Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sermon: Quasimodo Geniti (Easter 2) and Baptism of Kaesyn Lee Walker

19 April 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 20:19-31 (Ezek 37:1-14, 1 John 5:4-10)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia.

The Latin name of this week in the church year is Quasimodo Geniti – from St. Peter’s first epistle, as we sang right after little Kaesyn was baptized: “As newborn babes desire the pure milk of the Word.”

Quasimodo Geniti” means “Just like newborns.”

And what could be a more appropriate passage to sing just after Kaesyn’s second birth by water and the Spirit?

Some people might hear the word “Quasimodo” and think of the baby hunchback left at Notre Dame Cathedral on Quasimodo Geniti Sunday in the famous novel by Victor Hugo. And while Kaesyn is blessed to be in perfect physical health, she did enter this church building spiritually broken – just as all of us did, being born into a fallen world burdened with sin. But by the grace of God, by the death and resurrection of our Blessed Lord, and by the “pure milk of the Word,” Kaesyn was given the gift of faith that overcomes sin, death, and the devil.

“For everyone who has been born of God,” says the holy apostle, “overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”

Little Kaesyn has come into this faith, this “pure milk of the Word" by virtue of “water and blood.” For even as Kaesyn was surrounded in water and blood in the maternal womb of her first birth, she was given a second birth from the maternal womb of the Church, by the water and blood of Jesus Christ, which flowed forth from his side on the cross, and which flowed over Kaesyn’s head at the font. “For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.”

Indeed, these three agree, just as these three: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, into whose holy name this child of God has been baptized and given new birth, new life, a resurrection from the dead – all by faith alone.

What a wondrous miracle!

And yet how humble this miracle seems: simple water imposed upon a helpless baby. But this is indeed the “pure milk of the Word” that is desired by “newborn babes.”

For Kaesyn was born into a fallen world, a desert of death, a valley full of dry bones. All of us who surround this little girl, her father and mother, her sponsors, her relatives, and all of us, her brothers and sisters in Christ, are like those skeletons Ezekiel saw bleaching and decaying in the heat of the sun. But the pure milk of the Word, proclaimed by the prophet according to the Word and will of God, brought those dry bones to life.

Sinews, flesh, and skin covered the bones. The corruption of death and decay ran in reverse. But amidst the rattling and enfleshing of these skeletons, there was no life in them. But once the breath of the Word of God was blown into them by the mouth of the prophet, the bones stood up “on their feet” and became “an exceedingly great army.”

We have been raised from our graves by the Word of God, by the blood, by the water, and by the Spirit. We have been born again by water and the Word, and like those once-dead bones, our formerly hopeless and lifeless flesh has been revivified.

It was our Risen Lord who breathed on the disciples after He Himself stood on His own revivified feet and walked out of His own grave. The Lord Jesus “breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

And by virtue of this ordination and gift of the Holy Spirit, the disciples were sent out to preach the gospel, and to forgive the sins of the penitent and to withhold forgiveness from the impenitent. They were also charged to make new disciples of Jesus by “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

For this baptism and this preaching of the Word of God is for a specific purpose: “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”

Life. Life from death. Life in glorious abundance. Life that has no end. This, dear friends, is the life we “newborn babes” have in Christ by virtue of the “pure milk of the Word” through the forgiveness of sins, through faith, all by the grace of Him who died and rose again for us.

Today, Kaesyn gets a new birthday and everlasting life. Today she has risen from death like bones in the desert. She has risen up to join our mighty army of the redeemed, infused by the very breath of Christ, washed by the water from His side, and redeemed by the blood He shed on the cross.

For listen to the promise, brothers and sisters: “I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live.”

The victory of the cross, the victory of the empty tomb, the victory of the One who declares: “Peace be with you,” the victory of St. Thomas’s belief over doubt, is also our victory. It is Kaesyn’s victory as well. For “this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.”

And this faith, this victory, this life is given to us as a gift – not because we want it, not because we understand it, not because we deserve it, not because we have the intellectual capacity to grasp it – but rather it is given to us “as newborn babes,” as nursing infants, as helpless little children driven by hunger.

For there is a little Hunchback of Notre Dame in all of us. We, who were disfigured by sin and deemed of no value by the world, were brought to the Church. We were baptized. We were forgiven. We were given the “pure milk of the Word.” And it is in the gift given to us by Christ through the ministry of His Church that we indeed “believe in the Son of God” and have “the testimony” in ourselves, believing that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing [we] have life in His name,” the name in which we baptize and are baptized, the name at whose command the dead walk and sins are forgiven.

Let us never forget this, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Let us always remember how we were given life, how we were redeemed, how we were raised to be part of an army. Let us joyfully remember our own baptism as well as the resurrection of Him who gave us life through that baptism. And let us never let little Kaesyn forget this either. Let us pray for our dear sister, teach and catechize her, and continue to give her the “pure milk of the Word,” for her whole life long, as a newborn babe, quasimodo geniti, born again to life everlasting through Him who died and rose again. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia.

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


BassoonJedi said...

"... this child of God has been baptized and given new birth, new life, a resurrection from the dead – all by faith alone."

I don't understand. I think the girl was a baby -- so how could she have "faith alone?" Can her parents repent on her behalf, like the Mormons do for their deceased relatives?

