Sermon for 01.09.22 “The paradox of progress”

*Sermon for 01.09.22 Baptism of our Lord Text: Luke 3:15-22 Theme: The
paradox of progress*

*In the Name of the Father…Amen.*

– *The Gospel lesson serves as our sermon text for this morning.*

– *Grace, mercy, and peace be yours from God the Father through our Lord
and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.*
– *Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us pray:*
– *Thanks and praise be unto You, our God and Lord, for sending us the
Gospel of Your Son, Jesus Christ, in which You teach us the way of
salvation and comfort us with the hope of everlasting life. *
– *Make Your Word in us a power of salvation, and the anchor of our
souls in life and death. *
– *Cause also the voice of Your Word to be sounded abroad, that the
nations that do not know You may come to Your light. Amen.*

– *Introduction*
– *The fifth-century BC mathematician and philosopher Zeno of Elea was
known for his paradoxical thought experiments which questioned human
assumptions of physical reality. *
– To paraphrase one such experiment: Zeno proposes that we imagine the
common experience of walking across a typical street.
– Further imagine that, in doing so, after our first step, we are
required to limit each further step to one half of the distance of the
previous step.
– In this way, let us imagine that our first step gets us two feet
closer to the other side, the second step moves us forward, but only one
foot closer, and the subsequent step another six inches closer to our goal.
– The paradox occurs as we realize that the distance of our previous
steps can be halved infinitely in ever more smaller movements.
– In other words, Zeno is observing the possibility of constant, forward
motion that never arrives at a destination.
– Zeno’s paradox has us always moving, seemingly making progress, but
never getting anywhere, of going nowhere fast.

– Have you ever felt this way in life—and maybe as you think ahead to
– Do you ever wonder if you’ll ever get where you want—or need—to go?
– Wouldn’t you like to know if There Is a Solution to the Paradox of
Progress, rather than the destination eluding us eternally?

*I. We are People in a Predicament against reaching our destination. *

– *In our Gospel this morning, our eyes are directed to the crowds on
the banks of the Jordan River, described as **“**people in expectation,*
*”** a people waiting for something to happen. *
– These expectant Israelites would likely appreciate the frustration
found in Zeno’s thought experiment, as they, too, were people who, for
generations, moved a lot (both figuratively and literally) but never seemed
to get where they truly desired to be.
– *The crowds on Jordan**’**s banks, these people in expectation, were
also People in a Predicament. *
– They felt held back by the oppression of Caesar and the Roman Empire.
– They felt held back by the abuses of their own local government, Herod
the tetrarch after Herod the Great.
– These local kings, instead of being valuable advocates to their
people, were murderous tyrants, using their subjects to further their own
selfish interests.
– And as if Roman rule and its puppets weren’t bad enough, John tells
these weary people that their own national heritage, their earthly
descendancy from the mighty Abraham, would also get them nowhere.
– Heaven certainly appeared closed on this day.

– *This was a frustrating predicament that had existed for thousands of
years. *
– It began when the first humans trusted that human knowledge, rather
than trust in their Creator, would get them where they wanted to be.
– They quickly learned that having one’s “eyes opened” apart from God
was not the epiphany they expected but rather quite deadly.
– From the dependence on human knowledge came the belief that we could
move forward if we just had enough rules and regulations to get us there.
– Humanity got plenty of both, but quickly realized they could not
follow them, even when engraved in stone by God himself.
– Then later, it was thought that having a strong human leader, a wise,
generous king, would certainly get people where they wanted to go.
– But again, failure.

– This was truly a distressing predicament.
– Knowledge had failed them.
– Rules had failed them.
– Government had failed them.
– These people had a history of movement and change that had gotten them
nothing except captivity.
– The destination of heaven was closed, a predicament not just theirs
but one also shared by the entire human race.
– Especially in our own troubled days, we identify with the predicament
and weary frustration of the Israelite people on the shores of the Jordan
– We have seen and heard, firsthand, the failure of human knowledge,
human rules, and human government to bring us to the destination we seek.
– We, too, are People in a Predicament, endlessly moving, but never
getting anywhere.

