Sermon delivered on Sunday, September 5, 2010 at my cousin, Mia’s, baptism. There is no audio version of this sermon available.
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
What is the Human Condition?
Good afternoon, family and friends. When Jesus returned to Nazareth and was asked to preach in the local synagogue, he was run out of town and his fellow Nazarenes attempted to throw him over a cliff. I will endeavor, therefore, to keep this sermon concise and to the point so that I can hopefully avoid a similar reaction to my preaching.
The psalm appointed for today is one of my favorites. It addresses a deep-seated fear we all have of being rejected and left alone, isolated and unremembered. We usually don’t like to admit it or talk about it much, but this fear is in the back of our minds and begins at a very early age. When we are young we see it manifested in our desire to have friends and fit in with the crowd. As we grow older most of us desire to find the right mate and raise a family so that we will have someone to love and to love us, and to hopefully have someone with whom we can grow old together. Of course, none of this is guaranteed and that only serves to increase our anxiety. Then if we live long enough, sooner or later we start to lose family and friends and deal with our own infirmities. This too can cause us to wonder if we will end our days alone and forgotten, even by God.
Where is God’s Grace?
But then we read passages like those from today’s psalm and are reminded that we need not be afraid because we have a God who loves us passionately and created us to have a relationship with him, both now and for all eternity. Psalm 139 reminds us that we have a God big enough to help us in any and every situation in this life because God is sovereign and all-powerful. It reminds us of God’s complete and intimate knowledge of us and his great love for us, warts and all. Because of this, we can be assured that we are never alone or unremembered, that life with God lasts forever and is made possible because of who God is, not because of who we are.
And if we need more proof of God’s great love for us despite who we can sometimes be, we need not look any farther than Jesus Christ. In Christ we are reminded that God has dealt decisively with the intractable problem of human sin and the alienation it causes. God created us to have a relationship with him, not to destroy us, and so he became human, allowed himself to be hung on a cross so that he could bear the punishment for our sins himself so that we could have our one and only chance to live with him forever. In Christ’s glorious resurrection, God validated who Jesus said he was and all that his death on the cross accomplished for us, and in his ascension we are reminded that Jesus is even now at God’s right hand interceding for us. It is an eternal love story that can only be accomplished by a sovereign and all-powerful God who loves us passionately and wants us to live with him both now and forever.
God’s wondrous grace to us in Christ also reminds us why we can baptize Mia as an infant today because we remember that life and relationship with God is God’s doing and initiative, not ours. Our job is to respond to God’s great love for us by living our lives in faith, faith that is always made manifest in our actions.
But as with any relationship, it takes two to make it work and our relationship with God is no exception. Yes, God is sovereign and all powerful, but since he created us to have a relationship with him, he expects us to do our part. In this context, it means that all of us are invited to help Mia come to and grow in a saving faith in Christ in response to his claim on her that we are going to celebrate shortly. However, before we agree to do our part to help Mia grow in her relationship with Christ, we would be wise to heed his warning to us in today’s Gospel lesson to stop and count the cost of becoming his disciples. We will encounter much opposition in our efforts because there are many enemies of the cross. But it is an effort that is well worth it because our relationship with Christ ensures that we will enjoy life with him forever. And as we help Mia grow in her relationship with Jesus, we remember Paul’s advice to us in Philemon to do so because we love her and want her to enjoy life forever, not because we think we are obligated to do so.
Where is the Application?
Practically speaking, how can we who are gathered here today to witness Mia’s baptism help her grow in her faith and relationship with Jesus? There are several things we all can do. We can mark this date on our calendars and then send her a short handwritten note every year celebrating the day’s event. As she grows older, we can share with her some of our favorite Bible passages and make sure she always has an age-appropriate Bible to read. We can pray for the Jeff and Jodi’s family and ask God to help them grow in grace as a family. As opportunities arise and permit, we can talk to Mia about our own faith journey, both our successes and struggles, so that she can understand that living a Christian life is neither particularly easy or straightforward, but that we think it is worth the struggle nevertheless. We can love the Jeff and Jodi and their family unconditionally and be there for them in good times and bad. We can encourage Jeff and Jodi to see to it that Mia learns the stories of the Bible, that she learns about the human condition and God’s loving response to us in Christ. We can encourage them to become ensconced in their church home to remind them that the Christian life was meant to be lived together, not individually. We can encourage Jeff and Jodi to celebrate each year this day when Mia became Christ’s own forever, and make a big deal of it. And most importantly, we can live our lives as Christians for Mia to see so that she can come to understand that living life as a Christian is not a separate thing from living life. Doing so can help her understand that we will not always get it right but that Christ loves us nevertheless and helps to pick us up when we stumble and fall. Doing so can also help Mia understand that living a Christian life is not about following a bunch of arbitrary rules but rather trying to do things that please our Lord because we love him for all that he has done for us, and we want to please him and make him happy, just the way we try to do in our human relationships.
Baptism is a wondrous sacrament, an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible reality. It marks us as Christ’s own forever and reminds us that we were created to have a relationship with him so that we can live forever with the Source and Author of all life. This God who created us knows each one of us intimately and is big enough to help us in any situation that life brings our way. We have God’s very word on this, sealed by the blood of Christ, and verified by the Presence of his Holy Spirit living in us. And that, folks, is Good News in any and every situation, now and for all eternity. Let us all do our part to help Mia Jean enjoy that Good News to the fullest.
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.