+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Colossians 2:12
Theme: Baptism: Final Destination
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
God never grows weary. “Have you not heard?” says the prophet, “He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom.”1 But what about us? Dragging around this yoke of mortality can be exhausting. Physically, yes! But what of the heart? The emotions? The will? The Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint. The finish is all that matters. Thanks be to God that in Christ we have not only the source of our strength but the final destination!
So what is the nature of this marathon that we participate in everyday but often plod through in a spiritual sleepwalk? A genuine tension exists in the baptismal life. Baptismal life is a very deliberately chosen synonym for Christian life; the life of obedience and faith. A better analogy for our voyage than running might be swimming; for baptism defines and sustains the conditions for our travel.
The tensions of our baptismal life can be best understood in an already/ not yet framework. The Bible speaks in this way. We are already citizens of the celestial realm. The Scripture says, “Our citizenship is in heaven.”2 But we have not yet been released from the restrictions of this fallen nature. It says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”3 We are already freed from sin’s condemnation, but we are not yet liberated from the temptation to sin. Christ is the One who has already come to redeem us. Through His sacrificial death our salvation is signed, sealed, and delivered. Yet He has not yet returned to endow us with the full experience of our inheritance.
Of course faith is the means by which we straddle this already/not yet tension; a tension that infallibly characterizes the Christian life. It is inescapable. We have peace; but there is no resting on our laurels. We have an inheritance; but there is no attitude of entitlement. We have grace; but there is no presumption that we are owed it. The genius of Satan is His ability to deceive people into thinking they’re either on a spiritual welfare system or they can have the recognition of earning their own way into God’s favour.
So instead of seeking God’s wisdom we often look to solve our spiritual problems in our own way. In doing so we usually create other problems. One day a traveler was driving down a back country road when he noticed that there was a three-legged chicken running alongside his car. He stepped on the pedal but at 50 kilometers per hour, the chicken was still keeping up. After about a mile of running, the chicken ran up a farm lane and into a barn behind an old farm house. The man turned around and drove up the farm lane. He knocked at the door and when the farmer answered he told him what he had just seen. The farmer said that his son was a geneticist and he had developed this breed of chicken because he, his wife and his son each like a drumstick when they have chicken and this way they only have to kill one chicken at a time." That's the most fantastic thing I've ever heard," said the tourist. "How do they taste?" "I don't know," said the farmer. "We've never caught one."
Dear friends, we can never outpace the temptation to sin. Sin is not overcome by negotiating with it. Just as addiction cannot be satiated by indulging it, so too, our sinful natures cannot be placated by catering to them. When the sinful nature grows an extra limb it is more agile than before. There is no human solution to the power of sin. It requires divine intervention. Our sinful tendencies can never just be managed, they must be crucified. The Spirit calls us to repentance, not compromise.
Christ made no compromises when He secured our salvation. The Scriptures say we can be absolutely confident of it. It depends completely on Christ. That’s why the promise of your baptism is more certain than any subjective measure of your faith. The historical fact that at a particular time and place (regardless of your remembrance of it) God’s promise to you was ratified through this sacrament is an unshakeable foundation. This is not a pedantic point but a crucial spiritual truth. It distinguishes a biblical, Lutheran understanding of where certainty lies from an emotional one that is often wrongly labeled as charismatic. Faith is only present where the Holy Spirit is present. And the Holy Spirit is only present where the word and promise of God are.
Faith is a vehicle but it is never itself the object. It is not the origin of truth or the basis of salvation. Just as it is not your faith that makes Christ’s body and blood present in Holy Communion, but rather God’s word; so too, baptism is valid by virtue of God’s promise upon which it is founded. The difference may sound subtle but it relates to the source and certainty of our knowledge. Faith is tested but is never to be subjectively measured. The person who begins reflecting on how humble they are is in immediate danger of losing that modesty; they are already in the process. But the person who reflects on God’s grace finds certainty and comfort.
Our gathering over the past few days has given us opportunity to be renewed in the baptismal life. Sadly, living it has fallen on hard times. Why are the recent generations becoming so distanced from organized church? I don’t claim to be privy to particular reasons for particular people or circumstances but some generalizations are worth pondering. People don’t believe the church speaks relevantly or authoritatively to the tension in which they live. The church herself has created doubt. When the words “I believe in God the Father Almighty Maker of heaven and earth”4 roll off the lips, how many Christians actually believe what they are saying?
When the authority of God’s word is conceded the church starts to float on a sea of human opinion. Commands become guidelines. Creeds become conjectures. Confessions become theories. Absolutes become opinions. Christ was never a consensus-builder. He was a truth-proclaimer. He had no interest in fairness according to human standards. He was just according to divine standards. He absolved prostitutes. He condemned Pharisees. He dined with tax-collectors.
When the forgiveness of sins is no longer valued as essential, the need for church can quickly fade. For many, church involves little more than an opportunity for social interaction and the chance to satisfy the ego by “doing their little bit for God.” Any talk of sin and grace, repentance and forgiveness, heaven and hell is simply tolerated as a pious scheme of by-gone days. But there’s little need to preach to the choir. Still, the better we understand the more faithful our witness can be.
We cannot disconnect Christ from the Scriptures. To do so is like disconnecting a marriage from any vows, communication, or relationship. It becomes a theoretical exercise and an absurd one at that! Truth cannot be found by looking deeper into our hearts. Christ is not merely a messenger pointing the way to heaven; He is the means and the destination. He is the crucified and risen Lord and we are incorporated into His death and resurrection through baptism. This is our access to Him.
The Scripture says you have been, “…buried with Him in baptism and raised with Him through your faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead.”5 With Christ we are never without hope. With the Spirit we are never without comfort. With the Father we are never without a future. We are baptized. We are redeemed. In baptism you have already reached the final destination. You are at the finish line. But you cannot yet fully enjoy the reward. It’s only a matter of time. A small obstacle for Him who has already triumphed over the grave! Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Second Sunday After Epiphany
Lutheran Women of SA Retreat
18 January, 2015
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Isaiah 40:28 2 Philippians 3:20
3 Romans 8:18 4 Apostles’ Creed 5 Colossians 2:12