Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sermon: Exaudi (Easter 7) and Baptism of Alyssa Ann Gegenheimer

23 May 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 15:26-16:4 (Ezek 36:22-28, 1 Pet 4:7-14)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

What have the parents of this little girl, Alyssa Gegenheimer, gotten her into? She has now become a Christian, joining the ranks of other saintly young women, like Perpetua and Felicity of Northern Africa, who, because they had been baptized just like Alyssa, were put to the sword by gladiators after first being mauled by wild animals.

Things like this happen to faithful Christians who will not waver in their confession.

Today, the Christian Church around the world honors two upstanding young Christian men who lived in what is today France: Donatian and Rogatian. Like Alyssa, Donatian was baptized. He was a Christian. His brother Rogatian was so moved by his brother’s devout life, that he too sought to be baptized. But at that time, the bishop was missing because of the persecutions against the Christians. Rogatian wanted what Alyssa received today, but could not get it. Instead, he and his brother were hauled into court confessing their Christian faith, they were stretched on a rack, and they were beheaded. The Church recognizes St. Donatian and his brother St. Rogatian – even though the latter was not baptized with water. Like many Christians throughout the ages, he was baptized in blood.

Christianity is a bloody business. It is a serious business. In baptism, we are made heirs with Christ. And we all know where He went on that first sad Good Friday.

Some people may even wonder why we should subject our children to such a bloody affair as joining the Christian Church through Holy Baptism. For death is always nipping at the heels of the baptized. And that’s the point, dear brothers and sisters. Death seeks to catch us and overtake us. We will surely taste death – and some of us maybe even the death of martyrdom – but death does not have the last word.

For Holy Baptism is a second birth. To be baptized is to rise from sin and death to becoming a new creation; to forgiveness, life, and salvation; to die with Christ so that we shall live with Him forever.

The Christian life is a serious business. It is the stuff of life and death. Nothing in this life is more important or more urgent. This is why in the very act of bringing their little daughter to baptism, these parents are making a public vow that they will raise their child in the faith, bring her to God’s house every Sunday, pray with her every day, teach her the catechism, and raise her in an actively and unmistakably Christian home.

For listen to what our Lord warns us is in store for the baptized: “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” Baptized Christians have a big target on their backs. Satan is after this dear baptized child. And it is our job, pastor and congregation, parents and sponsors, to pray for her, to urge this family to remain faithful, and to defend her against the crafts and assaults of the devil with every bit of rage and intensity by which we would destroy anyone who tried to do her physical harm.

For our Lord promises that Christians will be persecuted by unbelievers on behalf of Satan: “because they have not known the Father, nor Me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.”

Jesus warns us of these things so that we can be prepared. He doesn’t leave us to the tender mercies of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. For he has given us the Helper, the “Spirit of truth.” This Holy Spirit descended upon our Lord in the form of a dove hovering over baptismal water, and according to our Lord’s command, we baptized little Alyssa in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in these baptismal waters. Today, she received the Helper, the Spirit, the one who hovers over these waters and who “will bear witness about” our Lord Jesus Christ when the time comes.

For as St. Peter has warned us: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”

The Spirit of glory and God rests upon little Alyssa – not because of who she is or what she has done, but because of who Christ is and what He has done.

The greatest gift any parent can give a child is a trip to the baptismal font. It is of more value than anything this world can offer. For at the font, we are all given a new birth, new life, a new spirit, and even, as the prophet Ezekiel says, “a new heart.”

“I will sprinkle clean water on you,” says the Lord, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you.”

No matter what the enemies of the cross do to us Christians – whether being ridiculed, shunned, mistreated, or even put to the sword – we rejoice with Christ, because we have been given a spirit that overcomes death, we have been given a heart and a flesh that will not fall to death, but in Christ has already conquered death.

This is what Alyssa’s parents have gotten their little girl into. She has been given the gift of everlasting life because of the Holy Spirit poured upon her in a washing of regeneration. This is indeed a serious business. It is the one thing of greater importance than anything else in Alyssa’s life, in the life of her parents, and in the life of all of us. For today, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit spoke to Alyssa, even as He renewed the same words to all of us, saying: “You shall be My people, and I will be your God.”

Christianity is indeed a bloody business, for it is rooted in the blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. It is a blood sealed by a promise, marked with a cross, bearing everlasting life – so that “in everything God may be glorified in Jesus Christ. To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. 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.


JAN said...

Didn't read the sermon, but I was wondering if you have a particular reason for calling Exaudi "Easter 7". I thought one of the great losses by moving to the assorted three year lectionaries was the loss of the little season called Ascension-tide. It forced Lutheran pastors to consider the theology of the Ascension.
Thus this Sunday would have been called Ascension 1. But you probably have your reasons; maybe you're using CPH bulletins or something.

Jared (but from Jan's computer)

Father Hollywood said...

Hey Jared!

The LSB calls it "Easter 7." I just used that nomenclature for the sake of consistency. We actually make our own bulletins. I think we put "Exaudi" with "Easter 7" in parentheses.

We do have a strange blend between Traditionalism and Vatican II customs in the way we do things. It's confusing sometimes!