Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Choking in the crunch. . .

Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord, Sunday, preached on January 11, 2015.

    It was the biggest moment of his life, indeed, John's whole life came down to this one, big moment. . .  Jesus was there and waiting but John folded in the crunch.  He hesitated.  Overcome by it all he focuses on himself instead of Jesus.  "Not now. . . not me. . ."  But Jesus refused to be put off.  He prodded John on.  "It must be done for all righteousness." 
    So John baptized Jesus, the heavens opened, the Spirit descended, and the voice proclaimed, "You are my Son in whom I am well pleased..."  Baptism is also our big moment.  Jesus is there in the water.  He is ready.  Are we?  He is focused on us and our redemption. Who are we focused on?
    John's big moment was not about him at all – it was not about his worthiness or his willingness.  It was about Jesus, about His worthiness and His willingness to take up the destiny of the cross for which He was born.  Everything begins some where and Jesus' entrance to the cross begins with His entrance into the water.  He has come not for Himself – He has no sins to confess and needs no repentance.  He has come for us, to carry the full weight of our sins, to pay the full cost of their price, and to do so even if the only way was through the suffering and death of the cross.
    Look into the baptismal water and you see the cross.  Jesus' baptism shapes our understanding of Him and His mission and it shapes us and our redemption.  It is not a small moment but of pivotal importance as Jesus first public act to save us happens in His baptism in the Jordan and our first public act as the saved flows from our baptism into Christ.
    For just as His baptism was His public entrance into the cross shaped life, so is our baptism our public entrance into the cross shaped life.  St. Paul put it bluntly.  Do you not know that you were baptized into Christ's death and raised through His resurrection?  In order to focus on ourselves, we must focus on Him.  Before we can bring anything to Jesus, He brings us to the place where His redemption is given.  Before we can claim anything for ourselves, He claims us for Himself in baptism.
    We act as if baptism sets us free to be ourselves but it is just the opposite.  In baptism we are free to be Christ's own and to live under Him in His kingdom – as Luther put it in the catechism.  We are not for the display of our own righteousness but for the display of Christ's righteousness.  We are set free not to live our version of a good or happy life but to live as Christ's own, indeed, as little Christs in the world.  We are transformed from the lost into the found, from the guilty to the righteous, from the slave to the son, from the dead to the eternally alive.
    John choked at his big moment.  Don't we also?  We forget to keep our eyes upon Christ and look at ourselves with but one result – fear.  We hesitate at the altar when the full weight of marriage falls on us. . . we hesitate at the hospital when our child is first laid into our arms.  We hesitate at all those big moments in our lives because we see ourselves instead of Christ.  When we are fixed on ourselves, fear seizes us.  Yet in those fears, Christ is still there.  We are not our own nor are we on our own.  We have been bought with a price.  He has and still fulfills all righteousness for us.
    Christ leads us from the font to live out the new life born in us there. From the font we gain the new vocation as the children of God.  He who entered into the dirty stream of our sin and who embrace the full shame of our fallen humanity, now raises us up clean, to live new lives of obedience and faith, doing the good works of Him who has called us from darkness into His marvelous light.  This is not some theoretical idea but the true shape of real life.
    You are My beloved sons and daughters. . . Live not for yourself but for Me...  You are not alone... You have been bought with a price... You do not belong to yourself but to Me... Go and sin no more... this is what the voice of God speaks into our ears as we go down into the baptismal water and rise up new.  God did not give your life back to you, He has claimed it for Himself.
    So husbands, live this new life by serving your wives and children as Christ has served us. . .  And wives live this life by serving your husband and children by putting them ahead of yourself. . . Parents live this life by serving the children God has entrusted to their care and children live this life by honoring their parents as God's agents. . .  And all of us live this life by serving God through serving our neighbor and seeing in our neighbor the very face of Christ who saved us.
    God does not love us for what we can do for Him – Thanks be to God!  He loves us to redeem us from the prison of self, to save us from the impossible burden of living holy enough to satisfy His Law, and to impart to us a new life rich with the possibility of living as His own people.  He has given us this new life so that He might accomplish in us the full measure of His promise for a new and everlasting life.  This is what we meet in baptism.  We meet Christ.  And we live this new baptismal life by keeping our focus off ourselves and always on Christ.  Amen.


