June 12, 2022
Today is such a joyful day! One of those things that all pastors love to do is preside at a baptism, and here I got to preside at five all at once! We got to welcome these five people into the body of Christ today, and that is really something. So much, in fact, that we made sure even the very space where we are worshipping reflected what a big deal it is that we have these five baptisms today. And the reason it’s such a joyful day, the reason I as a pastor am so excited that we got to do this incredible thing, is that baptism is the start of a wholly new kind of life for everyone who is baptized. Y’all get to be part of this incredible journey! This congregation got to bear witness to God saving you in these waters! And I got the honor of being God’s hands that washed you! How cool is that?
So what does this wholly new kind of life look like? Well, it looks a lot like the promises that were made today. To live among God’s faithful people. To come to the Lord’s Supper and hear the Word. To study scripture, learn the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments. To deepen your faith and trust in Jesus. To work for justice and peace. To make your lives into testaments to the saving power of God that is transforming the world!
And that can feel like a tall order—whether you just got baptized today or you’ve been baptized for decades. When we read off these promises, maybe there’s something in the back of our minds that wonders “What if I don’t do them? What then? Am I still in God’s grace? Am I still saved?” And in that line of questions, I think, we as Lutherans have one of the best answers in this faith. And it comes from Paul’s many, many words about God’s grace as a free gift given through faith.
See, Paul wrote his letter to the Romans as a kind of introduction. The Roman congregation hadn’t met him yet, so he sent this letter on ahead of his arrival so they would know what to expect when he got there: what his theology was, what he would be emphasizing, how well his preaching lined up with the good news the Romans had heard before. And one thing stood out above everything else in this letter, and that’s Paul’s commitment to naming grace as a gift that can’t be earned, no matter how good you are; and can’t be lost, no matter how bad you are. Grace, given to us in our baptisms just like the five we had this morning, is God’s work and God’s work alone. It’s free.
It can be really hard for us to grasp that concept. Whether we mean to or not, we’ve been brought up with the idea that you earn your keep. When you have to work hard for something, it makes you value it more. Knowing you could lose it motivates you to work harder. So when we make these baptismal promises, maybe on some level we think, even if we initially got that grace for fee, we need to work hard to keep it. But Paul reminds us that that’s not the case. We, strangely enough, have nothing to do with our own salvation. That’s God’s work. And so is what comes after.
What comes after is freedom, real freedom. Grace is freeing. Grace frees us from the need to justify ourselves, to focus on our own works enough to earn our own salvation. When the most important thing is already taken care of, it frees up all of our energy to do the things that we promised to do in the first place! By grace we’ve been given enough, which frees us to use our blessings to help the poor. By grace we’ve been forgiven and renewed, which frees us to show that same grace to our enemies instead of revenge. By grace we know we are loved, unconditionally, which frees us to love our neighbors unconditionally too. The grace we receive in baptism is the thing that frees us to be the very people we’ve always wanted to be—the kind of people that truly love, truly heal, and truly follow God’s command to love one another.
Because that’s the highest command we have. Love one another. It’s so simple, but it’s impossible without God’s grace first. Grace, because we can never earn it but we are still given it, calls us back to humility when we do wrong, and lets us admit it so that we can heal. Grace, because it’s entirely God’s work and not ours, takes away the kind of self-righteousness that leads us to categorize people into good and bad. Grace, because it can’t be un-earned, frees us to make mistakes as we strive for God’s kingdom of goodness and wholeness for all people. Grace is the reminder that the most important decision has already been made, and it’s good for us.
But like so many things, the kind of goodness that grace produces in us takes time. We are called to die to sin and rise into new life each and every day. Every time you wash your face, remember your baptism and that you are being renewed every day by God. Whenever you interact with water, whether you touch the water in the bowl this morning or you get caught in a water balloon fight after church today, be reminded of God’s grace that gives you hope. Each day you will grow a little bit closer to the person God is calling you to be. And each day God’s grace will free you just a little bit more to share that goodness and wholeness with everyone you meet.
So lean into that grace. Let the wonder of baptism and the wholly new life it brings shape you into the person God is calling you to be. Know that even when you fall short of those promises you’ve made, it doesn’t spell the end of God’s grace for you. And because you have been given that grace, share it with others. Give others room to grow as they make mistakes and try again. Know that this grace gives you reason for hope. Because this grace is the only reason we can have the hope that doesn’t disappoint.
Thanks be to God. Amen.