Get Back in the Water!

Water Droplet

It’s almost December, and we live in Wisconsin1. I think everyone here knows what that means: it’s cold outside. It’s either snowing or it will be snowing soon. It’s the time of year when we get used to warming up the car for a few minutes before actually riding in it. We’re so used to this cold at this time of year that yesterday’s 40 degrees felt like a heat wave. There was actually that split second of time outside where I had the thought: Do I even need a coat?

As warm as it was yesterday, though, there’s something I definitely would not have done: go swimming in an outdoor pool. It was too cold. But just a little over a week ago, I did get to swim in an outdoor pool. I was thankful then to be able to spend a few days in Florida with my family, so it was warm enough for the pool to be an option.

But even though it was warmer in Florida, even though I got to swim in a pool there, there were still times even there when I felt cold. Walking outside to the swimming pool? No problem. Getting into the water of a heated pool? Felt great. But when I would come out of the water, even just a little bit, suddenly it was freezing. I had to go back into the water for that coldness to go away. It was just cold enough outside, with just enough of a breeze, to make wet skin feel freezing.

So as I spent time at the pool with my family, I went back and forth between two extremes. Every inch of me shuddered when I had to be out of the water, but I got a warm comforting blanket of water when I went back in. So when I was out of that water and cold, one thought kept going off like an alarm in my head: Get back in the water! And when I did, all was well.

When you think about it, the water was really responsible for both extremes. It was the water on my skin that made me feel cold in the breeze, but it was the water all around me that warmed me up afterward.

Today in our text from 1 Peter, we also see water doing double duty. In fact, we see the connection of water and the coming of Jesus in Advent. Water reminds us how Jesus is coming to do two opposite things. He’s coming to save, and he’s coming to destroy. Which one do we want to be a part of? To save us, right? We eagerly wait for Jesus to come and save us at the end of the world. But actually, for right now, we need a little of both. In this sinful world, we need Jesus every day to both save and destroy us. For that to happen, we need to get back in the water. That might sound confusing now, but let me explain. Continue reading

Not Just Plain Water

I got to baptize a little baby yesterday. It’s a privilege I’m always thankful for. The difference yesterday is that we were having our service in our school gym instead of at church. So I had to improvise a bit for a baptismal font.

Thankfully, though, we still had all we needed. Water connected with God’s Word. We had a little child who became God’s child, connected to her Savior, born again by the Holy Spirit.

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Celebrate Your Inheritance!

Preached at [St. John’s Lutheran Church]( on Sunday, January 13, 2013 for the 1st Sunday after Epiphany — the Baptism of our Lord. Text: Titus 3:4-7

A man knocks on your door. He hands you a stack of papers full of legal jargon. As you stand there confused, he tells you it’s the will of your great uncle Leopold. Leopold recently died, leaving you his entire estate, worth about 10 million dollars.

Wouldn’t that be amazing? Wouldn’t you be shocked to have this inheritance fall into your lap? You’d want to celebrate it! Sure, you might try to find a lawyer to find out if the whole thing is legitimate, you might want to talk to some other family members to see if they’ve ever heard of this Leopold guy. But for the most part, you’d want to celebrate! You’d want to buy things, or think about moving to your dream house or going on a faraway vacation. Basically, you’d start dreaming of all the ways you could celebrate your inheritance.

Well, friends, this exact situation will probably never happen to any of you. But at the same time, each of you has already been guaranteed an inheritance even bigger than 10 million dollars, and it’s not from a dead relative; it’s from the God who was dead but is alive again. Your inheritance isn’t guaranteed by a legal document; those can fail. Your inheritance is guaranteed in God’s Word, by God’s promise; your inheritance is sealed in your Savior’s blood.

Do you know when you got this inheritance? Most of you probably don’t remember it. For some of you, it happened in this very building. It was your baptism. In just a little bit of water and a few words from the Bible, your life, for now and forever, were changed. You were cleansed from your sins. You became a child of God; you became an heir of heaven itself.

So do you find yourself celebrating that inheritance every day? Or, more likely, do you forget about it most of the time? How easy for us to shrug off our baptism like it was just some photo op for our parents, or just another day. How easy to get so wrapped up in the highs and lows of each day and completely forget the eternity that’s already been guaranteed!

