Civil Discourse

Living into the Call of our Baptism

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Sermon Series: Living into the Call of our Baptism

“The Good Confession”

1 Timothy 6:10-16

“Our Sense of Duty”

Luke 17:1-10

“The Easy Thing from the Lord”

2 Kings 5:1-15b

“Struggling with God”

Genesis 32:22-32

 

The Good Confession

1 Timothy 6:10-16

There are rich and varied traditions associated with baptism.  For some, young children are brought forward.  For others, those who are old enough to choose Jesus and profess their faith come forward.  In either case, vows and promises are made at the sacramental waters.  It may be the individual getting baptized who makes the vows (if s/he is old enough), it may be the parents making the vows (in which case the child eventually takes the vows upon her-/himself at Confirmation), but there is always some kind of allegiance expressed to Jesus and a commitment to walk in newness of life.

This precedent goes back to the New Testament, and is most clearly represented by Paul the apostle writing to his younger colleague, Timothy, instructing him to “Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Tim 6:12).  This “good confession” was apparently his baptismal vows, which called him to “eternal life.”  This “good confession” also was apparently connected to what Jesus did in the presence of Pontius Pilate (6:13).  When we look back at the Gospels to find the testimony Jesus gave before the Roman governor, we see he spoke about a “kingdom from another place” (Jn 18:36) and about testifying “to the truth” (18:37).  In other words, Jesus lived the reality of his Father’s coming kingdom, even amidst the other kingdoms of the day, and was willing to die for the truth that one day God’s kingdom would be the only reality.  Thus, as with Timothy, all who desire to follow Jesus must make the same “good confession” in the presence of many witnesses.

It is one thing to confess this reality on the day of your baptism (or to “own it” on the day of your Confirmation), but something entirely different to live it in your day to day life.  The vows we took, however long ago that may have been, are just as valid today as the day we made them.  So let us strive to live into the call of our baptism, to turn from sin and the influence of the evil one, and to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.  “Keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time” (1 Tim 6:14-15).  Amen.

 

A Sense of Duty

Luke 17:1-10

If our baptismal call begins with the “good confession” (1 Tim 6:12-13), it seems from there to include a sense of personal responsibility.  We get a glimpse of this from a unique Gospel story about Jesus.

When Jesus was speaking to his disciples (and, by association, all who would thereafter follow him), he brought up the topic of sin.  Sin, unfortunately, is “bound to come” in this fallen world, but Jesus stressed it was important that it not come through his followers (Lk 17:1).  If any were to lead “little ones” (often a term of endearment for disciples) astray, their fate would be bleak (17:2).  Jesus ended this point with the warning to “watch yourselves” (17:3).  In other words, even disciples can be the source of sin, so each of us needs to take responsibility for our actions.

Jesus followed this topic with God’s secret weapon to break the power of sin in this world:  correction and forgiveness.  God corrects us when we sin, and if we are faithful to confess and repent to him, he forgives us.  We also are expected to forgive the repentant in our own lives.  So, if one of Christ’s followers is guilty of sin, as was warned against in the original topic, other followers are to confront him or her, and, if that person repents, we are to forgive (17:3).  Even several times a day (17:4)!

When the disciples heard this they were astounded, but instead of taking responsibility for their actions they begged Jesus to increase their faith (17:5).  But Jesus assured them, even if they had the smallest faith, faith the size of an insignificant mustard seed, they could totally change the landscape of their daily lives (17:6).  To illustrate, he told them a parable about a servant and his relationship with his master (17:7-10).  Servants do not question their roles, they do not shirk their responsibilities.  Instead, even after working a whole day in his master’s field, the servant would clean himself up, prepare his master’s dinner, serve him, and only after he was finished would the servant then sit down and eat for himself.  That is just what servants do, they fulfill their duties.  Jesus wants us to see ourselves as servants and to take responsibility for our sins, for our willingness to correct others, and for our commitment to forgiveness.

