The text for this morning’s message comes from St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians, the third chapter:  “in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.  As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”  Thus far our text.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

This morning Jordyn Monroe Lynn will be baptized, which has led me to dedicate this morning’s message to reminding all of us just how important we believe baptism to be, and what we believe it means.  And since 2017 is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, and yesterday was the anniversary of the death of Martin Luther, I am going to use some of Luther’s words.  (Because 2017 is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, you will be hearing a lot from and about Luther, who was one of the most important figures in all of history, whose life and work impacted not only the whole Christian Church, but also education and government and more.)

First, these words about baptism from Martin Luther’s Large Catechism: “To be baptized in the name of God is to be baptized not by men, but by God Himself.  Therefore, although it is performed by human hands, it is nevertheless truly God's own work.”  That is one of the primary reasons why we believe in baptizing babies.  While some have concluded that it doesn’t make sense to baptize someone who’s not old enough to understand what is going on, we believe that misses the point.  Holy Baptism is powerful because God is doing all of the work.

You see, right from the very start it’s all about God’s grace.  Becoming a child of God is a gift we receive, not a status we earn because we are smart enough or good enough.  We will never be smart enough or good enough to earn God’s love.  To believe otherwise is a dangerous thing.

In baptism, God has done for Jordyn what I hope He has done for all of us: He has adopted us into His family.  The sinful brokenness we all were born into separates us from our heavenly Father.  That is why it is deadly.  But God has overcome both sin and death, and in baptism God embraces us in His grace, assuring us that He will never leave us or forsake us, that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God that we have in Christ Jesus.  As we heard from St. Paul, “in Christ Jesus [we] are all children of God through faith.  As many of [us] as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”

But let’s not kid ourselves: there can be a real problem with infant baptism.  Truth be told, the problem’s not with Baptism, but with our understanding of Baptism.  Far too often it has been understood as a ritual, as a one-and-done thing we do that is just a good, nice thing Christians do for babies that has no real significance for the rest of their lives, the rest of our lives. 

Please listen carefully to some more words from Luther, this time from the section on Baptism in his Small Catechism.  Luther answers the question “What does Baptism mean for daily living?” with these words: It means that our sinful self, with all its evil deeds and desires, should be drowned through daily repentance; and that day after day a new self should arise to live with God in righteous-ness and purity forever. St. Paul writes in Romans 6: “We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”  There are some vitally important words there, including “daily” and “day after day.”  To see baptism as a one-and-done ritual is a dangerous misconception.

Lutherans believe and teach that in Baptism we receive more than grace, we receive two more very precious gifts: faith, and the Holy Spirit.  The soil of our souls in which the seed of faith is planted must not be ignored or neglected, but must be nourished and nurtured.  It needs ongoing weeding and daily watering. 

Likewise, the gift that is the Holy Spirit of God does not come to chain us up and pull us along.  The Spirit works with us, not against us or without us.  The Spirit is always there, calling us to remember who and whose we are: children of God.  The Spirit desires to work within us and through us, and to help us grow and mature as children of God.

Now, with all of that being said, with all of this good solid theological preaching, I am very much aware of the reality that things seldom go smoothly in the life journeys of God’s children.  Many—maybe most— of us wander for some time.  Many of us neglect the nurturing of our faith and of our children’s faith.  Maybe we get caught up in all of the other stuff of life, or perhaps we go through times of doubt and questioning.  Some of God’s children do what we are all free to do: they walk away from their faith altogether.

Sometimes some of this happens because people get so beat up by life, or turned off by the weaknesses they see in God’s children and the church, or maybe in themselves.  Some struggle with addictions, others with self-hatred.  Many simply get confused.  In the last couple of weeks I have heard about the struggles of a couple of the younger baptized members of our family in Christ who are struggling with sadness and depression.  

In the midst of those struggles, baptism has the power to heal, to pull us through.  It’s not just a simple matter of us saying to ourselves or to each other, “smile, God loves you.”   But at the same time, that gift of faith and of the Spirit we received in being adopted into God’s family through Baptism can be awakened.  God never gives up on us. 

In quoting Isaiah, Jesus said that a bruised reed, God will not crush, a smoldering wick, God will not put out.  It’s not about a life-long series of spiritual successes, of being super men and women of faith along every step of our journey.  But it is about coming to understand this: our heavenly Father always calls for His children to remember and to celebrate the truth of grace, the truth that God’s love is unconditional.

Finally, it must also be said that Baptism is ultimately about new life.  The Holy Spirit of God continually comes to us with healing and strength, promising to lift us—God’s beloved, baptized children—to lift us up and offering to empower us to move forward, to grow and to mature as His children, no matter what age we are, or what direction we have been heading.  God is calling us: in grace He calls us His children; in love He calls us to live out what we are.

The healing of grace is ongoing, and in the strength of our God-- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit-- we can discover (and rediscover over and over again) the joy of walking in the newness of life, the fulfillment of living in the light and strength of God’s grace, of being transformed by the renewing of our minds, of experiencing the meaning of living the way God created us to live, loving and serving Him and others.  God does love you… always has, and always will.  Amen.

   November 2018   
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