Baptism Takes Us through It All, Nov. 17th 2013 at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Vallejo, CA
The Baptism of Liam Taylor Cole, 26th Sunday after Pentecost, Nov. 17th 2013 at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Vallejo, CA
Malachi 4:1-2a Psalm 98 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 Luke 21:5-19
Baptism Takes Us through It All
Because little Liam Cole will be baptized in our service today, it is good for us to be able to think about our baptisms, because they are so important. A whole denomination calls itself “Baptist” because there is so much meaning in that sacrament. Baptism gets at the heart of what our faith is about.
Many Christians who are completely inactive and hardly ever go to church get their children baptized. We pastors wonder if they consider baptism some kind of a life insurance policy. Let me tell you, baptism is far better than life insurance and even far better than winning the lottery, but it has to be lived, it has to take or it comes to nothing.
When we get older we watch how one week flies by after another and one year passes almost over-taking the year before. Children still experience time as if they had all of it in the world. When we grow older we know better, but we hate to think about it. As soon as we are born, we can already die, but some people live to be eighty, ninety, or even more today, but what quality did their lives have in their relationship and their love of others? When scientists tell of this universe being almost 14 billion years old, what do our little moments in the sun really mean? How does God’s eternity relate to such durations of time and how do our short lives relate to God in heaven? That is where our baptisms come in. Our baptisms take us through water; through earth, wind, water, and fire, which were considered the four basic elements of old, to the one who created this whole world and is the source of our lives and our one hope for the world to come. Death and all its forces, machinery, and powers are strong very amongst us and for the most part they over-power the forces of life. We often are not even aware of the death wish within us and how weak it makes our wish to live. That saps our political will to make this a people-friendly world. Wrong and hate, abuse and slavery, violence and injustice, war and bloodshed, disease and natural disasters plague us. That is why Malachi calls us stubble (in the passage for today) and then calls out that for those who are baptized and revere God’s name, the sun of righteousness arises with healing in its wings. Really, the stylized picture of wings on a rising sun is an old Egyptian symbol as well and it can be found among the hieroglyphics inscribed on the walls of ancient Egyptian temples. I like to spell “sun,” “son” meaning that Jesus, the Son of God will rise, indeed, he rose from the dead, and with healing wings, will fly us through all this suffering and death into life everlasting in heaven with God.
If people really believed in the resurrection, they would flock to our churches and our churches would have to be larger than football stadiums to seat them, but of course only very few of us believe in God and life everlasting. And it is not easy to believe, unless you have experienced your baptism. That means your old self has died and your new self has been raised in the power of the source of our lives, that means, Christ, the one who cherishes our lives, the one whose blood made our lives more precious than silver, gold, rubies, emeralds, diamonds: no jewels or precious metals can compare.
And do you know: I think many people among us have had their baptisms take and are really living in the light of their baptisms. Our meteorologists would have warned us of a Typhoon, like Haiyan, but not many were watching out for those poor people when it hit Tacloban and those other islands in the Philippines. In that city Imelda Marcos has her 2,000 pairs of shoes, while allowing her people to go barefoot. Members of her family still rule that city and the region there and they seemed to have thought only of their own self-interest and how they could get rich. The government there seems to have been so slow to respond.
Where baptisms take, where believers die to themselves in and through their baptisms to live a new life for others, they care; they live a life of full of love and compassion and watch out over poor people, the marginalized and vulnerable. There in the Philippines, knowing they are right in the historic path of typhoons, where were those who should have watched over and warned the people, those who should have built shelters, who should have cared, so that so many people did not have to die so miserably?
We can’t be self-righteous, because a great deal of their troubles began when we colonized them and knocked the stuffings out of them. Some of our fortune has come at the misfortune of such countries. Our standard of living has been bolstered at the expense of former colonies. And what’s more, global warming is making hurricanes and typhoons into apocalyptic disasters. Some say that weather is too complex and we cannot argue that global warming has increased the power of these storms. But just stop and think a moment: it only stands to reason. Many ice caps and glaciers are melting. Ships can now sail through the Arctic over the North Pole. Greenland’s huge glacier is melting at a much faster rate than we would have ever thought. All that snow and ice used to be the earth’s air-conditioner, because the sunlight would strike it and reflect back out into space. Now there is more and more ocean which absorbs the heat of the sun; that increases the temperature of the oceans and heat fuels these storms. Big oil and fossil fuel want us to balance the news, but we dare not balance real science with ignorance and deception. It is terribly hard to accept the truth when it takes money out of our wallets. We do not just want to blame the transnational corporations. We ourselves will have to change our life-styles and live in a much more simple way and with our denial of reality we can postpone it.
We need a collective response very badly. In our Thessalonians passage, people were doing nothing, because they thought that the end of the world was at hand. St. Paul tells them to get to work or don’t expect to eat. We Lutherans teach that there is nothing we need to do to be saved. Don’t be deceived. That is because God does everything through us and we do not want to get into the way of the miracles God does through us. As Isaiah says, “For indeed all our deeds were God’s doing.” Because when we have faith, we do not have to be asked to do something, the Holy Spirit moves us so we have already done it before we are asked. In the words of Luther, “Faith is a mighty, active, restless, and busy thing, which immediately renews the person, gives a second birth, and leads the person into new ways and into new being.”