How easy, even, to think you deserve all those good things God gives. At least a little bit. You’re much better than a few people you could name, you go to church unlike a few other people you can think of. In fact, God is pretty fortunate to have you as his child. God ought to be pretty nice to you, after all that you do, everything you go through.

Friends, the baptismal font here this morning does not provide empty symbols or fun family memories. It gives live and salvation by connecting us to Jesus’ death. Your baptism gave you an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade. So celebrate it! Celebrate your inheritance! You didn’t earn it, but you get to live it.

Our text doesn’t waste words. It doesn’t launch into complicated legalese and go on for page after page like a modern will would. In 4 short verses, the Apostle Paul lays out our inheritance, the reason for it, and its earthly and heavenly results in our lives. So listen closely!

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us. (Titus 3:4-5) He saved us. God our Savior did what saviors do. He saved us; he rescued us out of his kindness and love. You can tell from reading this verse that it’s taken from the middle of a paragraph. You hear it and think, “Ok, he saved us from what?” But Paul had explained that with the verse before our text.

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. (Titus 3:3) Now, we see what we needed to be saved from: sin. And, maybe it’s just me, but this description of the sinful lifestyle doesn’t sound like some far-fetched description in an almost two thousand year old book. It sounds like it’s describing today.

Foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. That’s our world! That’s all around us, isn’t it? That’s our society, that’s what we see on the news. If we’re honest, that’s what we see in our friends, our families. And most often, we see it from the face that stares at us in the mirror.

Yes, we were sinful, we were born that way. And I’d like to say that that sin disappeared from our thoughts, words, and actions on the day of our baptism, but I know you wouldn’t believe it because you know the truth. We are sinfl. Sin is all around us and it makes everything horrible. Sin ruins everything.

But then God appeared. God our Savior’s kindness, his generosity and giving nature, his love, his care for all human beings, it appeared. Almost like it was out of nowhere – poof! – it appeared! We’re in the season of Epiphany now in the church year. Well, the word used for “appeared” in this part of our text is the same word we get Epiphany from. The kindness and love of God our Savior epiphanied, it showed itself and revealed everything we need to know about it.

But why would God want to save us? There must be some reason. Maybe you’ve seen the television show Extreme Home Makeover. This is where they take someone’s house and pretty much knock it down, only to build it up again. And they made these houses huge and they filled them with beautiful and expensive things. The finished products were amazing, and it really made you wish that they would choose your home.

But do you know who actually would get chosen? People who deserved it. The people in the homes usually had suffered something terrible at some point in the past, or they had a family member struggling with a disease, or someone in the house had helped so many people that people just wanted to help them, too.

We expect the same kind of decision-making process from God. His kindness and love appeared and he saved us, because he knew what great followers of him we would end up being. You here today, well God knew you’d go to church and do your best. And even though you’re not perfect, you sure always try. And you really love God, so wouldn’t he want to help you and save you and do everything he could for you?

Please. Can we be honest here? We didn’t earn it. God didn’t choose us because we would do good things. And unfortunately, we prove it, every day. Maybe it’s visible to many people. Maybe only those close to you really see it. Maybe you even try to pretend it doesn’t exist. But that sin still lives in you. That sin that gives you desires and makes you say and do things that you wouldn’t want to admit to in public; it’s still there in your heart. And God owes you nothing. Nothing but punishment and hell.

I’ve really just paraphrased what our text went on to say. He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. (Titus 3:5) Mercy means not punishing someone even when they deserve it. It means that God saw all the unrighteous things we’ve done, that we do, and that we will do in the future, and he says, “No, I’m not going to punish you for those. I’m going to punish my only Son for those on the cross. He’s going to suffer hell, and then I’m going to raise him to life. And I’m going to wrap up everything that Jesus deserved with his perfect life, all good things that he earned, I’m going to wrap it up and give it to you as your inheritance.”

Yes, our God did just that. He did it so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:7) He declared you not guilty of those sins. He brought you into his family, and he made you his eternal heir, free of charge. We didn’t earn it. We couldn’t come close! But he gave it to us anyway. All we can do is celebrate it. Celebrate your inheritance! Because, even though we didn’t earn it, we get to live it.

You see, normally inheritances only take effect when the person leaving that inheritance dies. So if you knew great uncle Leopold was leaving you a ton of loot, it wouldn’t do you much good as long as he was alive. He’d have to die before you’d collect a dime.