– *II. The real Problem is our Powerlessness to cross the infinite with
the finite.*
– *This predicament has existed since the time of the fall, but the
deeper and ongoing Problem is our Powerlessness to do anything about it. *
– And worse, we stubbornly refuse even to admit we have a problem, to
realize that we are powerless to reach the destination.
– After all, we’re moving forward, in the right direction?
– Making progress, right?
– Just a little more and we’ll be there, right?
– *In verse 15 of our text, the crowds turn their eyes to John the
Baptizer, thinking that this amazing man might be their solution, sinful
human though he was. *
– *John, however, in verse 16, quickly dispels this notion by
recognizing his own powerlessness, his unworthiness even to untie the
simple strap of the sandals of the real Savior.*

– *Herein lies the problem that keeps us in our predicament: our failure
to accept our powerlessness. *
– In Zeno’s experiment, we find endless motion without a destination
because we are trying to cross the finite distance to the other side of the
street with the infinite divisibility of the steps.
– The problem reminds us of the expectant Israelites on the banks of the
Jordan and of fallen humanity throughout the ages.
– Except that here the finite has no means of accessing, achieving, or
even comprehending an infinite that, instead of dividing, *multiplies*
the distance between us and the destination.
– Our Lord explains in the Gospel of John:
– “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of
the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6).

– *A broken, sinful human being is powerless to create anything from
within itself that is not already there. *
– That’s our problem.
– In other words, the dinner you make is limited by the ingredients you
– If we expect a greater-than-human solution from the ingredients of
human knowledge, human rules, human politics, human ability, we will always
be disappointed, always moving but never getting anywhere fast.

*III. But Jesus**’** Baptism**—**and our Baptism**—**is the Provider of
true Progress.*

– *But do not despair. *
– *Everything changes in verse 21 of our text: *
– “When Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were
– The heavens are opened!
– The destination is in sight!
– Everything that broken humanity has longed for since the expulsion
from Eden has been made accessible.
– For the first time since the fall and for all time evermore, the
destination is reachable.
– The Son of God, fully human, yet fully divine, in future time and
timelessly crucified and risen from the dead, enters the waters of Baptism.
– In this man, the finite and the infinite are miraculously and
incomprehensibly made into one.
– “And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am
well pleased’ ” (verse 22).

– *Jesus Christ is now revealed, by the Father**’**s own voice, to be
the only perfect, infinite human worthy of the perfect, infinite
destination, because he is the Creator of that destination. *
– Heaven is open to Christ because it belongs to him.
– *Jesus**’** Baptism provides the same progress for us. *
– How?
– How does Jesus’ Baptism end our predicament?
– It does so because the Son of God, as the Word, in a miraculous way,
remains in the water of Baptism.
– He enters the water for all time so that he might meet us in our

– *In the water of our Baptism, our failed humanity is killed with
Christ upon the cross*
– In that same water, Christ provides the life-giving Holy Spirit, who
creates the faith which receives infinite life.
– “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ
Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by
baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead
by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life”
(Romans 6:3–4).
– In the water of our Baptism, the infinite Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
has, from outside our reality, reached in and miraculously joined us to
– “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ”
(Gal 3:27).
– Rejoice! You have received what you could not yourself achieve, for in
your Baptism, the power of God’s Son, his Word, has brought the
destination down to you, granting you the assurance of heaven, even as you
admit your powerlessness.

– This idea of power in powerlessness reminds me of one of my earliest
memories with my kids, as they would ride on my foot as little children.
– Did you ever do this?
– From when they were toddlers, so young that they could barely walk
without falling, I have such happy memories of placing them on my
comparatively, giant foot, while they held tightly to my leg.
– We would then walk around the house while they squealed with joy.
– For a moment, they became one with me.
– They could walk as I walked, do what I did, because they had become a
part of me.
– I would eventually pry them off my tired foot, but for a brief time,
they could go anywhere and do anything, despite their own limitations.

– *Conclusion*
– *Even more confidence can be found in our Baptism. *
– Jesus’ Baptism—and our Baptism—is the Provider of true Progress.
– Yes, we confess that we are powerless to solve the problems that lead
to our predicament, but in the water of our Baptism, we, the powerless,
have been joined to our crucified and risen Creator, not briefly, but
– Contrary to all earthly appearances, despite our endless failures, we
rejoice in this tangible assurance that our predicament has ended, our
problem has been solved, and the means to arrive at our heavenly
destination, long hoped for, true progress, has been provided.
– *“**Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you
are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through
the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you
shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord
your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior**”** (Is 43:1**–**3).

– *Let us pray:*
– *All that I am and love most dearly— *
– *Receive it all, O Lord, from me. *
– *Let me confess my faith sincerely; *
– *Help me Your faithful child to be! *
– *Let nothing that I am or own Serve any will but Yours alone.*
– *Text: Public domain (LSB 590)*
– *Amen.*

– *The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts
and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.*
– *In the Name of the Father…Amen.*