Reading Ramblings – October 9, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost – October 9, 2016 – Holy Baptism

Texts: Genesis 7:6-24; Psalm 42; 1 Peter 3:13-20; Matthew 3:13-17

Context: ** We continue our alternate text selections for the remainder of the liturgical year in order to preach through Luther’s Small Catechism** Holy Baptism is the mark of a follower of Christ. Like the Lord’s Supper, baptism is something we do in obedience to our Lord’s command (Matthew 28:16-20), but has caused a great deal of divisiveness in Christianity (as has the Lord’s Supper). What is baptism – a gift and action of God or a public profession of faith? Is it a symbolic action or is it the very power and promise of God putting our sinful nature to death and raising us as new creations in Christ? The historic teaching of the Church is the latter, but the former viewpoint as gained momentum in the last 500 years with our post-Enlightenment trajectory towards rationalism and materialism. The assumption all too often is that God is not active, but rather we are. Yet, like anything else we do, if this is the case baptism is shot full of sin and uncertainty. Only if it is the power and promise of God at work through his Word can we have assurance of forgiveness of our sins.

Genesis 7:6-24 – The washing of God through water is a powerful force. Who could survive his cleansing if not for his grace? God shows his care for Noah and his family by shutting them into the ark once they and the animals are on board. He does not give them the opportunity to waiver in their faith, or to cave in to the cries of friends and neighbors for help. God has his plans, and his plan is to save Noah and his family. It is not the plan of God to start over again with Noah and his family. Not in the sense of recreating Eden. Noah and his family are sinful and we will see that in full force just a few chapters further. Rather, God is demonstrating that if our hope is to save ourselves through our best efforts, the most beautiful, perfect, peaceful, and holy specimens of humanity, our hopes are for nothing. God takes the best of the best to repopulate the earth, but sin is still woven into them. It is God’s decision to save Noah and his family, bringing them through the water to new life. So in baptism, the Christian is brought through water and death to new life, secure in the promises of God rather than personal piety or intentions.

Psalm 42 – This psalm is closely linked, thematically, with Psalm 43. Both lament a situation where the speaker is mocked for faith in God, perhaps in a situation where they are put to shame in some fashion – a defeat in battle or some other setback which would be interpreted as a failure of their God. The recurrence of water in this psalm is fitting in association with baptism. The speaker thirsts for water (vs.1-2), and on her own have found only her own tears instead of the life-giving waters of God (v.3). The speaker pours out his heart in prayer (v.4). The abundant, life-giving waters of God are recalled (v.7). Despite appearances, the speaker rallies himself – and therefore the worshiping community – to faith and trust in God.

Baptism does a remarkable thing with a simple element. God uses common water to drown our sinful selves and raise us to new life in Christ. God uses the mundane to accomplish the extraordinary, and no effort on our part is either required or possible. It is only God who can save! It is only our duty to trust and rely on him and his Word as the source of our strength and hope in all situations.

1 Peter 3:13-20 – Baptism is not an external cleansing but life-saving recreation. It is efficacious because of the death and resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ. As such baptism binds us to Christ’s death and resurrection. The waters cover us and we are killed and brought back to life – the resurrected life of Christ. It is his death and resurrection which makes baptism not just symbolic but an actual death and rebirth. Peter sees the flood as symbolic – God destroys and recreates through the power of water in both cases. It is this reality that helps us remain steadfast in the face of the persecution and troubles Peter mentions in vs. 14-17. Our suffering is seen then as an outgrowth of Jesus’ suffering. Of course his followers – those who are marked in baptism – will suffer persecution of the world, as it was the world that put Jesus to death.

Matthew 3:13-17 – Jesus seeks out John the Baptist to be baptized. This is not a chance encounter with his cousin but rather an intentional meeting. John objects, recognizing that Jesus does not need a baptism for the repentance of sins (v.6), but Jesus reassures John that it is appropriate all the same. Jesus receives baptism as a means of fully identifying with humanity. What He will command us to do at the end of his ministry, He himself receives at the beginning of his ministry. His obedience is commended by his heavenly Father, who speaks an affirmation over him as Jesus emerges from the water, ready to begin his public ministry.

It is this same pronouncement that you and I receive in our baptism. Through our unity with Jesus’ death and resurrection, God the Father pronounces us his beloved sons and daughters in whom He is well-pleased. We are not merely marked, we are changed, and that change will work itself out through the course of our lives, leading us at last to our heavenly Father. What comfort there is in this assurance! I do not examine my life to determine if God loves me – I trust in God’s own pronouncement! I do not consider baptism as some action of mine, but rather receive it as the action of God within me. Therefore, I never need doubt what God has pronounced. I need never wonder about my sincerity, my faithfulness – rather I am to rely completely on the faithfulness of God. As such I never need to be baptized again. God does not change his mind. What He declares is reality, and never needs to be repeated for efficacy!

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