The Grace of God in Baptism!

Sermon Notes (Sunday August 2nd, 2015)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

The Grace of God in Baptism!

Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Matthew 3:13-17

 

The story is told about a father who went to church one Sunday morning with three of his young children, including his five-year-old daughter. As was his customary, he sat in the very front row so that the children could properly witness the service. During this particular service, the minister was performing the baptism of a tiny infant. The little five-year-old girl was taken by this, observing that the minister was saying something and pouring water over the infant’s head. With a quizzical look on her face, the little girl turned to her father and asked: “Daddy, why is the preacher brainwashing that baby?”

 

Today we celebrate the two Sacraments, the Sacrament of Baptism and the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Liam Miller is getting baptized this morning and I want to spend sometime thinking about this Sacrament. As you can tell, the word “baptism” has become a foreign word in this time and age. The Greek word baptizo was a term that was used in the first century for dipping a light-colored garment into a dye. Once the fabric was dipped into the dye, it would be changed in its identity from its original color to a new color. It is from this Greek term that we derive our English word “Baptism.” So it is that the word baptism has come to identify us as one with a new identity, as one of God’s people. Truth be told, it is suppose to be a “brainwashing” as the young five-year-old put it so well. The question I would like to ask this morning is: What is this Sacrament all about? Two important observations:

 

First: In Baptism, the Love of God Comes to Us Before We Are Even Aware of It

As you may know, some Christian traditions have raised many objections about infant baptism. In the Presbyterian Church we believe baptism can happen at any age. But the question is: Can an infant understand the meaning and depth of this Sacrament? To be honest, they may not. Then, why we get them baptized? The answer is: because in baptism the love of God comes to us before we are even aware of it. The baptism of a child reminds us that God’s love does not depend on our understanding. This is why Jesus welcomed children into the kingdom of God. This is why the Scripture says in Acts 2:39 that the promise is for the believers and their children. Infant baptism, therefore, is a pure act of God’s grace.

 

Baptism as an act of grace is the opposite of the way we usually do things in life. Our New Testament reading this morning was the story of the baptism of the Lord Jesus Christ as it is recorded in Matthew chapter 3. It is very important to note the timing of Jesus’ baptism. It comes before Jesus has done the first great act of God. And, by all means, this is not the way we usually do things. We usually congratulate people when they have done something well. God gives this moment before Jesus has done the first great thing. In our normal, human way of doing things, God might have waited until after Jesus had turned the water into wine and then opened the heavens and said, “That’s my Son!” Or God might have waited until Jesus healed the blind man and then said, “That’s my Son, I am so pleased with Him.” Or God might have waited until after the feeding of the multitude or walking on water or after the Sermon on the Mount and then said, “Good job! That’s my Son!” But that is not the sequence. God says, “I love you” before Jesus chooses His disciples, before He does the first miracle. And, in a human way, as earthly parents, we understand this. We don’t start to love our children when they make decisions to do the right things. We love our babies before they are born. We hope that our love helps them make the right decisions as they grow – but our love is not contingent on their good decisions. We love our children because they are ours. While we live in a world that applauds our achievements and accomplishments, the glory of this day is the reminder that God loves us from the beginning—not because of what we have done, but because of who we are. And when that unconditional love and grace sinks in on our souls, something very important happens that equips us for everything that comes next. Our accomplishments can’t win God’s love for us and our failures and sin can’t keep God’s love from us.

 

Second: The Sacrament of Infant Baptism and the Huge Task Before Us

Infant baptism puts before us as parents and as a congregation a huge responsibility. For parents, baptism is an act of commitment. Not only do the parents commit their child to the Lord, but they also commit themselves to the Lord. Parents take vows in which they pledge before God and the congregation to raise their child “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” as Paul says in Ephesians 6:4. Louise and Jonathan: my prayers are with you today as you commit Liam to the Lord and at the same time you also commit yourselves. I tell you the truth, I have officiated baptisms that I have never seen the parents in church since. It breaks my heart to say that. This is why I told you Tuesday night that being baptized does not mean we have nothing further to do. Rather, baptism is a one time event that takes a lifetime to finish. Every day is a day of baptismal conversion, of dying and rising again with Christ, of taking new steps towards becoming more fully, what, by the grace of God, we most truly are. God challenged his people in the past in Deuteronomy 6:6-9 saying, “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

 

Baptism also touches the life of the local congregation at basically two levels. We share the parents the same responsibility. As you may know, the practice of naming particular godparents for a child is not common in the Presbyterian tradition. The reason is because all adult church members act as godparents for the children in the covenant community. All adults are spiritual guardians of all the children and share—to some degree—with the physical parents the awesome responsibility of raising the children in the training and instruction of the Lord. That is why all communicant members take a vow to assist the parents in the Christian nurture of their child. And as this responsibility is faithfully carried out, there is a great blessing for the congregation.

 

There is another level that touches the life of the local congregation and that is the level of remembrance. As the congregation witnesses the baptism of Liam today, we are reminded of the vows we have previously made. Therefore we need to ask ourselves, “Have I been faithful as a steward for the gift of life that God has entrusted to me? Have I fulfilled my duties and obligations as a parent and as a spiritual guardian?” If the answer is no, confession of sin and prayer for grace to improve is in order. But if the answer is yes, gratitude for God’s enabling grace is appropriate. In this sense, it is a blessing to be reminded again of our duty as Christian parents.

 

Friends, let me conclude by saying that the grace of God and the love of Christ are the two central themes of Christian baptism. The great Swiss Reformed theologian, Karl Barth (1886-1968) was asked late in his life if he could summarize the entirety of his theological work in one sentence. You have to know that Barth is regarded as the greatest Protestant theologian of the twentieth century. His Church Dogmatics runs to over six million words and 8,000 pages ~ one of the longest works of systematic theology ever written. So, the question he was asked if he could summarize the entirety of his theological work in one sentence. Barth thought, smiled, and replied, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Whether we are children or adults, what matters the most are these two important foundations: the grace of God and the love of Christ. In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen!

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