Thursday, March 15, 2007
Sermon - Lent Midweek 4 - John 3:1-7
Midweek Lent 4
“Not Just Plain Water”
So far in our Lenten midweek series on the Catechism, we have covered the 10 Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. Today we come to the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.
While Baptism is recognized by most Christians somehow or another, We Lutherans have a particular emphasis on this gift of God. We see it as the great blessing it is, not only for the moment it happens, but for our entire life. Your baptism is a “gift that keeps on giving”.
In our reading, Jesus is talking to Nicodemus about the importance of being born again- being born of water and the Spirit. Throughout the New Testament this washing of rebirth and renewal is explained as a precious gift. There are many ways we could approach the topic. But let’s take our cue from the Small Catechism, and its four questions:
What is Baptism? What benefits does Baptism give? How can water do such great things? And What does such baptizing with water indicate?
What is Baptism?
It’s water, but it’s not JUST water. It’s water AND the word. The word of Jesus, that is, that commands us to go and make disciples by baptizing and teaching. Baptism is not our idea. It’s not our work. It is the work and gift of a God who wants to make disciples out of us sinners. It is not just a symbol of something else, but it is a reality.
And what word of God is connected to this sacrament? God’s own name. Not just, “Oh, by the way, I baptize you” but, “I baptize you in the NAME of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit”. God’s name has a power of its own, as it is part and parcel of his very self. When his name is upon us – we belong to him. When his name is upon us – we are incorporated into his kingdom, yes even his family. And his name IS upon us, in Holy Baptism.
What benefits does Baptism give?
The chief blessing of baptism, is of course, forgiveness of sins. And that’s something we all need. You don’t have to look to far to see sin in this world. You can look right in the mirror. You can see it in your own life. Anyone who thinks he doesn’t have sins or thinks he commits no sins – what a deluded person that is. We need what baptism gives. We come filthy and in need of a good cleansing.
And so God forgives our sins, for the sake of Jesus’ death and resurrection. But God forgives our sins through Baptism. It is a means of grace. It is a way that God gets his gifts to us.
And where there is forgiveness of sins, other benefits naturally flow. People who are forgiven are free from the penalties of sin – and therefore death is defeated. People who are forgiven are no longer under the power of the devil. Forgiven people are also saved people – saved for eternity and being saved even now – as the Holy Spirit works to make our lives conform to Christ.
How can water do such great things?
Forgiveness, life, salvation, rescue from the devil….Sounds like a great deal, huh? Sound too good to be true? Your dad always said if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. But, no, baptism is the exception to that rule.
It is great, and baptism does great things. But not just the water alone. We don’t have some fountain of holy water sitting locked in the back closet of the church somewhere. The water is – just water. Nor is it some special magical power of the pastor, a holy hocus pocus that makes baptism so powerful. There is nothing added or nothing taken away from this plain, ordinary, everyday water… except… God’s word.
It’s the word of God that makes this special, that gives baptism power and effect. And what a powerful word that is! The word of God – the same word that created the world – creates us anew in baptism. The same word that ordered all things – re-orders us in baptism. The same word of the same Christ who said, “neither do I condemn you” and “son, your sins are forgiven” – is the same powerful, mighty word that is the engine of his gift of Holy Baptism. Water by itself is just water. But with God’s word, this water becomes a life-giving flood of grace and mercy. It is the very river of life, the stream of salvation, the fountain of forgiveness. Overflowing, gushing with great things – blessings from God for you.
What does such baptizing with water indicate?
As I said, it’s not a one-time thing, this baptism. It’s not a historical trivia from when you were a baby. Like your first tooth. Your first haircut. When you learned to walk. No.
Holy Baptism is a daily benefit to the Christian. God’s forgiving word of promise, once given when the water was applied – that word still stands long after the head is dried off. His word lasts forever. His promise is for all time, and for every day.
And we return to those waters every day in contrition and repentance. Each day, as we remember our sin and sorrow over it, we remember our baptism. As we remember who God has made us to be, we turn from our sin and toward Him in faith.
And the Old Adam, our old sinful nature, is drowned and destroyed once again. And each day, out of that baptismal water, the New Adam arises to live for God in Christ.
Or to put it another way, Baptism is a gift given once by God with benefits to be drawn every day. For as his children, we stand in his forgiveness. As we bear the sign of the cross on foreheads and hearts, we live in the shadow of Christ’s cross and the forgiveness won there. As we hear God’s promises once made but lasting forever, we take comfort in the blessings of this miraculous washing, this flood of forgiveness that has been lavished on us.
Thank God for the gift of Holy Baptism. Not just plain water, but water with His word – which brings boatloads of blessings each and every day.
"God’s own child, I gladly say it, I am baptized into Christ!"