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We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who have died to the world in baptism and have been reborn in Jesus Christ said … AMEN
I want to start by remembering our brother Sam Null who went to be in the presence of the Lord. Sam’s funeral will be this Friday here at First St Johns. We pray for Norma and their son Sam and we praise God that Sam is free from suffering and in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As you see in today’s introduction to worship, I will be saying the words that I say in a funeral. We Christians do not live In fear of death. We died that day we were baptized. We are still in the world when we are baptized, but now we are no longer of the world we are reborn in Christ. This is another area where we are at odds with other Christian belief systems. Other Christians see baptism as sort of an initiation into the faith, a public act, on their part, in accepting Christ. For Lutherans, we see baptism as our new birth, where, when I baptize someone the Holy Spirit is using the words I say and the act of pouring the water as a way to, as Dr Luther would say, to drown the old person and from that the new person in Christ is reborn.
It’s been a really rough week, heck for me as a pastor, throw a bout of flu into the mix of Advent, two Christmas Eve worships, Holly Tea, German Christmas worship, a wedding, a few deaths, it’s been a tough last few weeks. Death has been a very real presence just in the past few days. My Aunt died up in Maine, the Rev Dr Mike Ramey’s mother died in Texas, a fellow pastor and classmate’s mother died, we said farewell to our bother Rev Don Biggs a few weeks ago, we had other funerals this past year of brothers and sisters in Jesus. But here is the upshot, here is the Gospel, the Good News. All of them “died” in Jesus. Yes, they aren’t here with us in the body, but we know for sure, because we have the promise of Jesus Christ, that all of these brothers and sisters are now in the perfect bliss and comfort of heaven, the very real presence of our Lord.
How can we be so sure of this? Was it because of something they said or did? No! We have many Christians who believe that it’s all about them, it’s all about what they do or don’t do. One of the main reasons we baptize babies is to emphasize our understanding of what baptism is. Baptism is when we are called by the Holy Spirit to come into the new life of Christ. It is not a decision we make to “accept Jesus”. Doesn’t it really seem presumptuous to think that it’s our decision to be saved? “Oh, okay, I’ll accept Jesus as Lord, well because I can and I’m going to. I will walk down the aisle and make a declaration for God.” I’ve had more than one person tell me that after making some sort of public declaration of accepting Jesus, they did not feel as if they really knew salvation. I often hear that there is this doubt, that they might have done something wrong, that somehow it wasn’t enough, wrong time, wrong way, etc. In our baptism into Jesus it is not about what we do, it’s not about how we do it, when we do it, why we do it, yada, yada, yada. It’s about the fact that we have the knowledge and assurance that we were called to be baptized, we were called to be saved, we were baptized in the Name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit and by that, the Holy Spirit brought you to salvation in Jesus. The Holy Spirit took you up out of the depths of your baptism and gave you the new life, made you the new person in Jesus. It’s not up to you, it’s not your call and that is why, for Lutherans, it is about baptizing babies. I am certainly not saying you have to be baptized as a baby. Certainly God decides when we come to know Christ and that is not always as an infant. I wasn’t baptized until I was in my mid-twenties, I’m sure there are others here who weren’t baptized as babies and others who haven’t been baptized at all. I pray that those who are adults and haven’t been baptized, that God is leading them through the words that He has given me for you to come to new life in Jesus. But I want to make this very clear, it’s not about your decision, it’s not about you making the call. You may have some idea that you don’t need to be baptized, or that you are somehow unworthy. Heck I’d like to know who here, me included, could ever be worthy enough for new life in Jesus. I’ll tell you who, no one, not you, not me, not anyone who hears this is worthy. We are not saved on the basis of whether we are worthy. Sola gratia by grace alone are we baptized. The grace of God, His forgiveness of us, His desire, not yours, not mine, to save you in Jesus. There are no mistakes in God, if you have not been saved in the waters of baptism whether you are 8 months or 80 years you are saved only by God’s grace and united with Jesus in His death through baptism. His death, His sacrifice, His atonement on the Cross that saved us. So no, you are not worthy enough for baptism and neither am I, no one is.
Jesus was baptized and He was baptized as an adult. Why? He was baptized by John the Baptist, John was designated by God to baptize Jesus in the way and at the time that He was baptized. No, Jesus didn’t need to be baptized, but as Jesus lived the life that we live, that He came down from heaven, born as a baby, He identified with us in every way and part of that is to be baptized. We are baptized because He was baptized, we are saved because He sacrificed His perfect life, the life that He lived as a man in complete perfection, a life that we could not live, He lived in order to be that perfect sacrifice, that perfect price to be paid for the payment of all our sins. More and more in the world, you will meet people who feel that baptism is unnecessary or that they are not worthy. You have to know that God is going to speak through you to them for them to hear that they need to be baptized, they need to be saved in the baptism that Jesus had in order to be saved. Paul tells us in today’s reading: “For one who has died has been set free from sin.” OK, sure, after you die you can’t sin anymore. How does that help us during our earthly life? Because Paul gives us God’s promise: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptised into His death?” We are free from sin because we have been baptized, we have been brought into new life by the Holy Spirit by the act of baptism. Do we still sin in our life? Yes! But those sins are forgiven, we are freed from those sins. Paul says: “We were buried therefore with Him [baptism as being buried in the waters of baptism] by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Rom 6: 4) We have newness of life in Jesus through our baptism in Him. It’s not about us, we will continue to live and sin, but we turn it over to God, we repent and ask for His forgiveness. We should also ask for His power to overcome our sin, but we are saved in what He has done for us. We may have been a baby when we were baptized, but as that baby, we are brought by faithful parents, who have heard God’s Word, have known the urging of the Holy Spirit and faithfully bring their child to the saving waters of faith and new life in Jesus. Paul gives us these great promises: “Now if we have died with Christ [that is the death and rebirth of baptism] we believe that we will also live with Him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him… So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” What an incredible promise, what an incredible assurance. All those that we have lost, we know that they are very much alive, saved completely by what Jesus did for them in His life, death and resurrection and our baptism in Him. We too have that promise and that is a promise that we need to share with anyone we know who still does not know Jesus as Lord. It’s not what they’ve done, do or will do, it’s entirely what Jesus has done for us. He was baptized to identify with us and He gives us the promise of forgiveness and eternal life in Him in the baptism in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Shalom and Amin.