First Lesson: Jeremiah 31: 31-34
Responsive Reading: Psalm 46
Second Lesson: Romans 3: 19-28
Gospel Lesson: John 8: 31-36
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin by telling a story based on a real story. There was a church that I’ll call First Lutheran Church that sat in a town that I’ll call Leidner. Leidner was your typical Minnesota German farming community with the church made up of generations of the same large extended families. First Lutheran had gone through a decade of pastoral turmoil. Pastors had either been forced out or left for better jobs. Leidner was now going through another pastoral transition. Leidner was filling the pulpit Sunday after Sunday with whomever they could find that would be willing to preach. Nick had recently agreed to fill the pulpit. Nick was a chemical dependency chaplain in a neighboring community. Nick had all sorts of good qualities; he was kind, he was active in the community, and everyone knew how much Nick and his wife cared about people. Nick gave a decent enough sermon. Nick grew up in Leidner and had all sorts of family living there. People from First Lutheran Church began to wonder about Nick. They wondered if Nick could be their new pastor. A few individuals from the Call Committee decide to feel Nick out about the situation. Nick would proclaim his interest in the call at First Lutheran Church, which seemed like good news until Nick declared a couple stipulations. Nick wasn’t going to baptize babies nor confirm kids. Nick didn’t believe that either of these things had support in the scriptures. One of the members of the Call Committee called a former pastor to ask what of hiring Nick to which their former pastor Larry said “As long as you stop baptizing babies, you cease being a Lutheran Church, you might as well just call yourself First Church of Leidner and stop the charade.”
Today, we celebrate Reformation Sunday. We celebrate the famous event of Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses which people consider to be the birth of the Lutheran Church. The truth is, though; we are not Lutherans because of anything within the 95 Theses. Our Lutheranism has an entirely different basis.
Some of the most common conversations that I have in the ministry are in regards to Confirmation. People will often say to me “I wish I had learned more in Confirmation.” You ask people what separates Lutherans from Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, or Non-Denominational Christians the answers are often difficult to express other than we like the Hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”
What I want to do this morning is an attempt to sum up the Lutheran Faith in fifteen minutes, hence the sermon title. The key to understanding the events that we remember this morning in Luther forming a new church can all be summed up in “What we believe about Baptism.” You understand our beliefs about Baptism then you know Lutheranism. The reason that Baptism is so important to use is that it proclaims everything that we need to know about God’s relationship with us.
To understand our beliefs about Baptism look no further than Luther’s Small Catechism from which I quote.
What does Baptism do?
It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.
How can water do such great things?
It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such word of God in the water. For without the word of God the water is simple water and no baptism.
So what is the meaning of Baptism? This week a friend of mine linked to an old article on the website First Things. A woman named Amy Julia Becker writes the article. Becker recalls how a few hours after the birth of her daughter, her husband breaks the news that they think Becker’s daughter Penny had Down Syndrome. The most difficult thing in the hours after receiving this diagnosis was hearing other parents cry out “she’s perfect” upon holding their babies in their arms when Becker knew her baby was anything but perfect.
Becker then began to ponder that Penny’s Down Syndrome was a reminder of a harsh spirituality reality that the whole universe is out of whack. We see this truth whenever we turn on the nightly news. Becker could see evidence of humanity’s brokenness whenever people would be awkward in responding to the daughter. Becker eventually came to see that Down Syndrome’s meaning we can perhaps find in that our imperfections remind us of the need for each and every one of us to receive God’s redemption.
The story with Down Syndrome babies, Alzheimer's patients, and Infants is pretty much the same. Their hope rests in God’s goodness, not their ability to articulate the how and why?
Today’s lesson comes to us from Romans 3.
The key verse is Romans 3:23-24 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,”
These verses describe the whole Christian experience. We all sin, we all have pain. God bestows unto us his salvation as a “free gift”. None of us will appear to be worthy on the last day, yet God will declare us worthy on the last day and Baptism serves as our sign of this. We do not baptize ourselves; rather God baptizes us. Baptism is the sign and seal of what God has done for you in Christ Jesus.
What Baptism reminds us is that there is no such thing as a perfect person. A two-year-old is just as much a real Christian as anybody else.
Let me tell you a story about a girl that I met hiking that I’ll call Annie. Annie grew up Missouri Synod. Annie went through Confirmation but was bored out of her mind during it. Annie then after high school left the church for some years and engaged in many of the rebellions of youth. As Annie entered into her mid 20’s, she decided to try to reconnect with her spirituality. Annie starts reading the Bible seeking to grow in her faith. Annie decides that she should be re-baptized as a mark of dedication of her new level of spiritual commitment. She then asks me whether I would baptize her in the Baptism River up by Finland?
My response was when you are Baptized as an infant this is when “you become a child of God”. Baptism is not about your dedication to God, rather it is about God’s dedication to you.
