First Lesson: Genesis 21: 8-21
Responsive Reading: Psalm 86: 1-10, 16-17
Second Lesson: Romans 6: 1-11
Matthew 10: 24-39
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The following story is true even if a little bit unbelievable. Donald E. Miller was nowhere to be found. His wife didn’t know where he was. Sure Miller wasn’t exactly Mr. responsible, he was tens of thousands of dollars behind in child support and he let the bottle control his life more than a fellow should. One day though Donald E. Miller just vanished, as if he were dead. No phone calls, no letters, no signs whatsoever of Donald E. Miller. Miller’s wife Robin was at wit's end, so she asked if a judge would declare Donald E. Miller dead, so his children could collect Social Security.
The story of Donald E. Miller would seem to be over at this point, only it wasn’t. One day nearly twenty years later, Donald E. Miller returns to collect his Social Security and demand he is granted a driver’s license. Miller claimed to be merely “drifting” for the last twenty years. Miller was ordered to appear before a judge to have his death sentence reversed. The case would seem pretty simple. Donald E. Miller a “dead man” was now standing before a judge asking to be declared alive. The judge heard Miller’s case and grew quickly annoyed. Miller’s judge wasn’t going to tolerate Miller’s previous antics. The Judge denies Miller’s motion to be declared “alive.” Donald E. Miller earned the rare distinction of being a dead man walking around Ohio because of the antics of this upside down-judge.
Now as you picture, Donald E. Miller, I want to tell you the story of another seemingly dead man in the Apostle Paul. You see Paul wasn’t really physically dead; he was rather spiritually dead. Paul thought that he had God all figured out until he’s blinded on the Road to Damascus. Paul’s life is forever changed. He goes from being the Christian Church’s greatest critic to its greatest defender.
Paul’s conversion was not without controversy. Paul used to be a big rules guy, now with all the grace he’s preaching, people accuse him of preaching “anything goes.”
So Paul decides to set the record straight by writing a letter explaining all he believed. Paul writes this letter to the Church of Rome. The Book is called Romans. Our second lesson for Today comes from Romans the sixth chapter. Paul’s letter seeks to address the meaning of Baptism as it relates to his conversion:
“3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
What Paul is doing in this passage is making the point that similar to the judge in Donald E. Miller’s court case, Baptism is the giving of an upside down verdict, only, in this case, the dead are brought back from the grave.
Steve Jobs was raised a Lutheran before leaving the faith. Steve Jobs would go on to become arguably the greatest tech genius of the last century. One day in 2004, Steve Jobs received a devastating diagnosis- he had 3-6 months left to live because of his pancreatic cancer. Jobs had surgery that extends his life several years, yet these medical ordeals caused Steve Jobs to reflect quite a bit on the meaning of death.
Jobs described his ordeal as such in a famous 2005 commencement speech at Stanford:
“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered …Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked.”
Paul’s understanding of death in many ways mirrors Steve Jobs’. Impending death can change everything. When death is staring you down, all of the achievements before others begin to fade away. As Jobs describes, you can feel “naked” and “powerless.” You go looking for hope to cling. Baptism gives us this hope by joining us to Christ Jesus, so that we may one day receive life eternal.
Baptism is the great hope against seemingly being left for dead by God. A few years ago, there was a woman in the news named Laura Todd. Laura Todd was declared dead when someone typed her Social Security number into a computer by accident. Laura Todd one day finds out “no tax rebate” for her because you can’t write a check to a “dead woman.” Laura Todd is mad. Laura Todd would spend the next eight years of her life trying to get a judge to declare her to be alive.
We hear stories like Donald E. Miller and Laura Todd’s, we hear stories of unrelenting judges regardless of evidence and assume the system always works this way. Only what Paul is here to say in Romans 6 is “We are indeed judged differently.” “Our God sees our flaws and imperfections, our God chooses to wash them in water, and we are now clothed in Christ.
Paul had seen a verdict reversed in his own life. Paul didn’t choose conversion. Paul was blinded by God and experienced Resurrection. Paul understood that this way entirely God’s doing. Paul tied it into Baptism because Baptism is the means by which God creates faith in those who otherwise would never believe on our own.
I came across a preacher named Don Schultz who had a really good description of Baptism’s meaning when he said: “The moment you were baptized, you were linked to Jesus Christ, an invisible rope was tied between you and Jesus, and now you are connected to everything he did.” “Baptism is the act of signing a contract where you receive the terms of Christ’s death”.
Picture it this way. Imagine a Bride and Groom going to the altar. The Bride is the prettiest bride around. The Bride seems to be perfect in every way. The Bride is pretty, smart, and kind. The Bride is financially well-off and drives a brand new Cadillac. As for the Groom, he seems out of his league in the Bride’s presence. He’s a little rough around the edges with his words and action. The Groom might be losing his hair. The Groom might have a pot-belly, he’s in debt, and his car is the ugliest rusted out beater that you could ever imagine. The wedding day though changes everything. What was previously hers, would now belong to both of them. The Bride and Groom now have the Cadillac together. Picture the Groom driving the Cadillac, and now you understand what takes place in Baptism. Here’s what happens in Baptism: Jesus’ death and resurrection become our own. Your sin becomes washed away. In Baptism, the Bride-Groom Christ declares that we belong to each other every day moving forward.
Baptism is God’s way of saying the verdict will indeed soon be turned upside-down. Donald E. Miller would stomp his feet to everyone who would listen that he was indeed “alive,” yet the Judge had a different verdict in mind, regardless of all evidence. In much the same way, Baptism is God’s judgment on your behalf regardless of limiting factors such as age or even past behavior. The Apostle Paul seemed destined to be the Christian Church’s greatest enemy until our Lord on the Road to Damascus turned Paul’s life around. Similar to this, Baptism is God seeking to change our lives permanently. Steve Jobs when faced with death, realized that it changes everything. Death causes us to seek out answers outside all the powers we possess in this world. Baptism is that power. Laura Todd spent years trying to get her verdict of being declared “dead” reversed; our Lord got it done in “three days.” Pretty soon, rusted old beater cars might even magically turn into Cadillacs. Amen
 Seitz, Rev. Dr. Gregory. “Are You Qualified.” The Lutheran Hour. 11. Jan.2015. Web. June.20.2017. Dr. Seitz’s sermon was presented on the Lutheran Hour Radio Program, I’m drawing from text copy.
 Phillips Erb, Kelly. “ Judge Orders Man to Stay Dead Despite His Insistence He’s Alive, Could You Be Next?” Forbes. 12. Oct. 2013. Web. June.20.2017.
 Acts 9:1-19
 Romans 6:1-11.
 Romans 6:3-5.
 Stories for Preaching. “Steve Jobs on Death.” Stories for Preaching. Web. June.20.2017.
 Stories for Preaching. “Steve Jobs on Death.”
 Seitz, Rev. Dr. Gregory. “Are You Qualified.”
 Phillips Erb, Kelly. “ Judge Orders Man to Stay Dead Despite His Insistence He’s Alive, Could You Be Next?”
 Schultz, Don. “Dead to Sin, Alive to God.” Sermon Central. 27.June.2002. Web. June.20.2017
 Schultz, Don. “Dead to Sin, Alive to God.”.
 Seitz, Rev. Dr. Gregory. “Are You Qualified.”
 This analogy belongs to Timothy Wengert of the Lutheran Theological Seminary of Philadelphia. I heard it from Dr. Wengert in a video many years back.