There has to be more to that four letter l-word for Jesus to keep on asking about it. It’s not that our Risen Lord is insecure, not so sure His own disciples who followed Him around for three whole years leaving behind family and jobs, really love Him. It’s that Jesus isn’t so sure they quite understand what that love involves. Evidently there’s more to it than simply being fond of someone, of appreciating what they do, even if it is healing the sick and feeding the hungry and giving hope to the down-trodden of society, and to top it off: rise from the dead. There’s more to loving this Jesus than simply admiring Him that He would do all of that for us. Evidently Jesus is under the impression that true love invokes action, commitment to the point you shape your whole life around that love.
So today Jenna and C.J. bring Olivia to the waters of baptism out of love, because they cherish their daughter so much. It wasn’t that long ago that Jenna and C.J. stood right in front of this altar and made a commitment to each other, to shape their life around those marital vows they promised to each other that day, including to eventually entrust one another to raise their children together. Jenna’s brother, Scott, and C.J.’s sister, Jeni, have agreed to serve as godparents not just out of an appreciation for their siblings, but because they too cherish Olivia. Olivia’s grandparents and great-grandparents and extended family surround her today with love, with a commitment to her for the rest of their life. And the rest of us too will make a commitment to Olivia.
After all, she has no idea what’s about to happen to her. She doesn’t know much of anything about this Jesus, Who’s evidently so obsessed with this love stuff that He yearns for Olivia to be baptized, to become His next disciple. She doesn’t understand why water is such a big deal to the point it has to be poured over her head. She doesn’t get why she has to be here with all of us invading her personal space. But we do.
We are here as witnesses to this precious moment in her life, when God will feverishly invade her soul with a love that can never be taken away from her for the rest of her life and beyond. She may not quite understand that intimate relationship she’ll have with this God of all times and places. She won’t know what this faith thing is about that God will bless her with. But we do.
We know that Jesus went to the cross and rose from the dead not to overpower us, not to make us feel guilty and to shame us into following Him as His disciples, but because He loved the entirety of humanity, including Olivia, even long before she was even thought of at all. Jesus died and rose from the grave for her. Our Risen Lord and Savior loves Olivia more than all her family’s love for her put together. And so this Jesus Christ expects her to be taken care of by Jenna and C.J., Scott and Jeni, her grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, great-grandparents, her entire extended family, and also her family in Christ. Today Jesus asks, “Do you love Olivia, this precious child of God before she ever was Jenna and C.J.’s?” If you love her, tend to her, feed her with a boundless selfless love. Care for Olivia with a glimpse of what her Savior did for her on the cross.
Jesus implores all of us as much as He drilled into Peter long ago, if you love me, you will tend my sheep: you will tend to all children of God. Because this love that Jesus speaks of is not simply showing up to give thanks for healing and hope and resurrection. This love engulfs your entire life. This love overpowers how you see the world. This sacrificial love will completely alter how you treat your sisters and brothers in Christ from all walks of life. This will dramatically shape how you will raise your children, God’s children, during some of the most pivotal years of their whole life.
And so the call of Jesus remains: feed Olivia with love; not with hate, not with anger, not with a cynical outlook on life. There’s plenty of that in the world that she will experience far too soon. Feed her with hope. Not just Jenna and C.J. and Scott and Jeni and the rest of her extended family, but all of us: care for Olivia with the utmost compassion.
After all, there are going to be times when she will feel down on herself. There are going to be moments when she wonders what this God is all about, whether or not Jesus actually died and rose from the dead for her. She’ll have her doubts along the way. She’ll seriously fight off the thought God loves her so much to the point of death. But we know God did exactly that. We know God would do it all over again for her. We know there won’t ever be a single thing that Olivia can do to remove God from her life. We know that absolutely nothing in all of creation, nothing in this entire world, can take the love of Christ Jesus away from Olivia this day and for the rest of her life and beyond. Today the Risen Lord takes hold and will never ever let Olivia go. And for that, we give thanks to this God of the Resurrection life indeed. Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Nan Dehnke, Pastor
Office: Mon - Thu: 9 a.m. - Noon