Whatever it is that God is calling you to through your baptism—whether personally, relationally, vocationally, or otherwise—after you have done everything the Lord has told you to do, may you be willing to say, “I am just an unworthy servant; I have only done my duty” (17:10).

 

The Easy Thing from the Lord

2 Kings 5:1-15

During the times of the Israelite kings, there was a commander of the Aramean army (e.g., a non-Israelite) who was afflicted with a serious skin disease.  This man, Naaman, had great success against his enemies, including the Israelites.  He also owned a Hebrew slave-girl who, by the grace of God, took pity on his condition and told him about a great prophet in her homeland who had the power to heal.

Naaman’s king granted him permission to travel to the land of Israel seeking to be healed.  When he arrived at the prophet Elisha’s house, Elisha sent his servant to tell Naaman to dip in the Jordan River seven times.  While this seemed like a relatively easy thing to do, Naaman was deeply offended—the prophet did not greet him face to face, he did not inspect his disease, he did not perform an appropriate ritual or invoke the name of his God, and the river that was chosen was not the cleanest of rivers to dip in!  Naaman’s servants had to convince him that, if he would be willing to do a difficult thing to be healed, why shouldn’t he do an easy thing?

If you think about the number of people in this story who did relatively easy things, it’s astounding—the slave-girl told the truth about the prophet, the Aramean king wrote a letter of permission, the Israelite king revealed Elisha’s whereabouts, Elisha’s servant repeated his master’s instructions, Naaman’s servants reasoned with him, Naaman dipped in the river.  If any one of these players had not performed their easy part, the miracle would not have occurred and God would not have been glorified.

Whereas our baptism begins with a good confession, it continues through a sense of duty.  But we can easily get distracted from our duties through our own pride and expectations.  Are you keeping things simple in your baptized life?  Are you paying attention to the easy things the Lord is calling you to?  Remember, if you don’t play your part you may miss the miracle of God and you may be robbing him of his glory.

 

Struggling with God

Genesis 32:22-32

As we consider God’s call for us in baptism, we recognize there are some easy things the Lord asks us to do—to speak truth, to learn from Jesus, to be kind, to pray.  And yet, while the task itself may be easy, sometimes our human pride can get in the way.  Obedience can be a struggle.  Life can be a struggle.  Understanding God can be a struggle.  So we look and learn from people who have struggled with God in the biblical witness.

Jacob is a prime example.  He was chosen by God over his twin brother Esau even before they were born (Gen 25:23).  He received the ancestral promises of Abraham (28:13-15).  He was blessed by God while living with his uncle (30:25-43).  But, despite all these blessings, Jacob also lied, cheated, and stole from his brother.  This meant Esau had wanted to kill him for years.  When the time came to return to his homeland, Jacob realized that he was still unreconciled with his brother.  So Jacob prayed to God to be saved (32:9-12), sent gifts ahead of him to try and appease Esau (32:13-21), and divided his camp in two to protect his family (32:22-23).  Despite all these preparations, Jacob encountered a man under the cover of darkness who snuck into the camp, attacked him, and wrestled with him (32:24). 

This was a struggle.  And when neither person saw they would prevail, the man wrenched Jacob’s hip and injured him (32:25).  But still Jacob held on.  Still he did not give up.  He persevered until the dawn began to break and finally the stranger insisted that he be released.  But Jacob refused and dared to ask for a blessing (32:26).  Whoever he thought the stranger was, he knew he had power, and if that power wasn’t used to destroy Jacob, maybe it could be used to bring him good.  The man consented, and chose not only to bless Jacob, but to change his name—and his identity.  No longer would he be known by the name Jacob (e.g., “he grasps the heel”), now he would be called Israel, because he had “struggled with God”—and men—and had overcome (32:28). 

As we learn from Jacob-Israel, God often invites us into the struggle.  It isn’t because he desires to destroy us or cause us harm, but because he longs to use his power to change us.  Yes, we may suffer a bit.  Yes, we may walk away with a limp.  But that’s how growth happens.  If we persevere with God—if we continue to live into the call of our baptism, difficult as it may be—at the end of the day we just may find his blessing. 

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