Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost 8/31

           If Emma could speak for herself this morning, upon hearing the readings for this day of her baptism, she might say, “Wait a minute.  I’m not so sure I want to go through with this.”  It’s a tough set of texts that highlight not the blessings of a life of faith, but the difficulties, enough so that it might give anyone second thoughts.  The first lesson is one of the laments of Jeremiah as the prophet complains about the suffering he is experiencing because of God, because of what God has called him to do; “Know that on your account I suffer insult,” he says.  “Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?”  Jeremiah didn’t pull punches.

          The gospel has Jesus saying that if we want to follow him, we have to deny ourselves and take up our cross, which doesn’t sound very appealing; and that followed by, “For those who want to save their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”  We cherish life; we don’t want to talk about losing it.  Then there’s the Romans passage with the apostle Paul’s description of a Christian ethic which is quite lovely until you start to think about all the ways you fail to live up to it, all the ways it doesn’t seem to work in the real world…being patient in suffering, blessing those who persecute you, never seeking revenge, things like that.  It sounds good, we know it’s the kind of stuff Jesus said, but how many really live that way?  If all this is what you’re signing on for when you get baptized, it makes you wonder. 

          It makes you wonder, but texts like these are perhaps not the best place to start when thinking about baptism.  The issues raised in these lessons are worthy of consideration, but when we think about baptism, we do better to start with God.  We start with what God has done and is doing in baptism and then we are perhaps better able to hear some of these more difficult texts.

          As Lutherans, we believe that something profoundly of God and about God is going on in baptism.  We believe that baptism is a real, not just a symbolic, but a real participation in God.  The water that is in the pitcher over there right now is just water run from the tap.  When we begin the words of the baptismal liturgy in a few minutes though, the Word, Christ himself is added to the water so, as Luther says, it becomes “divine, heavenly, holy and blessed water.”  We believe that God in Christ becomes present in the water and that means that the sacrament of baptism contains all that God is and all that God is able to do. 

          What that means, is that Emma dies this morning in the water of baptism (those who lose their life for my sake as Jesus says), Emma dies in the water but by the power of the Holy Spirit she is raised to new life, eternal life in Christ.  What that means for her and for all of us is that the rules of existence are different.  We’re still human, living and dying according to the limits of humanity, but in baptism we become participants in eternal life.   Because of what Christ has accomplished in his own death and resurrection, who we are is changed in the waters of baptism such that our mortal bodies will die at some point, but the mortal death we will experience no longer is the last word.  Christ becomes the last word.  Life with the Risen Christ becomes our destiny.  For Emma eternal life, her destiny begins today as it began for each of us on the day of our baptism.  That life never ends.

          That’s a lot of heavy theology for a late summer Sunday morning, but I think it’s good to be reminded of and think about the significance of baptism.  Culturally baptism has a tendency to get watered down, pardon the pun, into one of those things parents feel obligated to do, or maybe it’s just seen as entry into the church, kind of a cute initiation ceremony.  It is that, but there also is the dimension which by faith brings one into union with Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit and that is awesome to think about; think about yourself joined to Christ and thus part of the very life of God.  This is what God wills for each of us so God is at work in what happens here this morning.

          Baptism though has a peculiar dual nature of being a once in a lifetime event, but also an event that takes a lifetime to live out.  That living out part is where lessons like today’s come in.  Baptism lived out means living according to the ways of the God in whose name we are baptized.  That creates problems because living according to the commands and promises of God, following the way of Jesus, living according to the ethic that Paul outlines takes us in directions that run counter to the ways of the world, counter to the ways that we think make us comfortable and prosperous.  Baptism, life with Christ changes who we are and it calls us into a different way of life.

          That’s what Peter didn’t realize and that’s why he got his comeuppance in today’s gospel.  Remember last week he made the good confession, “You are the Christ the Son of the Living God.”  He got the answer right when Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?”  But apparently he heard Jesus’ blessing, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church,” as a ticket to power and prestige.  Even though he got the answer right, he didn’t come close to understanding the implications of what he said.  He was still thinking in terms of worldly success for Jesus and for himself, so when Jesus talked about suffering and dying and taking up your cross Peter was taken by surprise, taken aback which in turn led to the sharpest rebuke Jesus ever gave, “Get behind me Satan.”

          Before we get too critical of Peter though, while we may not see our baptism or our faith as a ticket to power and prestige, we really don’t expect it to be too demanding either.  It’s nice to think about what God does in baptism, the forgiveness, the new identity, the union with Christ; as I said, that is the starting point; but God’s forgiving and accepting action in baptism does call for a response and even if we take that response seriously there is no guarantee that things are going to go well; just ask Jeremiah.  He might tell little Emma to get away from this God while she still can.

          But I don’t really think he would.  Jeremiah is one of the Bible’s more troubled and tortured souls and, in his eyes anyway, much of his trouble and torture is caused by his response to God, his following the path the Lord had laid out for him.  But when you read the book of Jeremiah what you get is a description of a no holds barred, honest relationship with God.  You get a sense of the kind of relationship into which we are invited as we are baptized.  As troubled as he was, I believe Jeremiah would say that the relationship is worth it; I believe Peter would say that it’s worth it; I believe Paul would say it’s worth it; because it is. 

          In baptism, the gift of relationship and forgiveness and eternal life is given.  It’s not a guarantee of a trouble free life, but on the other hand, the troubles of this world can’t take the relationship away.  Our inability to live up to what God calls us to do can’t take the relationship away either.

          So…as baptized children of God we can hear passages like today’s Romans passage differently.  We don’t have to despair at the impossibility and impracticality of what Paul says.  We don’t have to despair that we can’t do it.  Instead we can hear Paul’s words as encouragement to imagine a different set of possibilities which we know are the same kinds of possibilities that the Old Testament prophets raised, the same kind of possibilities that Jesus raised in his preaching and teaching; things like blessing those who persecute you, not repaying evil with evil, living peaceably with all, overcoming evil with good.  This is the way of life into which we are baptized and as imperfect as our efforts to follow are, this kind of encouragement is a regular reminder that there is another way and we do need to hear those regular reminders that something new is possible.

          Our baptismal relationship tells us that when it feels impossible, we can go to God with boldness, like Jeremiah did, and say, “You want me to live this way then give me the strength and the power and the courage to do it; help me to see that it is possible because on my own, I can’t.  I need help.”

          You can do it, you can go to God because of who you are.  Who you are is a baptized child of God and that does change things.  In Christ, by faith your destiny is secure, your relationship with God is eternally secure so you can respond to God’s call and sometimes find that what he calls you to do is possible.  Sometimes you get glimpses of what God is up to.  For all of us, and for Emma, it is worth it.

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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