Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sermon: Baptism of Christopher Carter Melling

Wednesday of Trinity 10, Baptism of Christopher Melling
30 July 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 19:41-48 (1 Cor 12:1-11)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Dear Christians, you’ve seen a baby get wet this evening.

To most people and under most circumstances, this isn’t really worth the trouble to come to see. But here we all are, parents, sponsors, relatives, a special candle, a certificate, and a celebration.

To the non-believing world, this is the height of stupidity. To religious people who don’t worship our God, this is a quaint ceremony that symbolizes our unity as a community. To some Christians, this is a hollow ritual, since Christopher can’t choose to be a Christian. To other Christians, this is no baptism, since Salem Lutheran Church doesn’t belong to the right bureaucracy.

But when Christopher’s baptism is despised or attacked, whether by believers or non-believers, it is the work of the devil. For we have the promise of God, the command to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” and the iron-clad word: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” And we have it on good authority, in fact the only infallible authority, that “these little ones” can indeed, in the words of our Lord Himself, “believe in Me.”

Belief is just another way to say “faith,” the faith through which we are saved, the faith we confess, the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ given to us as a gracious free gift.

In our Gospel, our Lord weeps tears of sadness. For His beloved city of Jerusalem refused to believe. They “did not know the time of [their] visitation.” God had come to them in the flesh, in a way that they could see (like water held in a pastor’s hand), hear (like water splashing in a font as the Holy Trinity is invoked), and touch (like water dripping from the head of a newly-regenerated baby).

But in spite of this visitation, Jerusalem refused to believe.

Unbelief is the work of Satan. Unbelief condemns the unchristian world and tempts the followers of Christ toward the abandonment of the faith. Indeed, the beautiful passage of the power of baptism: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved,” is completed by its opposite, the power of unbelief: “but he who does not believe, will be condemned.”

We believe in the regenerative work of this baptism not because we’re in the right denomination, not because Christopher can “make a decision for Jesus,” not now, not twelve years from now, not a hundred years from now. We believe, because we have been visited – by the Word of God in the flesh, and by the Holy Spirit whom He has sent to us.

As St. Paul proclaims in our epistle from his letter to the Church at Corinth: “Therefore I make known to you that no-one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no-one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.”

It’s too early to tell what gifts, what talents, what skills Christopher has inside of him. We have no idea what he will do to make a living, whom he will marry, how many children he will father – but we do know one thing, by virtue of the water and the Word given to Him under the sign of the holy cross this evening: Christopher has been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, of eternal life, of a second birth, of access to God the Father through the ministrations of the Holy Spirit and through the Word and flesh of Jesus, our great high priest. “There are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all…. One and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.”

Christopher, and all the baptized, have been given the gift of life through water and the Spirit. The source of that gift was confessed in the hymn we sang by the Lutheran hymn writer Richard Resch:

The gifts Christ freely gives
He gives to you and me

To be His Church, His bride
His chosen, saved and free!
Saints blest with these rich gifts

Are children who proclaim

They were won by Christ

And cling to His strong name.

And these gifts abide for as long as we shall live, gifts that even transcend the grave and extend unto eternity. Our baptisms do not only serve us while our heads remain wet and while our baptismal candle burns, but cling to us as long as we have flesh and blood. The greatest treasure any of us has in this life is baptism. It is this watery grace that sees us through times of pain, of doubt, of fear, of temptation, of all forms of suffering, of helplessness, of times when our faith itself is a dimly burning wick, times of persecution, and even the hour of death itself.

We are reminded of our baptism every time we invoke Father, Son, and Spirit; whenever we cross ourselves; whenever we drink water, bathe, get caught in a rainstorm, see a rainbow, confess our sins and receive absolution, and even when we witness the Holy Baptism of other saints.

We are especially reminded of our baptism when we approach the altar to partake in the body and blood of Him who baptized us: the One whose mighty word speaks through the feeble lips of the pastor; the One whose bloodied, crucified hands bless us and absolve us through the shaky mortal hands of the messenger; the One who gives of Himself, whose body we eat, whose blood we drink, the water from whose riven side covers us and our sins through this same glorious and gracious gift we saw visited upon Christopher this evening.

The name “Christopher” means “Christ bearer.” It is the name of a legendary saint who, as the story goes, carried the baby Christ child safely across water. In a very real sense, Christopher became a baby “Christ bearer” this evening, even as all Christians are Christophers who bear Christ – not across water, but through water. And it is Christ who carries us in our baptism, bearing us as we bear our crosses, carrying us even as we are powerless to carry ourselves, delivering us from the death that we have earned and which He endured on our behalf.

And there is simply no-one: no person, no group, no church, no power on earth nor angelic being above or below – who has the power to contradict or gainsay what God the Father has done this evening through His Son Jesus Christ and by the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. We have the words of Christ, the Word of Scripture, and the simple fact that a baptism that has been done can never be undone, that this child is a child of the most high God, that he is a “Christ bearer” who carries with him the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Dear Christians, we know the time of our visitation today. We have seen a baby get wet this evening. And what’s more, we are bound to thank and praise our good and merciful Lord, even as we proclaim with the hymnist:

All glory to the One
Who lavishes such love;

The Triune God in love

Assures our life above.

His means of grace for us

Are gifts He loves to give;

All thanks and praise for His

Great love by which we live.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.