|"Baptism Announcement" by bluekdesign, on Flickr|
Well here we are again. Reformation weekend. One of those weekends when we dress the church up in red and remember the power of the Holy Spirit to gather and renew the church. Reformation is a weekend, in particular, when we remember Martin Luther, and give thanks for all people throughout the ages who have reformed and transformed the church, bringing new life to the body of Christ in this world.
On a day like today, I wonder if you’ve ever noticed something peculiar about us Lutherans, something distinctive that I’ve recognized about how we worship and how we talk about faith. I wonder if you’ve ever happened to notice that we Lutherans have a pretty serious tendency to talk about baptism.
For starters, we really like to baptize people. And we’ll baptize anybody, really. We baptize babies, who have no idea what’s going on, whose parents and sponsors make promises on their behalf. And we also baptize children or teens or even adults, who come to baptism to make public the faith that God has put in their hearts. And maybe this doesn’t make us all that different than Presbyterians or Episcopalians or Methodists or many other Christian denominations.
But here’s what is peculiar: the thing about us Lutherans is that don’t stop talking about baptism once you’re done being baptized. We keep talking about it. ALL. THE. TIME. Sometimes we start our worship with a thanksgiving for baptism instead of a confession and forgiveness, because it reminds us that through the waters of baptism, we have been washed and redeemed. At Easter time, we focus on the image of being joined to Christ’s death and resurrection through our “burial” under the water of baptism. Our funeral liturgy is full of references to baptism, Pastor Miller and I talk about baptism lots and lots in our sermons, the font hangs out in the middle of the sanctuary so you are always looking at it and walking past it and even dipping your fingers in the water, and for Lutherans, this big milestone that we celebrate tonight called “Confirmation,” is actually named “Affirmation of Baptism,” if you look it up in the hymnal.
So what’s the deal? Why do we focus so much on baptism? What’s so important about that water that it shows up over and over again in our Lutheran vocabulary?
“You will know the truth,” Jesus says in our gospel reading, “and the truth will set you free.”
I would say that baptism is such a strong focus for us because baptism has everything to do with truth and freedom.
First, baptism tells us the truth about who God is and who we are.
In our first reading from Jeremiah, we heard God say, “The days are surely coming when I will make a new covenant with [my people]. I will write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they shall by my people. They shall all know me, from the least to the greatest, for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”
Baptism is the covenant, or promise, that God makes with us. God promises to forgive our sins and to claim us as children of God. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans that we are “justified by God’s grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” In baptism, we learn the truth about who God is: gracious and merciful. And in baptism, we learn the truth about who are are: forgiven and beloved children of God.
To all of you young men and women who are about to affirm your baptism, to claim for yourselves God’s promises, to profess the faith that is in your hearts, I want you to know the truth about who you are in Christ:
You belong to God. You are forgiven, no matter how messed-up you might feel sometimes. You are loved. You are cherished. You are blessed. You are a unique soul created in the image of God. You are free from all fears or doubts that would bind you.. You are a part of the body of Christ, and you have God-given gifts that will transform the world.
And if ever you forget the truth about who you are in God’s eyes, whenever you ever feel trapped or bound or broken, I want you to come back to this font, and remember these waters, and cling to your baptism, just like Martin Luther did.
Because what you might not know about brother Luther is that he was an absolutely tortured soul. He sometimes had a hard time remembering his own belovedness and sometimes struggled to trust that God would be merciful to him. His demons sometimes got the better of him, and he was sometimes full of fear and doubt. It was in those moments that he would make the sign of the cross and say, defiantly, “I am baptized! I am baptized!” Because remembering his baptism reminded him of the truth of his belovedness, and the truth of his redemption through Christ, and the truth of God’s mercy. And just like Luther, each of us can cling to our baptisms to remember the truth of God’s mercy and forgiveness.
But baptism isn’t just about truth. Baptism is also about freedom.
Every image that we attach to baptism – death and resurrection, burial and rising, being washed of our sins, being clothed and covered by the waters of grace – every image we use is an image of freedom. Free from sin, free from death, free from labels, free to live as unique, beloved children of God, free to serve one another in love.
We’ve spent the fall talking in-depth about the promises that you will make as you affirm you baptisms tonight: to live among God’s faithful people, to hear the word of God and share in the holy supper, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth. But I don’t want you to think about these promises as obligations or as your faith homework assignment. I want you to think about these promises through the lens of freedom.
As forgiven and beloved children of God, you are free to be a part of God’s family. You are free to worship and praise the God who has saved you. You are free to share the good news, and free to serve, and free to stand up for the underdog and to be peacemakers.
The author David Foster Wallace writes, “The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, ever day.” (This is Water)
This is the life of faith. A life of attention and awareness, of caring for others and serving them. A life of doing lots of small but transformative things in the world, each and every day. It is a life of freedom. And it is a life of blessing.
So friends, THIS is why we talk about baptism so much around here. Because the simple and mysterious waters of baptism give us both an identity and a God-given purpose…and in those waters we know that we are both blessed and beloved.
I want you to take ten seconds, right now, to turn to the person next to you, to trace the sign of the cross on their forehead, and to say to them, “you are a blessed and beloved child of God.”
Yes, children of God gathered here, each one of you has been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. You are beloved and you are called to show God’s grace to the world.
May you know this truth each and every day of your life, and may it always set your spirit free.