When we merely emphasize doing then only our hands are involved. With Luther’s words we grapple with the reality that baptism is also a matter of the heart. In baptism the water breaks for a new birth, and a person with a new self – one full of love, compassion, and forgiveness for others comes into this world. We are dunked under the water so we can no longer breathe the air, but come up and breathe the Holy Spirit, inhaling God’s good faith and exhaling God’s loving-kindness.
We are entering into apocalyptic times. Like the stars really do fall. A meteorite hit that Russian town of Chelyabinsk in the Urals just a few hundred miles east of Moscow and injured over a thousand people. Now rocks are supposed to be on the ground; they are not supposed to fall out of the sky. This one came in like a fire-ball and shattered all the glass in its vicinity. Hurricane Katrina knocked out the City of New Orleans. Sandy flooded lower Manhattan, flooded the subways system, and put out the lights of New York. Typhoon Haiyan is the strongest ever recorded. There was a picture in the news magazine, depicting the city of Miami. With all its skyscrapers it stands right at sea level, meaning in a super-storm the ocean’s rise could flood the whole city….
So when our baptisms take, when we start living our baptisms, then we tell other people about the love of Christ, because we all need saving, now really in this world – which has really always been the case, not only for the world to come. We have to come together, because we cannot afford to keep ruining God’s creation the way we have been. Do you remember the science fiction book, Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke? A huge flying saucer with aliens hovers over the earth, and all the people on earth; we all have to give up our childish and self-destructive ways and cooperate or it would spell the end of the world. The aliens gave the earthlings no choice but to come together or perish.
Jesus is telling us the same thing in the Gospel lesson. The Son of Righteousness has risen above us and we can get under those healing wings or we can surrender to the forces of death. God is calling those of us who are baptized, to spread the news about God’s salvation in Jesus Christ. His blood shed for us means that bloodshed here can stop. Sin separates us from God and from one another. The blood of Christ forgives us our sin making it possible for us to proclaim God’s salvation and let God perform divine and wondrous miracles through us to save the people of the world in the precarious time we are entering on this earth.
Isn’t it wonderful that President Obama has sent an aircraft carrier and the Marines to help rescue the people in the Philippines with food, water, medicine, and shelter? Our baptisms do take! What a marvelous change to have our Marines become transfigured into angels rescuing the lives of all those poor people so desperately in need of help.
The baptized have already died with Christ and now live the transfigured and resurrected life in him, so we have nothing to fear. We can speak the truth. We can watch out over people. We can love and care for and reach out to the people whom God loves. A society that rises up in Christ should not have to see natural disasters take out all those people. We have the science to make our world much “safer for children and other living things.” We can’t afford to keep fighting and killing each other. Christ bade us love our enemies. In what we are up against, Christ shows us the way.
The Romans were oppressing the Jews severely in Jesus’ day. What did he do? He said, love your enemies. He meant the Romans, too. Meanwhile the zealots of his day were making weapons to prepare for their rebellion against the Romans. You could see their fires up on Mt. Tabor and hear the clanging hammers on the anvils where they were slamming metal into swords as weapons. So in the lesson today, the disciples are overcome with awe at the beauty of the temple.
Jesus wept over Jerusalem. “Not one stone of this temple will be left over another. They will all be thrown down.” Jesus’ prophesy became true, because when the war broke out against Rome, the Roman General Titus tried to save the temple, but the soldiers set it on fire. When all the gold poured down between its stones, they did not leave one on top of the other quarrying the gold. They would hold a torch under an arch, the arch would explode and they would quarry more gold from among the stones. That’s how this prophesy of Jesus, unthinkable to the Jews of his day, became true.
Jesus wanted to save the Romans as well as the Jews. Jesus is the Lord of all the nations and the king of Israel. So a campaign of forgiveness is what Christ was all about, the love of enemies, the refusal to take revenge, the way of realizing that we are all sinners fallen short of the glory of God and we all need to live by forgiveness and out of forgiveness. Even if a people’s sins, just like ours are red as scarlet because of bloodshed, the precious blood of Christ has been shed for our enemies and for us and we need to proclaim the forgiveness that we can all receive in Christ’s name.
So let us celebrate another baptism, that of Liam Taylor Cole and let us realize that following Christ makes us very special people who not merely announce the salvation that Jesus brings to this world, but against all opposition, we witness to it, and like Christ is the Word of God, we too become the very words of God that make God’s salvation become true. Little Liam is also becoming a word of God, a love letter from God in heaven to his mother and father, Godparents and his whole family present here. When our baptisms take we all become words of Good like him. Not that we will not suffer ourselves and die, because we will. But we go through the suffering and death of our baptisms into the life where every hair of our head is counted and not a hair will fall nor perish, because through our witness here, we enter into the gates of heaven there and what’s more, Christ also brings more and more heaven to this sorry earth until, because we see what Christ saw before us, we shout thankfully, “Thy kingdom has come and thy will is being done here on earth as it is in heaven.” Amen.
 Cf. Isaiah 26:12.