January 7, 2018

A Message from God's Word

Baptism of Our Lord

First Lesson:  Isaiah 49:1-6

Second Lesson: Acts 16:25-34

Gospel Lesson: Mark 1:4-11

It is so important, we can’t live without it.  We need it every second of the day. We’re constantly surround by it. But while it is a tremendous blessing, weeks go by and we don’t think or talk about it. Guesses? Air. We can’t live without it.  We need it always. It’s all around us. Without it we’d die. So why don’t we talk about it much? We assume it’ll be there. When you finish a breath, do you say a prayer so another will come after that? From the 1st breath you drew to the breath you just took, air has always been there.  And by the way, isn’t it true the only time we focus on breathing is when someone talks about it? 

Can’t all we said about air be said about baptism too? Spiritually, we can’t live without it.  We need baptism’s grace 24/7.  And the tremendous blessings of it surround us always. But how much do we talk about it besides when we have a baptism? In our daily lives, how often do we reflect on baptismal blessings? Maybe for the same reason we don’t talk about air much. Most of us were only unbaptized for a few days of life. And it happened so long ago, most don’t’ remember it.

On the church year calendar, today is called, “The Baptism of Our Lord.”  Because of that, I thought it’d be a good idea to talk about our baptisms with a Q & A approach based on God’s Word.  And the goal of all this is simple: to get us to stop and reflect, today and throughout the week, about what a blessed gift our baptisms were and are for us.

Let’s start with the big one: “Why do I need to be baptized?” Why? You didn’t come into this world a Christian, but as one completely separated from God’s grace, as a sinner who had nothing but life apart from God in your future. You know that, but think about a newborn. They are sweet, but they are also as needy as needy comes. I’m not just talking about food, love, and warmth. They need to God’s grace, forgiveness, and every good thing. And at one time, that was you as well.

Jesus once said, “No one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” Notice the words “no one.”  And Jesus talks about water and the Spirit – baptism. Jesus is backing up what we just said.  Everyone needs baptism. We are born inheriting sin from our parents, sin that shows itself at a very, very early age.  We need to be reborn spiritually.  And through baptism, that is what God does.

Our next question…  “What does baptism do for us?”  On Pentecost, Peter said, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” At his Ascension, Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” What does baptism do for us? 1) It forgives sins. Peter couldn’t have been clearer. Baptism washes away the sins with which we were born (and all the rest – we’ll get to that). As bath water washes away actual dirt/grime, baptism washes away spiritual dirt/grime.  As you come out of the bath clean, you were carried away/walked away from the font clean.  Think of baptism as a washing of your soul. 

2) In baptism, God puts his name on us.  Maybe your mom wrote your name in your underwear when you went to camp.  Everyone knew they were yours (not like someone else would want your underwear).  They belonged to you.  Jesus said to baptize in the name of the Triune God.  In baptism, God writes his name on you. You belong to him. Think about a tattoo.  If you get a tattoo with your kids’ names, people know they’re yours - permanently.  A tattoo goes on and stays on.  As a baptized child of God, his name is written on you in a more permanent way. No surgery can’t get rid of it.  So what happens in/at our baptisms?  God washed sin away by putting faith in Jesus in our hearts, and God claimed as part of his family.

And that leads to another question. How can water and some words do these amazing things for someone what can’t walk, talk, feed themselves, or think rationally? Well, do you know where we get the water for baptisms? The kitchen sink. It is just plain water on its own. The power is not in the water.  Paul wrote, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.”  What are the guts, what is the engine of baptism?  What makes it powerful and effective?  The Word does, and the Holy Spirit who works through that Word.

Without the Word, baptism is just a weird public bath.  But through the Word, the Holy Spirit works.  Paul also said, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ.” We said God plants faith in our hearts through baptism.  He does that as the Word is spoken and the Spirit does his thing.  So why the water?  Why not just use the Word?  Here’s my guess.  There is the symbolic aspect.  As water washes actual dirt away, the water and Word of baptism wash spiritual dirt away.  There is also the tangibility of it all. We can see it with our eyes.  If we are old enough, we can realize the feeling as we are baptized.  And just like everything on earth needs water to grow, we need the life-giving water of baptism. And in baptism, that life-giving water, that grace Jesus won for us at the cross, is applied to us.

But how?  We were so young, so helpless.  Exactly.  We say it all the time – there is nothing we can do to be part of God’s family.  He did it all. Doesn’t baptism show that all the more? You couldn’t walk, talk, feed self, etc. when you were brought up here. You completely relied on your parents.  Isn’t that same thing true spiritually? Before God came into your life, you were a helpless, needy, spiritual baby. Like a parent, God did it all for you, and he did it through the power of the Word.

