Inspired by Romans 12:1-18
2nd of two-part sermon on the Sacrament of Baptism
Last week we started a four-week series on the sacraments, where we’ll spend two Sundays on each of them. So this is the second and final part of our time on baptism. Our question that we explored was, “What does baptism do to us?” And our answer was, a lot! Baptism has the capability to transform us down to our very core, creating us into something new, but recognizing that this is a lifelong process, not something that happens on the day you were baptized. And also recognizing that it is God who does the heavy lifting in this whole process. So, if you missed last week, that was the gist of it, that’s what baptism does to us. However, we didn’t go over the how and why, so let’s do that now. How does God bring about such dramatic change through the sacrament of baptism?
Don’t forget to keep in mind through all of this that baptism is a lifelong process. I think a good analogy to explain how baptism works in us is to compare it to simple exercise. In order for exercise to have any significant positive change in you, ya gotta do it often and do it regularly, right! You can’t go to the gym one time and wonder, “Why is my belly still there?” You could compare it to just about anything that you have to do consistently in order to reap its benefits. Learning a new language is another one. I took years of Spanish in both high school and college! Do I speak it now? Nope. Why? Because I didn’t continue to use it. And if you don’t use it, you lose it! Just like playing a musical instrument or any other kind of art or hobby that you try your hand at. So, how does it work with baptism?
How do you consistently work on your baptism? Do you dunk your head in a bucket of water every day? Or give yourself a little spritz every once in a while? No, for the answer to that we need to turn to the words of our baptismal rite that we Lutherans use. When we baptize babies, their parents are told this, “As you bring your child to receive the gift of baptism, you are entrusted with these responsibilities:
to live with them among God's faithful people,
bring them to the word of God and the holy supper,
teach them the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments,
place in their hands the holy scriptures,
and nurture them in faith and prayer,
so that your children may learn to trust God,
proclaim Christ through word and deed,
care for others and the world God made,
and work for justice and peace.”
It’s not magic. It’s just good ol’ fashioned hard work, determination, perseverance, and a whole lotta love! This is the spiritual equivalent of your doctor telling you to exercise and eat right. We don’t come to church because we think it makes us better than others, or even because we think it’ll make God love us more! We come to church to continue in this work of being made new, to be transformed into the people that God made us to be. And we do that by living among God’s faithful people, hearing God’s Word proclaimed, eating together, praying together, being around people who you think are better people than you in the hope that it’ll rub off on you. Newsflash, they think the same thing about you!
I, like many of you, made these same promises when my girls were baptized, and I did my best to keep those promises. When they leave the nest, will they continue going to church? I don’t know. Will they pass on this faith to another generation? I don’t know. Will they end up appreciating those promises, or end up resenting them? I don’t know. I can tell you this though, that I am so very proud of the strong, compassionate, loving, fiercely empathetic women that they have become. And I have no doubt that they will leave this world a better place than the way they found it. How am I so sure of that? Because my sorry life has been made better for having known them. And I have to believe that those promises, and the many congregations that walked with us over the years through those promises, had a hand in who they have become.
Which brings us to the question of why. Why are we called to such transformation? Why is this baptismal life so worth it? Why did so many biblical authors make it sound like a matter of life and death? Well, the old answer used to be, so that we can go out and save the world! In other words, we’re so good at transforming ourselves, now we can go out and transform the world! It’s an approach that elevates ourselves above others. It’s an approach that has led to colonization, genocide, slavery, and other atrocities. It’s an approach that said, “We’re gonna bring Jesus to them cuz they don’t know any better. They might not like it at first but when they get to heaven they’ll thank us.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t read the Bible in such a way that would support that approach.
And speaking of the Bible, we read another passage from Romans today. And this passage says quite the opposite! Paul says, “Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to.” I love the way he can speak so plainly sometimes. Oh, he can wax poetic with the best of them but sometimes I’m just waiting for him to say, “Can y’all just stop being jerks out there, please?” So, right away Paul gives us a reality check, reminding us that we aren’t better than anyone. He goes on to say we are all one body, made up of different parts with different gifts. Like trees that grew from a sprout and are now bearing fruit. Side note, this will come up again when we talk about communion over the next two weeks. And where does Paul say we are to use those gifts? Just here amongst ourselves? Of course not! We practice them here for sure!
But Paul immediately begins a focus on the outside world. The world we find right outside those doors. And he starts saying some very profound things, some even quite provocative. Like, “Hate evil.” Not, hate evil people, but hate evil. “Welcome strangers into your home.” “Bless people who harass you…don’t curse them.” “Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying.” Notice there are no conditions on these. It’s not, be happy with those who are happy, but only if you agree with what they’re happy about. It’s not, cry with those who are crying, but only if you are sad about the same thing. Paul continues, “Consider everyone as equal, don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart.”
We are a mixture of the indigenous Aztec people, and the Spanish Empire that swooped in to “colonize”, which of course is just a polite way of referring to how they conquered, pillaged, and raped their way through the land, all under the guidance of the church. That makes us, of Mexican descent, the walking, talking, breathing, living embodiment of one people’s assault over another. They didn’t teach that to you in high school, did they, when they taught you the history of Columbus Day that we have to endure tomorrow. This is not how it was meant to be. That is not what living out our baptisms was supposed to look like.
Rather than swooping down to “save” people, our baptisms call us to continue the work of transformation that began inside our sanctuaries, out in God’s sanctuary, the rest of the world. Meaning, rather than going out to change people, we are called out to be with the rest of God’s people and be changed by them! It is in spending time with the rest of God’s people that lives are changed. Whether it’s our unhoused siblings, all of whom have real human stories, that are not stories of laziness. Or our siblings of color, who carry with them centuries of assault on their very bodies. Or our sisters all around us and across the globe, each of whom could share stories of what they’ve had to endure at the hands, eyes, and words of men. Just look to our Iranian sisters, or the battle for reproductive rights here in our own country.
Last week we wondered, why is this baptismal business so serious? Because Jesus came into our world and saw that change and transformation was needed. Because Jesus came into this world and heard so many people crying for change and transformation. Because Jesus came into this world and gave a way to accomplish that change and transformation. Only for Jesus, that change and transformation starts here, in the heart, in this place, but ends, out there, with the rest of God’s people, so many of whom are crying for change and transformation. That’s what John the Baptist meant, when he emerged from the wilderness, urging people to change their hearts and lives through baptism.
Serious business indeed. Which is why at every Vigil of Easter service we recommit ourselves to this work, and I thought today would be a good time to do it again, using those words that were said at your own baptism, followed by anointing with oil in remembrance of your own baptisms. So, let us now affirm this baptismal work that God has done within us, and that we are called to continue. In body or in spirit, please rise and face the baptismal font.