Friday, January 18, 2013

I AM baptized....

Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord, preached on Sunday, January 13, 2013.

    Around this part of the country, if you were baptized as an infant and baptized without immersion, then it means you were not baptized at all.  Nearly every corner of Clarksville's churches understand baptism so differently from Lutherans, sometimes we find ourselves at a loss to respond.  How do you defend baptism?  First, we are not the minority.  Infant baptism, sacramental baptism are the majority positions in Christendom; more than that, they are the teaching of Scripture.  Unlike our neck of the woods, those who dispute infant baptism, non-immersion, or sacramental baptism seem to be the majority.
    I cannot compact it all into one sermon but a good place to start is the difference in verbs in the two statements: I was baptized (the claim of adult baptism by immersion) and I AM baptized (our confession).  Now it might seem like an odd difference but it is an important one.
    I was baptized... claim some Christians.  This is merely a statement of an event that took place at a specific date and time.  What it means to those who say it is that they knew the Gospel in their minds and they said it or publicly confessed it out loud before witnesses.  Usually this takes less the form of a creed than the form of a prayer in which they give Jesus their hearts. 
    I was baptized means that these have presented themselves before the font but more like one might present himself to a judge in a courtroom.  They have come in obedience to a command.  Baptism is not much more than a legal requirement that must be kept and the focus of baptism is not on the obedience of the baptized but on the grace and work of Jesus.
    I was baptized is their promise on a specific occasion and in a specific place that they would believe this faith always and they would live holy lives before the Lord as an outward display of their inward repentance.  To say I was baptized is like the 12 step meeting where every one begins by admitting "I am an alcoholic."  There is little gospel in this and the whole focus is less on the Lord's promise than the believer's faith and righteous obedience to the command of God.  Sadly, too many of us Lutherans think this way and find ourselves surprised when Peter says, “Baptism now saves you.”  We have relegated it to a place and time instead of living in its blessed gift and grace each day.
    As Lutherans we do not speak of baptism in the past tense.  It can never do to say only "I was baptized" but rather "I AM baptized."  This baptism is not merely an event in time, though surely it is that.  Baptism is an identity.  I am a baptized child of God.  By baptism I was made a child of God, connected to Jesus' saving death and life-giving resurrection.  By baptism I was marked with His cross.  By baptism I was sealed in the covenant of this water and that forever changes who I am.  By baptism, who I was is gone and the person I am is made brand new.
    As Lutherans, we do not confess "I was baptized" but "I AM baptized."  By baptism we made part of the Church.  Baptism is God's call through which the Spirit seeks us out, bids us come, makes us new, and gathers us as His very own.  The Church is no gathering of volunteers but the sacred assembly of those called by God and set apart by God as His own in the waters of baptism.  To say "I am baptized" is to say who you are right now by God's grace and not merely to remember a past event.
    As Lutherans we confess "I AM baptized."  I did nothing and God did it all.  We are still the baptized.  Who we are is God's workmanship.  We come to baptism with nothing at all to offer the Lord.  We come empty. Our sins have stained us and made us unworthy of the Lord.  Our repentance is a joke because we cannot make ourselves do what is right nor can we keep ourselves from doing what is wrong.  We cannot atone for our wrongs nor can we escape the evil of our deceitful hearts.  We can not believe in the Lord Jesus because our hearts are clogged with doubts and fears.  Resistant to God's gracious works, we hide in the shadows of darkness, more content with its misery and death than God's light.  By baptism that wretch of a person is put to death in Christ so that a new person created by God and in His righteousness may arise.  I live as the new creation of God with a past forgiven and a new future bestowed.
    Baptism is more than a fact or event; it changes who you are.  It is not about me but about the Lord.  The old has died; the new person created in grace is come.  You came with nothing but condemnation and you leave with everything and eternity before you.  You came naked and you leave clothed in perfect righteousness.  You came an orphan and leave a child of God with many brothers and sisters in Christ.  You came under Satan's dominion and leave a child of God purchased and won with Christ's blood.  Baptism is not some housekeeping detail; it is an eternal identity.  “God’s own child, I gladly say it; I am baptized into Christ.” is what we just sang.
    Do NOT surrender this baptismal Gospel for doubt or reason or fear or argument or Law!  Do not misplace your confidence from the Word and promise of God that endures forever to trust in feelings that come and go and or one of a thousand broken promises to be good or do better.  Do not give up the freedom Christ has accorded you for duty or obligation that lays a burden right back upon your shoulders.  It is for this that Christ came to the waters and it is for this that we have come... and nothing less.  I AM baptized!  Amen.


Erik Maldre said...

Thank you for your words of comfort, Pastor Peters. Oh the sweet gospel of Baptism! God offers us wonderful grace through these means. Why turn snatch this continuous gift of God and somehow twist it into our gift for God? At that point is it even a gift when it simply points to ourselves?

Might I suggest a potential typo. Paragraph 7 leads with, "By baptism we made part of the Church". Perhaps it should read, "By baptism we are made part of the Church."

Anonymous said...

Dear Rev. Peters: only Lutherans are capable of writing a sermon on Baptism without mention of the Holy Spirit. I know – you can’t get everything into one sermon. But leaving out the Holy Spirit? It boggles my mind.

“Romans 8: 9 But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” This is not some general “spirit” St. Paul writes about, like “the spirit of the Resurrection” or the “spirit of love”. This is the Lord, the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Most Blessed Trinity. We have replaced Him with “the Word” in Baptism, and, as Sasse writes, deny Him citizenship in the Lutheran Church.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Blanca F said...

Pastor Peters, thank you for this awesome reminder of the sweet Gospel Message. I was born and raised a Southern Baptist and the view of Baptism I had was exactly as you described it. though I struggled with it for a while, when I finally, by the grace of God, came to believe that Baptism does what He says it does, how joyous I was! To learn that it was God doing all the saving and I have no part in it is such a sweet relief. To be able to look to my baptism and not have to wonder "Am I really saved?" is amazing. Thank you for this blog. Your blog has been such an blessing and aid to me on my journey to Confessional Lutheranism.Your blog post this summer about Closed Communion helped me to understand and come to believe in the Real Presence and Closed Communion and then to make the decision to take Confirmation class. I am getting Confirmed this Sunday and am so happy to be home. May God bless you now and always!

JL said...

Pastor Peters...can I just echo what Blanca F. said? About a year ago my husband and I left an evangelical, Calvinistic church, very disillusioned with the direction it was going. Through the workings of the Holy Spirit, we were led to begin worshiping at a confessional Lutheran church. The last year has been full of learning for us. Your blog has been such a source of information and encouragement. Tomorrow, we are to be received into membership at our new church and our three children will be baptized as well. My heart is so full.