I just don't get how this baptism is anything like what the New Testament talks about... the baptized person repents, and pursues righteous living while relying upon the grace of God to forgive their sins. The baby can't do any of that, and might never repent nor live righteously thereafter.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear BassoonJedi:

This is an excellent question, one that we Lutherans would answer differently than those who only baptize adults or limit baptism to those who can articulate the faith in words.

Indeed, the little girl I baptized today, Kaesyn, is a baby, an infant about a month old.

And she indeed has faith!

That does sound funny to modern ears, because we tend to think of *faith* - which is *belief* - as something intellectual, as though we weigh the evidence and become Christian by an act of our own will, or we decide to repent and turn from our sins by our own doing.

Of course, that means we're *doing something* to become a Christian - which is the opposite of what Scripture says that salvation is *by grace* (e.g. Eph 2:8-9)- meaning not earned, given as a pure gift to us for free.

But little ones can indeed have faith - even really little ones, like my son whom I baptized at one day old. This is because faith is not intellectual, but is rather a kind of trust (Latin for faith is "fides" which is where we get the motto "semper fidelis" (always faithful) and the word "fidelity").

Many children are showered with gifts even before they are born!

Children can indeed "believe in" their parents insofar as they trust them. A newborn will crawl up his mother's belly and "latch on" without any intellectual training, trusting that his mother is feeding him healthy food and not rat poison.

And this is why our Lord did not prohibit little children, but actually rebuked the disciples for prohibiting them from coming to Him - for "to such belongs the kingdom of heaven" (Matt 19:14).

In fact, Jesus tells us we need to "receive (dexetai) the kingdom of God" in the same way that "infants" (brephe) receive it (Luke 18:15-17)!

A brephos is indeed an infant - and incidentally it is also the term used in Scripture for an unborn child.

Matthew (19) and Mark (10), in reporting the same incident, describe the same infant using the more general term "paidion" (child). In Matthew 18:2, just one chapter previous, Jesus had just put such a child (paidion) in the middle of the disciples, and then described him as "one of these little ones (mikron) who believes (pisteuonton) in me" (verse 6) So even a "little one", that is, as Luke shows us, an infant, can have faith. For such are those to whom the kingdom belongs (Luke 18:17).

There's Psalm 8:2 "Out of the mouth of babies and infants you have established strength" (translated in some versions as "you have ordained praise", such as the Vulgate, the Douay and the NIV, because the Greek Septuagint uses the word "ainos" (praise)). The Septuagint also uses the terms "nepion" (babies) and "thelazonton" (nursing infants) in this verse.

Jesus quotes this passage of the Psalms in Matt 21:16, interestingly using the Greek, not the Hebrew: "Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have ordained praise (ainon)."

So according to the Psalms (and Jesus) we see infants giving praise to God - precisely because they have faith (which is, of course, a gift that they have received). It's clearly not an intellectual thing - for infants would then indeed be excluded. But Jesus doesn't exclude children! In fact, Jesus tells us to be like children, not the other way around. The intellect can (and often does) *oppose* faith.

Our difficulty is in seeing repentance as something we do for God (a work) instead of something God does for us (grace, a gift). This issue of "salvation by grace" touches upon the whole issue of the Reformation.

There is also the example of John the Baptist leaping in his mother's womb (Luke 1:41). Luke uses the word "brephos" to describe the unborn John, who even as what we would call today a "fetus", somehow believed in Jesus and had faith - and was even able to express that faith in the only way he knew how!

Faith, especially in an infant, is a great miracle. And an infant being baptized is the quintessential picture of God's pure unmerited grace being given as a free gift to a person who could not possibly do anything to earn it.

This is why Jesus describes baptism as being "born again." Just as we don't choose to be born the first time, just as our intellect (will) has nothing to do with it, neither does it have anything to do with our second birth, being "born of water and the Spirit" (John 3:5).

And as we sang right after little Kaesyn's baptism: "As newborn babes desire the pure milk of the Word..." (1 Pet 2:2).

Anyway, I hope this helps explain why we baptize babies just as the Church has always done. For babies (even the unborn) are also sinners (Ps 51:5), and they need the gift of salvation too. And as St. Peter tells us in 1 Pet 3:21 "Baptism... now saves you."

It is always a humbling thing to baptize anyone, especially a little baby who receives baptism as a free gift, which is a reminder that this is indeed how we all receive salvation. We aren't saved by our intellect, but rather in spite of it!

Thanks for your outstanding question, and for giving me the opportunity to confess the miraculous wonder of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism! That is indeed a topic that I think every Lutheran loves to talk about.

BassoonJedi said...

Thank you for your gracious and informative response.

But now I wonder... is *baptism* a "work?"

Father Hollywood said...

Dear BassoonJedi:

No problem! Thanks for your kind words.

Baptism is indeed a work - just not our work, but the Lord's.

See John 4:1-3: "Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee."

We pronounce the words on the Lord's behalf, we pour the water - but it is Jesus who is doing the baptizing. The power is in His Word and promise. And this is indeed how disciples are made (note again John 4:1, as well as Matt 28:19-20: baptizing and teaching, which is to say by word and sacrament). Baptism is a means to salvation that is linked with belief (Mark 16:16).

This is another example of the "monergism of grace" - which is just a theologically uppity way of saying that grace is a one-way ("mono") street - all the work ("energy") is done by God. All the more reason to thank, praise, serve and obey Him!

WM Cwirla said...

Looking at your blog over the past several months, you allude to quite a number of Baptisms in your congregation. This is wonderful. Thanks be to God.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear William:

You're right about that. I have no explanation for that, and I second your thanks to God!