The reason we baptize infants is because none of us can even begin to imagine every twist and turns that our faith journey might take.
Where plenty of Lutherans misunderstand Baptism is thinking about it as a one-time act, Baptism is instead a daily event. We die nearly every single day to Sin.
Last Saturday, I was at the Gophers-Nebraska Football game. Nebraska was pounding the Gophers all over the football field. I had to watch Nebraska fans celebrate before me. I know what I wanted to say, but then I remember that I’m a sinner and what I want to say is that which should not be said. I know that I’m a sinner no matter how much I pray, read the Bible, or even regardless of how well that I preach. I die every day to my sins, yet God in his gracious response to me brings me forth to new life in Baptism through in the words of Titus 3 “A washing of renewal and rebirth”.
We hold Baptism in such high importance because of what it says about a Christian’s life. 1. We do fail. 2. We do sin in thought, word, and deed. 3. We can not escape ourselves, no matter how hard we try 4. Our great spiritual hope is that our God will pour out upon us his mercy and his grace.
We cannot separate our understanding of Baptism from our understanding of sin. All sin is brought forth by either spiritual pride or spiritual despair. Spiritual pride is our trying to rebuild the Tower of Babel. We put together a list of our accomplishments as a means of trying to impress God. Nick, who I talked about earlier, had an great resume as a Christian. I wish that I was as good a guy as Nick. The problem with guys like Nick in how they see God is always going to be spiritual pride. There can often be problems though with being too successful a Christian in that you lose sight of what makes Christianity.
Martin Luther was not a successful Christian. Martin Luther was rather an “honest” Christian. Luther only posted the 95 Theses after spending nights sleeping on concrete floors hoping to motivate himself to do better. Luther’s problem was not spiritual pride, but rather spiritual despair the concern of Luther being too far gone that God could not possibly save him. When Luther finally did encounter the Gospel “The righteous shall live by faith.” Luther had been set free from a tremendous burden that it was not about Luther at all. Luther was free from not having to judge even himself, Luther’s eyes from that day forward would be perpetually pointed in the direction of the Cross. Baptism is ultimately express of The Cross because it reminds us of our God pours out his blessings unto the unworthy.
Let me close with a final story that I’ve told before. My first week in the ministry in Lamberton, Minnesota. A guy that I’ll call John dies. John wasn’t much of a church member; John wasn’t much of a husband, the one thing that people knew John for was how mean a drunk that he could be. John was going to be my first funeral as a minister. I’m talking to a guy that I’ll call Ed. Ed was one of the most influential members of this church. Ed was a big land-owner that is huge in a farming community. Ed was one of the church’s biggest givers. Ed asks me why we have John’s funeral within the church then Ed starts giving me a list of all of John’s faults. I knew that everything that Ed was saying was true. I said to Ed ministry that “John needs God’s Grace just like the rest of us.” I wasn’t going to get up there and proclaim where John was going to go upon death. What I was going to say though is God will save who he wants. Salvation comes via way of God’s decision, not our own. If God chooses to save lousy Christians like John, along with good Christians like Ed, the only hope that either of them will have in either life or death comes from God’s grace and mercy.
We struggle with Baptism because we want Christianity to be comfortable when in reality Christianity is never comfortable. We always seek to trust in our accomplishments, rather than to allow ourselves to be vulnerable to leave it all up to God. I had to DO something…so should you are the cries that failed Christians tend to hear.
The great spiritual truth as Amy Becker came to realize about her daughter Penny is none of us is perfect. This imperfection if why our faith is always pointing towards the cross. One day, Becker is sitting down reading a book with her daughter Penny about Jesus blessing the little children just like her. At which point, Penny bowed her head and began to pray. This scene reminded Becker that one day the world will be whole once again, but it will be God’s doing not ours.
“Let the little children, come to me,” Jesus said. “Let the Alzheimers Patients, come to me,” Jesus said. “Let the troubled monks like Martin Luther, come to me,” Jesus said. “Let the broken sinners, come to me when they have nowhere else to turn.” Baptism reminds us that we don’t know how and why we ultimately believe. We merely trust God’s promises to come through for us in the end just like he promises in our Baptism. Amen
 Becker, Amy Julia. “Babies Perfect and Imperfect”. First Things. Nov.2008. Web. Oct.22.2015.
 Becker. “Babies Perfect and Imperfect”.
 I found this point made in the comments section of the article “What I Like About Lutheran Baptism” by Chaplain Mike on Internet Monk published on May 25th.
 Chaplain Mike. “What I Like about Lutheran Baptism”
 Titus 3:5
 Genesis 11:1-9
 Becker. “Babies Perfect and Imperfect”.
 Matthew 19:14
 Paraphrase of Matthew 19:14
 Paraphrase of Matthew 19:14
 These paraphrases make the point about God is the actor and we are the audience in not only Baptism but also salvation.