The Baptism of Our Lord and the Office of the Ministry

As the Lord so arranged, I was called to mind of my father in multiple ways over this past weekend. He’s been at rest from his labors for a little over four years now, and I do think of him often, but not often so poignantly as in this case.

To begin with, in conversation with colleagues over dinner last Friday evening, I recalled and reminisced about Dad’s decision and efforts to become a pastor. He was a Lutheran Teacher, serving as the Headmaster of a small Lutheran school in Victoria, Australia, when he became aware of the opportunity to pursue the colloquy program at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne. This was back in the 1970s, long before the days of instant communication between ordinary folks, and I still have vivid memories of Dad making his way to the mailbox every day, anxiously awaiting replies and responses to his application. He always had such a strong passion for theology and a profound love for the Word of God, and even as a teacher he usually sought out the pastors for conversation about those sacred things on every possible occasion.

So, we moved from summer in Australia to a wild winter in Indiana. That was December 1977, and I know there are still plenty of folks who remember that winter! I was twelve years old, and I was struck by how the whole world was suddenly blanketed in white everywhere I looked – just this vast ocean of snow all around us. My grandfather picked us up from Chicago, O’Hare, with chains on his tires (I don’t think I’d ever seen such a thing before), and drove us, first of all, to Fort Wayne, where we dropped off my Dad at the Seminary, and then on to Seymour, Indiana, where my Mom, my siblings, and I lived with Grandma and Grandpa for the next 18 months.

Dad lived in the dormitory at the Sem, loaded up on classes every quarter, worked a campus job, and came to visit us in Seymour on the weekends when he could. He did his fieldwork at Christ Lutheran Church in Woodburn, Indiana, where I had the privilege of visiting this past Sunday morning. I remember being there once before, roughly 45 years ago, and it certainly brought back memories to be there again; many things have changed over that much time, but the basic architecture and configuration of the chancel and nave were still familiar to what I recalled.

From Woodburn I made my way across the top of the state to Our Savior, Monticello, where I was privileged to install a friend and colleague, Rev. Jeff Zell, as the pastor of both Our Savior and St. Luke, Renssellaer. He has entered the LCMS Ministerium by another colloquy process – coming to us from the ELCA because of his own Scriptural and Confessional convictions – and I couldn’t be more pleased for him and for these two congregations of our District. It wasn’t until I was sitting there in the Service, listening to another good friend and faithful colleague preach an excellent sermon for the occasion, that I realized it was twenty-four years ago, on the afternoon of the First Sunday after the Epiphany – the Baptism of Our Lord – when I preached for the installation of my father as the pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Milford, Illinois.

The Baptism of Our Lord is integral to the Redemption He has accomplished for us by His Cross and the Righteousness He has established and manifested for us in His bodily Resurrection from the dead. It is also foundational to our own Holy Baptism, as Luther unfolds so beautifully in his majestic hymn, “To Jordan Came the Christ, Our Lord” (LSB 406). It is not by our Baptism into Christ that we become ministers of His Word or pastors of His Church. No, it bestows upon us the greater calling and station as beloved and well-pleasing children of His God and Father. But, precisely so, it is the permanent vocation that undergirds and supports all our other callings and stations in life, including the Office of the Holy Ministry to which we are called and ordained.

On any given day, on any given Sunday, we all falter, fail, and fall short in so many different ways. Even on our very best days, we are still “unworthy servants” who have done no more than what is simply our duty (St. Luke 17:10). And the devil will certainly use that to undermine the work that we are given to do, whether as pastors or in whatever place the Lord has positioned us. We dare not rely upon ourselves, nor upon our own human wisdom, reason, or strength; for it all comes to naught to whatever extent it depends on us! But our dear Lord Jesus submitted Himself to St. John’s Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of all our sins, in order to accomplish and fulfill all righteousness (St. Matthew 3:15). And by His Baptism in the Jordan River He opened the heavens, obtained the Holy Spirit, and received the blessing of His Father on our behalf, “that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1). Baptized in His Name, we have confidence in all our callings and stations, knowing that our sins are forgiven and we are righteous in His sight.