Sure, you couldn’t make sense of your baptism in your brain when it happened, but does God’s Word need your reasoning and understanding to work? Nope. The Word works as/when God wills it. He promised it works in baptism. We have no reason to doubt that. Over and over the Bible is clear - baptism works. It is not just a sign, symbol, or church tradition.  It is the life-saving tool God gives us that all, even those who can’t make logical sense of it, are welcomed into the family of God.

And on that, another common question.  Why do we baptize children?  1) Jesus said, as we heard, to baptize all nations.  He could not have used a more inclusive term.  Jesus also said everyone must be born again of water and the Spirit.  He didn’t mention only certain age groups.  Baptism is intended for all.  2) Children are sinners just like the rest of us and need forgiveness just like the rest of us.  David’s famous words in Psalm 51: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” From birth we are sinners.  From birth we need God’s grace.  And in baptism, he gives it.  And 3) little children can believe.  Jesus said, “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin…” Quick Greek lesson.  The word for little ones is brephos.  That means an infant, a child so small it needs to be carried.  And what did Jesus say about these little ones?  They believe in him.  Sure, no baptized infant is going to be carried back to the pews saying, “Mom, guess what.  I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.”  But remember, faith is not an intellectual thing. It is a matter of the heart, a heart the Spirit turns into a believing heart through the Word in baptism.

  Those are the big ones, but there are a few pesky little ones we should cover. “Who can baptize?”  The simply answer is anyone.  I am not saying you should seek out an atheist to baptize your newborn, but the power of baptism is not in the person doing the baptism.  The power is in the Word and the Spirit working through it.  “How many times do we need to be baptized?”  Once.  Again, God’s grace covers us and he puts his name on us in baptism.  Even if we stray and he brings us back, nothing about his promise of forgiveness changes.  Once is all we need for our entire lives.

“What about dunking vs. sprinkling water?”  Well, the word baptize means to apply water.  It says nothing about the amount.  Let’s say we did dunk people.  As long as the Word is used, that is a valid baptism.  And there is a beautiful picture in that of being completely covered by God’s grace just as the water completely covers us.  But droplets of water will do, because the power is in the Word, not the water.  Why do we sprinkle?  Because I don’t want to get my church clothes all messed up and I look dumb in waiters.  Seriously, we do it for the sake of good order and so we can celebrate it in church.

And there is one more huge question. “What does, what should, my baptism mean for me today and every day?” Well, did you sin today? Will you sin tomorrow?  Will this be our pattern until we die? Sadly, yes.  But remember the umbrella of grace.  When your conscience attacks, when you are lower than low after succumbing to temptation, when you wonder if God could actual forgive you for what you did (because it was so “bad” or you did “it” so often), go back to your baptism.  That tattoo of a child of God is not coming off.  He will not remove his name from you.  What was said of you on your baptism day is just as true today, tomorrow, and 56 weeks from now.  Your sins are forgiven – all of them.  You are a child of God – now and always.  And heaven is your home, because that is what Jesus won for you.  Martin Luther once said, “Baptism is so full of grace that heaven and earth can hardly contain it.”  That grace is yours, through every trial and temptation, through every sin and error.  God backed your baptism up with a promise to never leave or forsake you.  And it that is not a promise that comforts us whatever our issue, problem, or concern may be, I don’t know what is.

This is all good stuff, right?  I agree.  So one more question.  How can I make my baptism a part of my daily life?”  Well, you all probably received a certificate or a plaque when you were baptized.  Put that in place where you see it often.  I have a baptismal cross with my name on it right on my desk so I will never forget.  Maybe buy a nice new frame for your certificate and put it in your bedroom, office, or kitchen.  If you can’t find it, let me know. We can print you a new one. 

Make baptism a part of your prayer life.  Address God as one of his baptized children.  Maybe find pictures of your baptism and put them out.  They aren’t doing any good in your parents’ attic anyway.  Do a Youtube search for baptismal hymns – good Lutheran ones that speak of baptism as Scripture does. And talk about baptism and its blessings when we do have baptisms or affirmations here at church.  There is a lot you can do.  If you need more ideas, let me know.

Back to the beginning.  We know we need air, but we only think about it when that air is scarce, like under a heavy blanket.  Let’s not make that same mistake with baptism.  In whatever way we can, let’s praise it as the amazing gift of God that it is.  Daily let’s wrap ourselves in the grace of baptism. Daily let’s sing about it, talk about it, and pray about it.  For like the air that goes in and out of our lungs and keeps us alive, the water and Word of baptism flow over us like a river, giving us life-giving, life-saving rest to our weary, needy souls.  Amen.