I have never been one to look back. I always want to look forward. Which is why today’s message is unusual, almost heretical for me. I declare that the best day of my life has already occurred. My best day was fifty years ago, when I was baptized. Pastor Carl Satre baptized me at Augsburg Lutheran Church in Toledo, Ohio on September 13, 1964, a little more than a month after I was born. My mom’s sister, Aunt Mary was my godmother. No other day can compare with that day. In fact, all my other days are defined in light of that Sunday morning in a West Toledo church.
There are many banner days that stick out in my head, so it seems odd to call this one day that I have no memory of my best day. Maybe, that is not unusual. There are few days more significant in my life, than my wedding day, September 13, 1985. Even though I have tons of pictures and a creaky old video that some relative took that I have never watched, I remember nothing of the wedding ceremony. Our members Al and Betty Smith were married 68 years ago on March 22 and Egon and Ursula Carstensen were married 65 years ago on August 12. Wow! The 1940’s were a long time ago, I wonder how much of that day they remember?
Wedding days, graduation days, the birthdays of our children, first days at a job or the beginning of a career, even sad days, the day we buried someone we loved or a marriage or relationship ended, all have significance not for the way the actual day unfolded, but because of the transition they represented, the era they ushered in. My life has been transformed, changed forever from the moment I said I do to Paige, uttered the words Abigail for the first time, promised in front of God and the church to keep my ordination vows. Even though I don’t remember doing any of those things, they are pivotal to who I am today.
The day you were baptized is in that category. The best day of your life is not likely to be remembered by too many people, even the pastors. There are a few exceptions. Pastor Thadd’s first baptism was Gwennan Armstrong when she was about three. She decided at the last minute that maybe this wasn’t a good idea and took off running, away from Thadd and Danna, her mom. Thadd practically threw water at her to get it done. Afterwards, I tried to reassure him that they don’t all go like this. Adult baptisms always stand out for me. Bev Prater was baptized outside in the shelter house on Pet Sunday. I apologized to her family and Bev a thousand times that there were slobbering animals nearby on this important day. Jennie Clementz looked so beautiful on the day she was baptized and then I dumped an unusual amount of water on her head, even for me. Afterward it looked like she had just raced from her car in a huge parking lot during a downpour of rain. I felt pretty bad about it.
Even though most of our baptisms were not terribly memorable to us or the people who witnessed them, they were memorable to God. On this day, God called us a beloved child and told us how pleased God is and will be with us. On this day a dove landed on us, bringing us exactly the gifts that our world needs to be healed. On this day, we began our life as a child of God, no longer a child of man. Because God remembers this day, because God called us beloved child and gifted, we should all count this day as the best day of our life.
The day Jesus was baptized was the best day of his life, too. Only two of the gospels, Matthew and Luke, thought it necessary to tell us about the birth of Jesus. Yet, all four tell us about the baptism of Jesus, because Jesus’ baptism framed the rest of his life. He was publicly claimed by God on that day, beloved, a son, whose father was well pleased. The Holy Spirit, symbolized by a dove, landed on him that day to bring him the exact gifts the world needed to be healed. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all realized that this was the day that defined the ministry of their Lord.
Baptism did not make Jesus’ life easier. There were good days that followed, a wedding feast at Cana, the first day he met his best friend, Peter, a God moment on the mount of transfiguration. There were plenty of bad days, too. 40 bad days in the desert accompanied only by Satan, being thrown out of tiny Nazareth his home, rebuking his friends in order to prepare them for the trials to come, being betrayed by his close friend Judas and denied by Peter, arrest, torture, and execution. Baptism complicated Jesus’ life. It made it more difficult than it would have been if he had just stayed in the shadows, a thirty year old disciple of the Prophet John. Without his baptism, Jesus would have never been called into the life he was intended and gifted to lead. Without his baptism, there would be no healing for the world, for us. Baptism didn’t make Jesus’ life easier, but it did make our life better.
All baptisms should be like this. Our baptism should make our life more complicated, but our neighbor’s life better. When we become a child of God, old child of man thinking doesn’t cut it any longer. Our life becomes more difficult as we step out of the shadows and challenge the thinking of this world. Staying in the shadows allows us to ignore the suffering around us. Shadows let us be selfish with our wealth. Shadows convince us that we have earned a day off from worship this Sunday. Shadows tell us that sports and band are more important for our children than church.
Our baptism thrusts us into the life that God longs for us to live, if we choose to go. It is a life full of confidence because our God has said to us, “You are a beloved child with whom I am pleased”. It is a life of sharing the gifts of the dove, the Holy Spirit that landed on us that day. Gifts that God will put to use to heal our creation and make our church stronger. Using these gifts will bring us the only real joy possible in this world. Using these gifts will mean sacrifice. It is that sacrifice that keeps so many from saying yes to God’s invitation to become a child of His Kingdom. Our baptism means nothing, if we never say yes. It becomes just a faded memory, an aging picture in a scrapbook, a yellowing record in a dusty church archive.
Our baptism is the best day of our life because God remembers that day. On the best day of our life, God not only said yes to us but claimed us as His beloved child. Those are words of promise we can trust with our life. It is not even important what we have done with our life since that best day. Today, you can say yes to God, again or for the first time, come out of the shadows, and use your gifts to delight God’s world. Amen