Unknown said...

“The true doctrine of the Holy Spirit has no place to call its own in the church and congregation. It appears to have become a foreign body.” Hermann Sasse quotes these words with approval in “Letters to Lutheran Pastors, No. 51, July/August 1960”. This sermon is an example of that. Nowhere does it mention the work of the Holy Spirit in our Baptism, although He has a major role, John 3:5, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.”
Nowhere are we told that our new life in the Kingdom is not simply one of being free, but that we become organically different in Baptism, because the Holy Spirit takes up residence in every believer. 1 Cor. 3: 16 “Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?”
Our will is changed, as St. Paul writes, 1 Corinthians 2:16, “But we have the mind of Christ”. This is part of God’s promise made in Jeremiah 31:33, “I will put my law (in Hebrew, Torah, or the mind of God, and therefore “the mind of Christ”) within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people”. All that happens when we are baptized. Granted that we remain sinners and imperfect, but we need to know that we would be unable to be “free to be Christ's own and to live under Him in His kingdom” unless we had the help of the Holy Spirit, and unless we were organically different from those outside of the Kingdom. This is just another example of how the Gospel is diminished in our churches, to the detriment of the life of the Church. This is one reason why people are justified in saying, “I did not hear any Gospel”.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Anonymous said...

"This is one reason why people are justified in saying, “I did not hear any Gospel”...." I am sorry but it seems a terrible judgment against what might be considered a serious omission only if this was the only thing the man had preached. Does the definition of gospel require a discussion of the Spirit? If it does, Jesus must also be condemned for in defining the gospel he spoke about how the Scriptures testified of Him.

Unknown said...

Anonymous: You ask, “Does the definition of gospel require a discussion of the Spirit?” Actually, I believe it does, because the Holy Spirit plays such a huge role in the Gospel. We are used to thinking that our Lord’s resurrection is the end of the Gospel. But this is not true. A non-Lutheran, but a wonderful teacher of the Church, put it this way, “Certainly we must never conceive ‘salvation’ in purely negative terms, as if it consisted only of our rescue from sin, guilt, wrath and death. We thank God that it is all these things. But it also includes the positive blessing of the Holy Spirit to regenerate, indwell, liberate and transform us.” (John R. W. Stott, Baptism and Fullness. The Work of the Holy Spirit today. Inter Varsity Press, P. 25, 26.) This is also made clear by what many, including myself, consider to be the most beautiful sentence Dr. Martin Luther ever wrote, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.” The point of the Gospel is that we do not depend on ourselves for our salvation, but God does everything for us, and after our Lord accomplished His work through His life, suffering, death and resurrection, and “opened the Kingdom to all believers,” the Holy Spirit began to play a major role in our lives as individuals in His Kingdom here on earth, and in preserving that Kingdom. What was the first thing our Lord did when He met with His Disciples on the Day of Resurrection? John 20:22, “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’”.
But my outrage in this case deals with the question, “How is it possible to speak about Baptism without mentioning the Holy Spirit?” We Lutherans, having banished the Holy Spirit, have handed over His functions to what we call “The Word”. “The Word” has a will and power of its own, and according to Luther, it is the Word that makes Baptism effective together with water. No wonder we feel no need to mention the Holy Spirit in connection with Baptism. In doing so we ignore the fact that in Ephesians 6:17 St. Paul calls the Word “the sword of the Spirit”. So we honor the tool, and forget Him who wields it. In doing so, we forget that the Holy Spirit regenerates us in Baptism, so that we do not do whatever good works we do out of some feeling of gratitude, but because to do God’s will is now our will. Or as St. Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 2:16, “But we have the mind of Christ”.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart