Date: January 9, 2022
Bible Text: Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 | Bart Smith
Visible sign, invisible grace
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
The Baptism of Jesus (January 9, 2022)
Augustine of Hippo in North Africa described a sacrament as “an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace.” Something we can see conveys something we cannot. The intangible becomes tangible in a small thing, in a quick moment.
Tangible things like a passport or a driver’s license take an idea like citizenship or residency and make those ideas real, in a sense.
But those ideas are tricky, especially from a privilege standpoint. Let’s try a wedding ring. A wedding ring isn’t the partnership itself, but it’s a pretty constant sign of that partnership. A judge’s gavel is not her authority, but it conveys it pretty well! A revolutionary’s bullhorn isn’t their convict, the artist’s brush isn’t the creativity, the musician’s violin isn’t the passion, the engineer’s computer isn’t the genius. Those objects come to life so much that, when they’re used, the power and the creativity and the passion the genius are inside those tangible objects.
So it is with the waters of baptism. Baptism is an invisible sign of an invisible grace. The grace of God is in the water. Grace doesn’t depend on the water, but grace is in the water and the water has done a consistent job of pointing us to that grace again and again.
When he’s baptized by John, Jesus hears that voice like distant thunder, “You are my much-beloved Son who makes my heart glad!” The Father’s joy in and love for the Son is forever, without beginning or end, but in this moment the Holy Spirit makes that joy and love real for Jesus and all within earshot. That same Spirit infused his ministry. The invisible is made visible!
The grace of God comes to us in Jesus Christ, to quote John’s gospel, “from whose fullness we have received grace upon grace.” This water is a symbol of our union with Christ. There is grace in this water that points us to the grace that is always around us and within us, just as water is around us and within us, even when we cannot see it. That grace is a gift. That grace is our forgiveness, our strength, our renewal. That grace makes us grateful, courageous, and compassionate. That grace washes away the bad and empowers the good. That grace is there when we need it most.
Bella and Austin, God’s grace will be with you always. That’s what we’re about to acknowledge in just a moment. You are God’s beloved children, and whatever happens in your life, nothing will ever change that!
Charlie, Amanda, Jeff, and Sylvia, that grace is always with you too. That grace gave you gifts to serve as leaders among God’s people. That grace will sustain you in your ministry.
The grace does not depend on the water, but the water makes God’s invisible grace powerfully visible. And that grace help us, all of us, make other invisible truths visible. Love. Justice. Mercy. We are visible signs of God’s invisible grace for the world. Come to the water!