Sermon preached at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, Lewis Center, OH.
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In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
What is the Human Condition?
Good morning, St. Andrew’s! While in the throes and darkness of spiritual depression from which he frequently suffered, the famous German theologian, Martin Luther, used to cry out, “I have been baptized!”. In doing so he would turn to his baptism as a physical sign of God’s grace in Christ and take strength and comfort from it amidst his doubt and fears. We don’t have to suffer depression to instinctively understand this, do we, because we all have our own doubts and fears. For some it might be the darkness of unemployment or economic loss. For others it might be the darkness that results from a shattered relationship or the death of a loved one. It might be the darkness of an unrequited love. Perhaps it is the doubt and fear that accompanies a serious physical illness or physical infirmity. It might be the darkness that comes from shattered hopes and dreams that inevitably come our way and which tempt us to believe that we are quite alone and on our own in this world.
We sometimes think this about our own spiritual life and development, don’t we? We worry that we are left to our own devices when it comes to our spiritual growth and we sometimes wonder if we are making any progress at all in becoming more like Christ. In other words, like the wonderful fallen and broken human beings that we are, we are tempted to make it all about us and to fall into despair when we inevitably fail. That is why it is wise for us to take a cue from Luther and today’s Gospel lesson and remember both our Lord’s baptism and our own because both remind us about what life really is and the fact that we do not have to go it alone.
Where is God’s Grace?
For you see, in today’s Gospel lesson, Mark points us to another critical component in the biblical story of salvation—baptism. You recall that during Advent we looked at the wondrous promise of a new heaven and new earth when Christ comes again to finally defeat evil. At Christmas we looked at the wondrous mystery of the Incarnation when God took on our flesh and become one of us. In doing so, God affirmed that he loved us and that humans are worth saving. In a few short weeks, we will enter the season of Lent in preparation for the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. During that time we remember that in Christ, God bore the punishment of our sins in a terrible and costly act on the cross and made it possible for us to live with him now and forever. At Easter, we celebrate Christ’s resurrection and conquering of death, and await eagerly for the day we too shall partake in his resurrection and get new bodies that will not be subject to sickness, decay, or death. At Pentecost we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit when the rest of us, like Christ at his own baptism, received the Holy Spirit.
This is why it is important for us to remember our Lord’s baptism as well as our own. When we remember Christ’s own baptism, we are reminded that baptism is always accompanied by the promise of the presence of the Holy Spirit. In other words, we are reminded that as baptized Christians, we do not have to go through life alone. We have God’s very Spirit living in us and working for us, transforming us and making us more like the Christ who loves us and gave himself for us. Mark also tells us that when Jesus came out of the waters, the heavens were torn open, symbolic language that further reminds us that the great chasm our sin created between God and ourselves is being torn apart by Christ so that we can live with God forever. It is a preview of the day when the new heaven and new earth are joined together and God lives with us directly.
Likewise, in Romans (6:3-4) and Colossians (2:12), Paul reminds us that we have been buried with Christ in our baptism so that we can share in Christ’s resurrection. This is more powerful imagery that reminds us baptism is the start of an intimate connection that we enjoy with Christ, a connection that starts in this life and lasts forever. Our baptism is a physical reminder of this wondrous act of grace that God offers us. It reminds us of all that God has done (and is doing) for us.
More importantly for our daily living, it also reminds us that we have the promised gift of the Holy Spirit working in us to help us grow in our relationship with God and to navigate through the rough waters of life. In other words, our baptism reminds us Whose we are. Our own Prayer Book says it beautifully in our baptismal service when the priest anoints the newly baptized: “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever” (BCP 308). Forever! As a priest, I can barely say the words without getting choked up with emotion over the beauty expressed in them. Here we find our God, this Hound of Heaven, pursuing us relentlessly, loving us madly, and calling us continually back into a life-giving relationship with him, all the while giving us the power to make it all possible. And when I consider how dark and unlovable I can be, I can scarcely believe the wonder of the promise Awesome. Simply awesome.
