Tag Archives: baptism
I could not help but be struck at how small we’ve allowed this rite to shrink. How much of an inconvenience or an embarrassment it can become, stashed away in a private hour or squeezed in reluctantly between the Hymn of the Day and the prayers of the church. How rote and formal the process of question and answer, how routine the process for replicating cells in the Body of Christ. More mechanical than mystical. All the significance is still there, in the words and the actions—you are being drowned and raised up to new life, you are putting off the old self and putting on Christ, you are being brought into the Ark of salvation, but let’s be sure to schedule it on a weekend Grandma can be there and let’s make sure it doesn’t run longer than seven minutes because we have a stewardship update today.
But either way, Jesus tells his disciples, rejoice that your names are written in heaven. Rejoice that you were sealed in baptism. Rejoice that when your name was called, you answered; you came up, you used the weakness of the moment to seize God’s promises for you. That’s the miracle. That’s the defeat of Satan and his empty promises and his power.
I say all of this as someone who has been on every side of this very human struggle: offending, offended against, passive bystander, participant in a mob mentality. That’s human life. We are always being asked to hear, to judge, to act. And the way we do these things implicates us very deeply. It cuts to the heart of who we think we are. It is painful to cut off that part of us that cannot bear to be wrong.
And this sounds kind of strange to us today, perhaps. But for Luther, salvation was a human impossibility. Every road we could choose would take us away from God. You can ignore God and go from bad to worse, or you can try to please God and only learn pride, or become more painfully aware of your own failings. And it’s all hopeless, except that God makes the impossible, possible. God gives his Holy Spirit to me so that I may believe things that are beyond my own power to believe. So that I can come to a Jesus I cannot recognize on my own. And every little bit of faith I have is the gift of this Spirit. It’s not something I could have ever gone out and found for myself, however small it feels.
Slavery was, to come back to where we started, more than the people could handle. It was devastating, it was criminal, it was inhuman. And when the people cried out to God, God did not answer by giving them a little more patience. God did not give them the inner strength to endure the endless days of work and the abuse of the overseers. God did not give them a glimpse of a better world that awaited them beyond death.
God did something else: God set them free.
Being a faithful person involves some loss. It involves letting the flood of baptism wash some things out of our hands. It involves dying to our desire for domination, dying to our need to always be right and wise in our own minds, dying to our need to have more and do more, dying to our desire to possess the world even at the expense of others. Being a faithful person means letting God rip those things from our hands, just as surely as it means being embraced by God and raised up by God and clothed in righteousness by God.
(Note: I preached this sermon at Messiah Lutheran Church on Ash Wednesday 2017) Sisters and brothers, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Lent: it arrives every year whether you need it or not. Worship becomes a bit more somber and reflective. We give something up, a luxury […]
The corner of Twitter in which I do most of my reading and arguing has been furiously arguing over the story of Edgardo Mortara, a Jewish child in Bologna secretly baptized by his family’s maid, and Pope Pius IX, who removed him from his home in accordance with law forbidding a Catholic child to be […]