We tend to think of our inheritance from God in a similar way. Only instead of waiting for someone else to die, we wait for ourselves to die. Right? We’re heirs of eternal life, so until we die or Jesus comes back, we don’t get a dime. Or at least that’s how we can think.

Our baptism is something that we can treat that way, too, like it’s not too important right now. We know it’s important for heaven. We might even remember that Bible verse, Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved. (Mk. 16:16) We know it’s a good thing. But we probably don’t exactly celebrate it.

After all, it was so long ago for many of us. Most of us don’t remember it. And if all we have is a few pictures or maybe a certificate from the day, well, how much does that help you? I mean, when everything is going wrong and the world seems to be crumbling around you, does your baptism help? When people hurt you and it feels like God has abandoned you, does your baptism help? When you feel guilty for how you messed something up, when you wonder how God could really love you, does your baptism help?

The short answer is yes. Your baptism does help, in all those circumstances and more. Your baptism isn’t something that was just good on the day it happened or that just takes effect when we die and go to heaven. Your baptism is powerful and at work for you today and every day. We get to live our inheritance!
Our text explains it. [God our Savior] saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior. (Titus 3:5-6) The word baptism isn’t even mentioned here, but it doesn’t have to be. No other washing is like it.

It’s not a washing of “wait till you get to heaven.” It’s not a washing of “you’re stuck suffering and alone for now.” No, it’s a washing of rebirth and renewal. It’s about a new start. A new life. Jesus called it being born again. It’s a new birth that came from the Holy Spirit.

It’s interesting how much attention we give to our birthdays. We celebrate them every year. We use our birthday to figure our age and define ourselves by that age. My guess, though, is that we do very little with the date of our baptism, if we even know it. But think about it. On our birthdate, we were born dead! Dead in sins. Dead in our ability to please God. But on our baptism we were reborn. There we really got our true, spiritual life from God himself. That’s worth celebrating!

And this new life connects us right to Jesus. Remember it was poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior. Another passage tells us that we were baptized into Jesus’ death. It’s a connection between us and the cross. A connection that God put there so we could live for him now!

We hear it in Romans. We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Rom. 6:4) The Holy Spirit gave us a new life, and we get to live it! We get to celebrate our inheritance by living for our Lord.

Now, we might want to chime in with “but we’ll never be perfect in this world,” and “we’ll still fall into all kinds of sins.” And yes, that’s true. But think, without faith, we couldn’t do anything good in God’s sight. Nothing at all. Now we’re free to serve him. Now we’re free to celebrate his inheritance by thanking him in serving God by helping others. By living our faith in church, at home, at work, on our best days and our worst.

And our baptism made that possible. Just like it makes a whole world of comfort possible for us every day. When everything’s going wrong, and you feel like even God is against you, remember your baptism! It guarantees that God’s not against you; it shows you you’re his own child. When others hurt you and knock you down, remember your baptism! It proves that no matter what people do, they can’t take away what’s most important. When you’re feeling guilty over sins and don’t know how God could love you, remember your baptism! It has already given you God’s love in Christ, and all the forgiveness you need. Plus, the Holy Spirit is still at work to work in you to live out your faith.

Yes, we get to live it! We have that inheritance in our baptism. We have every reason to celebrate it, and we get to live it out in repentance, faith, and good works every day of our lives.

You see, you’ll probably never have a great uncle Leopold. You’ll probably never get 10 million dumped in your lap. But you’ve already gotten eternal life poured on your head. You’ve already been baptized, and because of that, your inheritance is sure.

I Am Baptized!

Now then, all of you who believe in God’s Word, let your watchword for entering the new year be this: “I am baptized!” Although the world may laugh at this comfort, the enthusiasts vex its confidence… nevertheless, abandon any other dearly held pledges and speak only throughout the entire year to come, in all terrors of conscience and necessity through sin and death: “I am baptized! I am baptized! Hallelujah!” And you shall prevail! In every time of need, you will find comfort in your Baptism; on account of it Satan will flee from your faith and confession; and in death you will see heaven opened and will finally come into the joy of your Lord to celebrate a great year of jubilee, a year of praise, with all the Angela forever and ever. Amen!