When I was a kid, and before I would go out, my parents used to tell me, “Remember who you are, Kevin.” They wanted me to remember to act like a Maney and implicit in this statement was the idea that they would find out if I didn’t. I didn’t always live up the the high standards set for me but reminding me to remember who I was went a long way in helping me understand the importance of trying to do so. Simply put, it helped me understand what it means to be a Maney and has shaped my identity to this day.
Likewise, when we remember our baptism, we remember our Christian identity, Whose we are and what is expected of us. We are also promised God’s ever present help as we live life and walk through or faith journey. It reminds us we do not live life alone nor are we left to our own devices to deal with all that life can bring us, good and bad. Do you take advantage of this promise? Do you take time to remember that the Holy Spirit is with you to help you get rid of the things that are preventing you from developing a deeper relationship with God and navigate through life’s darkest moments?
Baptism also initiates us into Christ’s Body, the Church. This is important because it reminds us that not only does God give us his Holy Spirit to help us in our life’s journey, both here and hereafter, but that he also gives us tangible, human resources to help us live our lives according to our calling. We live in a physical, tangible world and being the broken people we are, sometimes we need more than just having the knowledge that Christ lives in us. Sometimes we need the human touch or need to hear a compassionate voice when things go wrong or when we sink into doubt, despair, sickness, loneliness, or darkness. It is during these times especially that we can be thankful we are part of Christ’s Body, the Church, because we know that Jesus promised that when two or three of us are gathered together in his Name, he is there with us. And as we minister to each other in times of need, or simply enjoy fellowship with each other, we can be assured that Christ is present among us, using us to be instruments of his healing and loving power. Awesome. Simply awesome.
Where is the Application?
All this brings us back to Luther and the importance of remembering our own baptism. Like Luther, when we are struggling with our own or life’s darkness, it is important for us to remember that we are not alone. It is precisely in those times that we need to remember Whose we are and the resources available to us through our baptism and faith.
Remembering our baptism helps give us perspective on life’s problems. It reminds us that life is more than just our physical existence. It is more than health, wealth, fame, or fortune because those things are fleeting and when we die, none of that will matter much, will it? And these things certainly do not have the power to raise us from the dead and give us life forever, do they? No, life, real life, is having a relationship with the living God who loved us and gave himself for us so that we can live with him forever.
Will remembering our baptism solve all our problems or make our hurts magically disappear? Hardly. What it will do is help us remember that we have a power that is not our own to help us persevere in our darkest moments. It helps draw us back into intimate conversation with our Creator, where we can express our deepest doubts and fears and trust that this God who loves us and gave us his Spirit will never abandon us or leave us utterly destitute. It is a tangible sign, much like the Eucharist and our fellowship, that God provides us to help us in our faith journey and in all that life throws our way.
So if you are struggling right now, and even if you are not, remember your baptism. Bring your hurts, heartaches, fears, and doubts with you when you come to the Table this morning to feed on Christ’s Body and Blood. As you do, remember your baptism and the fact that Christ has claimed you forever and count on him to give you the power and strength necessary to see you through the darkness.
If you have not already done so, join a small group so that you can take advantage of the power and intimacy of being part of group of holy people who God can use to help you in your struggles. Doing so allows God to work through others to minister to you and reminds you that you are not in this alone. It is in small groups that God can use the human touch that most of us so desperately crave to help sustain us in our darkest hours.
Finally, as you embrace the promise given you at your baptism and find power to live your lives and conquer life’s darkness, a power that is not your own, use your experience to tell others about this Hound of Heaven who loves each one of us, who wants each of us to live with him forever, and who pursues us relentlessly because he does not want any of us to die. It is precisely in our weakness when we realize that we cannot live life alone and discover that we do not have to, that we can become beacons of Christ’s light to this broken and hurting world in which we live.
Remember your baptism. Remember Whose you are. Remember what God has done for you. Remember that you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and are marked as Christ’s own forever. That’s good news, folks, now and for all eternity.
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.