surprised at how much he remembered. He ticked off every act of worship, precisely in order, naming each hymn and summarizing the content of the prayers and the first two Scripture readings as if he had the bulletin before him. But when he came to the reading of the gospel he couldn’t remember which lesson had been read or what it was about.

“It is interesting that you remember the Old Testament and epistle readings but you don’t remember the gospel.” The pastor reached up and took a Bible down from the shelf. “Perhaps it might help to hear the gospel reading again.” He began to read.

Steve listened, and as he heard the familiar words about John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus, he became aware that he did remember hearing them on Sunday morning, but it wasn’t until the pastor came to the final words of the text that he knew what his anger was about.

And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

“That’s what I always wanted to hear from my father,” Steve said, “and now it’s too late.” Tears came to his eyes as he allowed himself to feel for the first time the deep hurt that he had been carrying for so long. When he was able to go on, he said, “I thought about this when Dad died last year, but I decided that since there was nothing I could do about it, I just wouldn’t think about it anymore.”

“Perhaps there is something you can do about it,” the pastor said. “Let’s pretend that your dad is sitting right here in this chair.” He pulled an empty chair over and placed it in front of Steve. “Tell him how you feel. Don’t leave anything out.”

Steve began hesitantly, but after a few moments he spoke passionately, pouring out everything he had been holding back in the depths of his heart. When he was finished the pastor looked at him and said, “What do you think your father would say to all of that?”

“I can’t be absolutely sure,” Steve said, “but I think he would tell me that everything is going to be all right. That’s what he used to tell me when I was a little boy. And then he would pick me up, give me one of his big bear hugs and say, ‘That’s my boy.’”

When Steve left the pastor’s office he felt like a heavy weight had been lifted from his whole being. For the first time since his father died he felt at peace.[1]

In today’s gospel, we are reminded that God the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus at his baptism and blessed him. This too is a reminder that all of God’s baptized people—including you and me—have been blessed by the Holy Spirit. We too, are God’s beloved daughters and sons with whom God is well pleased, thanks to the saving gift of God’s grace through Jesus Christ.

In our second lesson from Acts, we are also reminded that God the Holy Spirit freely works in and through all manner of people. In this case, the two Jewish apostles, Peter and John are called to go to the Samaritans and lay their hands of blessing upon them that they may receive the Holy Spirit. This is a reminder that the Holy Spirit of God works in and through us to break down the barriers, the walls, the stumbling blocks between differing groups of people. In biblical times, the Samaritans were looked down upon as second-class citizens, and even enemies of the Jews from Jerusalem and Judea. Here God the Holy Spirit works to bless the Samaritans through two Jewish disciples, a story of reconciliation, diversity and unity within the early Christian Church.

As we, in baptism have been blessed; may we go forth and pass on the Holy Spirit’s blessing upon others who are in need of it, just like the people of Samaria. Amen.

[1]John E. Sumwalt, Lectionary Stories Cycle C (Lima, OH: C.S.S. Publishing Co., Inc., 1991), pp. 34-36.