Text: Mark 6:14-29 (Rev. 6:9-11, Romans 6:1-5)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
Today is an important milestone for us as members of this particular church. On this date five years ago, our lives were changed forever. And they were changed by water. We learned how fragile life is, as well as how the Lord protected that same fragile life. We learned how destructive water can be, as well as how necessary for life water also is. We learned humility. We learned to depend on others for help. We learned how to throw off our pride and receive charity.
Today is also an important milestone for the Church throughout the world. For all historic churches of every tradition pause on this day to ponder the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist. In Holy Baptism, our lives were changed forever. And they were changed by water. We learned how fragile life is, as well as how the Lord protected that same fragile life. We learned how destructive water can be, as well as how necessary for life water also is. We learned humility. We learned to depend on others for help. We learned how to throw off our pride and receive charity.
As Luther pointed out as his own death as a confessor of the faith approached, we Christians are beggars. We come with nothing, and all that we have is a gift of grace. We are receivers of charity. And the Lord Himself pours that charity, that grace, on us through water and through a baptizer. This water, made holy by the Word, destroys and drowns the Old Adam, and this water washes us clean and gives us a second birth of water and the Spirit, bringing forth from the font a New Man, incorruptible and remade by charity, by grace. Our baptism is a renaissance, a renovation, a rebuilding, a restoring.
By God’s providence, this merciful double milestone in time is also the date of a double baptism. When the Lord wishes to emphasize something, He quite often repeats it. The Lord is not only giving new and eternal life to Zack and Emily – He is reminding us of our own rebirth “by water and the Word.”
“Do you not know,” St. Paul asks us anew, “that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
“Do you not know” dear brothers and sisters? Our baptism is testimony, it is the promise of the living God, it is a historical and irrevocable act in history done by God who took flesh in history, and carried out through the hands of a pastor who lived and breathed in history. The remembrance of our baptism is a seal, an assurance of the grace that was delivered to us when water was administered upon us “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
And that divine testimony, the witness of the good news of the cross, of the forgiveness of sins, of eternal life, that testimony is wrapped up in baptism and preached by the Baptist.
For like John, we the baptized are witnesses. We can confess what was done to us and for us. We can testify of the Lord’s grace and mercy. We can state without equivocation that we were miraculously born again through this most holy “washing of regeneration.”
And like John, we confess, we give witness, by our lives. For not all are called to preach like John. Not all are called to die for the faith like John. But all of us baptized are called upon to confess the truth of the Gospel – before beggars and kings alike, in safety and peril alike, through word and deed alike.
For John told the truth to power when he called Herod and Herodias to repentance, “saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’ And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death.” Telling the truth will not make you popular. People will bear grudges. Some will try to destroy you. In John’s case, the hatred was such that the one being called to repentance succeeded in silencing John’s speech by severing his head. And yet, John is not silenced, for He spoke God’s Word, a Word that continues to be proclaimed, calling sinners to repent and forgiving sinners who do. John’s Word continues to cry out: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” because it is not just John’s cry, but that of the Church. For it is the very Word of God.
And according to another martyr who preached God’s Word: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Dear Emily and Zach, you will not always be popular for believing the truth in your heart, and you will be even less so for confessing it with your mouth. But this is how we are saved – from sin, from death, and from the devil. And as we in this place like to say: “It is what it is.”
And, dear friends, that is the job of the witness – whether preacher or hearer. “It is what it is.” That is, the Truth is the Truth.” The truth is that Jesus of Nazareth is God in the flesh. He submitted to John’s baptism, submitted to the baptism of blood by His passion and death, forgiving all our sins, restoring our broken communion with God, and rising to eternal life in an incorruptible body. He shows us where we’re going. For we have been called to follow Him. We follow Him into the grave by way of baptism, and we follow Him out of the grave to heavenly glory in being “united with Him in a resurrection like his,” in the most holy name of the Trinity.
Emily has received this second birth as a baby. Zack has received it as a young man. Others have received it in old age. But what matters is that the gift has been received.
For in Holy Baptism, Emily, Zachary, and all of us have been given a robe, a white robe, a pure heavenly robe that not only covers our nakedness but bears witness to the Lord’s glory. For the saints cry out to God: “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”
And though we all will die, we all shall yet live. And though some among our number of the baptized died as martyrs, giving their lives as testimony to the faith, all shall once more live – to continue giving that joyful testimony of life for all of eternity. We are that “host arrayed in white,” and yes, we “walk in danger all the way.” But even more importantly, our “walk is heav’nward all the way.”
For indeed, in the here and now, we mark the passage of time, but in eternity, time will cease. And on this date and in this place, the Lord has called us not only to reflect on the meaning of water and of life, He has mercifully allowed us to pass along this gift of life to two more precious souls, new children of God in the heavenly kingdom, a kingdom of living water and of the living and eternal Word. For indeed, in this water and by the Word we confess and sing, “Jesus lives! The victory’s won.”
For no matter what happens in this life, no matter how many more storms we must endure, no matter how many more Christians will languish in prison cells and shed their blood for the sake of Jesus, we join our blessed Lord and all the saints in that great eternal victory. For we have been baptized:
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.