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Baptism #2

God’s Word attached to water-

from "Free to Be" by Jim Nestingen and Gerhard Forde

I’ve been meeting with Sara Squeglia for confirmation. We’ve considered things we do regularly, as Christ’s body, the church. Things like saying the Lord’s Prayer, celebrating Holy Communion, reciting Creeds and Commandments, and hearing God’s Word. All of these are ways that God has spoken, long before you were born, that God has made a decision about you.


There’s a question lurking behind these things though…

The question is “how do you know?”


Sometimes it can be the old sinner’s question. When it asks, “how do you know?” there's a sneer behind it. The old Adam or Eve has all the answers already.


But this question can be asked in another way, too. It can come to each of us, not because we've made-up our minds that there can't be an answer, but in the hope that somehow we can know, and know for certain, that God's decision and promise are meant for us.


What is the answer, then? How can we know that God's decision and promise are meant for each of us?

Answer: through the Word and the sacraments God gives us in the church.


Word and sacraments are called the “means of grace”. They are the vehicles God uses, the routes God takes, to give us gifts and to show us that the promises are for us. Through them, he gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith. God calls out, sustains, fosters, nurtures, strengthens, upholds, and uplifts the new you in us to give us the certainty of the promise.


The first big surprise is the common things God uses for the means of grace. It could be expected that God would overwhelm us, coming with crowds of angels or lightning flashes of glory. But look at what God uses: words, water, bread, and wine. You could hardly find four more ordinary things.


Words fill your day from morning to night, there's water just about everywhere; bread sits on practically every table; wine was the usual drink at meals in Bible times and is available almost anywhere. Yet God takes these ordinary things and uses them to assure us of the promise.

This is the surprising thing about God's Word, too. To speak to us, God makes the Word just like one of ours - a word that rolls around the tongue and takes off between the teeth and lips to shake eardrums.


How has God done this? 

In Christ, first of all; then in the Bible, which bears witness to Christ; and finally in the spoken word, the word you hear as your pastor and others bear witness to Christ.

God's Word, first and foremost, is Christ. Jesus not only spoke God's Word, he is God's Word - “in the beginning was the word,” John says in his gospel. “And the word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1; 14)


In Christ, God became a person just like us, coming as close to us as our own flesh and blood. He was born just as we were; ate, slept, and struggled as we do; and talked in a language just like our own. Jesus said it in Word and deed; He took upon himself our sin and our death; He was raised from the dead for us. Christ is God's Word - he said it and did it for us.

God's word also comes to us through the Bible. It, too, is common and ordinary in many ways. It is printed on paper with ink and bound in covers like any other book. And it tells of ordinary people, men and women who believe and doubt, who wonder how they can know for sure, who struggle and fight.


But Christ sets the Bible apart from other books. Jesus makes it holy; he makes the Bible God's Word. Because the Bible tells his story, from beginning to end, it is God's Word. Through it, God speaks to us, telling us all that he has said and done and will do in Christ.


The third way God speaks to us is another surprise, but one we’ve hinted at before. God speaks to us through preaching - the living witness of pastors and others as they bear witness to Christ.


God speaks to you through the voice of pastors because they named Christ to you, not because of any other quality they might possess. As preachers proclaim the Word to you, telling you of God's decision and promise to be your God, of Christ’s death and resurrection, God is giving you the Word.


God speaks to you through other people, too. As your parents, guardians, grandparents, brothers, sisters, cousins, friends, or Sunday school teachers have told you of Christ, God has been speaking through them. You know for sure that they are ordinary people, but that's how God speaks - through words like our words spoken by people who talk like we do.


This is God's Word, then, and this is how it comes to us. 

- First, above all, and always, God's word is Christ. 

- The Bible is God's Word because it bears witness to Christ. 

- And preaching and teaching are God's Word insofar as they also bear witness to Christ, telling of his promise.


What is baptism then? 

Baptism is not water only, but it is water used together with God's Word and by his command.


If you are a miracle, your baptism is a bigger one - the greatest of all. It looks so ordinary: some parents, sometimes sponsors, and a pastor gathered around a bowl to say a few words and splash some water on a baby who either sleeps or screams, unaware of what's happening. Who'd ever guess there is anything earth shaking or miraculous about that?


But it's just like the God of the promise, to hide the most miraculous event in a simple ceremony. Baptism is a miracle greater than walking on water. For in it, with the washing of water and the pronouncement of his Word, God adopts each of us, takes us into the communion of saints, and gives us a future that not even death and the devil can destroy.


How do we know that God has made a decision for us? This certainty comes through the combination of water with the Word and God's command.


Some words seem dead. They don't do anything to you or for you. But other words like “I love you” or “I'll get you” are alive. They make things happen, causing you to react in some way. Even simple words like “it's cold today” or “it's raining outside” have life in them. They make you put on gloves or wear a raincoat.


God's word is the original lively word. It's so powerful that God told Jeremiah the Word is “like a fire, like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces.” (Jeremiah 23:29)

God said to Isaiah, “so shall my Word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11) When God speaks his Word, it does what God says. But when God's Word is spoken, other things can also happen.


The words we speak aren't always so lively. Even words like “I love you” can lose their power and joy.

So when we hear God's Word spoken to us by someone else, it may not always be a lively, life giving word that opens up the future for us. And sometimes, when it's spoken to all kinds of people it can leave us wondering if this word is really meant for us. For instance, when you hear Jesus’s words from John 15:16 “you did not choose me but I chose you,” you might wonder if Jesus has really chosen you too.

That's why Christ has given us the sacraments. He wants to make sure that his Word and promise come home to us in a way we can't miss, as lively, life giving words and promises that take hold of us, filling us with confidence in Christ. God wants to make sure there is no mistake about it, that each of us knows that the promises are meant precisely, exactly, and completely for us.

So in the sacraments, Christ puts his words together with some common, ordinary earthly things - water, bread, and wine- to give his gifts to us. This combination, Christ giving us his Word with something earthly or physical, is what makes it a sacrament.


That's why baptism is a watery beginning. In baptism, Christ takes plain, ordinary water that has been drawn from a tap and puts it together with the Word to seal you as his own. It is as if Christ says, “here now with the washing of this water, you know that my Word and decision are for you, now you can be certain, for I have washed you in my promise.”

Happy Easter,

Pastor Josh


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