C. F. W. Walther, from today’s reading in the Treasury of Daily Prayer .

31 Years Ago Today…

Baptismal Font at the Chapel of the Christ at MLC in New Ulm, MN 31 years ago today, I was baptized. Sure, it was a neat day for my parents, who baptized their son while family, friends, and congregation looked on. Sure, it was  neat for people like my grandparents who got their picture taken holding me. But my baptism means to most to me, not because of the pictures or the the family-togetherness of the day. No, it means so much to me because of what God did to me there. He clothed me with Christ. He made me God’s own child.

The benefits of my baptism were important for me that day, and they’re just as important for me now. I will share a couple of short quotes from Luther’s Large Catechism on this topic.

Imagine there was a doctor somewhere who understood the art of saving people from death or, even though they died, could restore them quickly to life so that they would afterward live forever. Oh, how the world would pour in money like snow and rain. No one could find access to him because of the throng of the rich! But here in Baptism there is freely brought to everyone’s door such a treasure and medicine that it utterly destroys death and preserves all people alive.

We must think this way about Baptism and make it profitable for ourselves. So when our sins and conscience oppress us, we strengthen ourselves and take comfort and say, “Nevertheless, I am baptized. And if I am baptized, it is promised to me that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body.” …

In this way one sees what a great, excellent thing Baptism is. It delivers us from the devil’s jaws and makes us God’s own. It suppresses and takes away sin and then daily strengthens the new man. It is working and always continues working until we pass from this estate of misery to eternal glory.

(Large Catechism, IV, 43-44,83, quoted from Concordia: the Lutheran Confessions, CPH, 2006.)

Do you remember your baptismal day in some special way? Or do you have tips for how we can make better daily use of our baptism? I’d love to hear it in the comments!

God’s Own Children

I got the chance to baptize a little baby last weekend. That probably doesn’t seem too remarkable; after all, I’m a Lutheran pastor. I baptize lots of babies, right?

Ever since I started my ministry I’ve kept a little notebook with a record of all the baptisms, weddings, and funerals that I have done. After updating it, I found that the baby I baptized last weekend was my 19th baptism. They were mostly babies, but there has been one adult and a couple of older children.

Nineteen may or may not sound like a lot. (I think it’s quite a few for being the pastor of a small church.) But the point really isn’t the number. And I don’t bring up the number to brag or to speak of these baptisms as if they’re my accomplishment. They’re not. At all.

Baptism is God’s work. He made these people his own through their baptism. He made them his own children by faith. You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ. (Gal. 3:26-27) God adopted these baptized people. He wrapped them in the perfection that Jesus accomplished for them. He made them his children by faith.

This list of people I baptized is a great comfort for me. I don’t always feel like I’ve done a good job as a pastor. I see my shortcomings and sins all too easily and clearly. But when I look at that list, I can see how God has used me, his imperfect servant, to bring his gifts to his people. I am not worthy of God using me in this way, but he does anyway. I need this comfort, and God gives it!

This connects with the comfort of baptism itself, of course. I just thought I’d close this post by quoting one of my favorite “new” baptism hymns (it’s new to me but was written long ago) that I think expresses the comfort of baptism so well. Enjoy!

God’s own child, I gladly say it: I am baptized into Christ!
He, because I could not pay it, gave my full redemption price.
Do I need earth’s treasures many?
I have one worth more than any that brought me salvation free,
Lasting to eternity!

Sin, disturb my soul no longer: I am baptized into Christ!
I have comfort even stronger: Jesus’ cleansing sacrifice.
Should a guilty conscience seize me
Since my baptism did release me in a dear forgiving flood,
Sprinkling me with Jesus’ blood?

Satan, hear this proclamation: I am baptized into Christ!
Drop your ugly accusation; I am not so soon enticed.
Now that to the font I’ve traveled,
All your might has come unraveled, and, against your tyranny,
God, my Lord, unites with me!

Death, you cannot end my gladness: I am baptized into Christ!
When I die, I leave all sadness to inherit paradise!
Though I lie in dust and ashes
Faith’s assurance brightly flashes:
Baptism has the strength divine to make life immortal mine.

There is nothing worth comparing to this lifelong comfort sure!
Open-eyed my grave is staring: Even there I’ll sleep secure.
Though my flesh awaits its raising,
Still my soul continues praising:
I am baptized into Christ; I’m a child of paradise!

Text: Erdmann Neumester (1671-1756), Tr. Robert E. Voelker (b. 1957)
Tune: BACHOFEN – Johann Caspar Bachofen (1695-1755, alt.)
Christian Worship Supplement
737 / Lutheran Service Book 594