Faith on Our Foreheads and in Our Hearts

When I was six or seven, we spent Easter in St. Louis with my cousins.  It was always fun as a kid to visit and stay with them in the big Dutch Colonial in Webster Groves.  You see I am the oldest of four, and our ages and gender matched the four youngest cousins.  But my aunt and uncle had eight children and it was the four older boys that “expanded my worldview” and always made visiting them an adventure.

And so it was on that Easter morning that there were a half dozen of us on the back porch, trying to stay out of trouble as we waited to go to church.  It had rained all weekend and the porch was above the walk-out basement and the biggest puddle I have ever seen.  As we looked down at the immense puddle, one of my older cousins wondered how big a splash we could make by dropping rocks into it.  Before I knew it a couple of them had snuck outside and gathered small rocks from the gravel driveway and so we leaned over the rail and dropped rocks into the dark puddle below.

We all wore shirts and ties to church back then and so imagine a row of half a dozen boys in starched white shirts dropping rocks into a churned up muddy puddle.  The gravel rocks became larger ones and as I leaned over the rail, one of my cousins dropped a huge rock and I had one of those “slow motion” moments.  As I realized how big the rock was, and that my more experienced rock dropping cousins had all backed away from the rail, I saw the rock hit and the plume of water shoot up above the porch floor, to the bottom of the rail and SPLASH… all over my shirt and face!

Squeals of laughter mixed with fright because we all knew we all were in trouble, deep trouble.  As we were scrambling to figure out what to do, our mothers appeared in the kitchen door and we were caught stuck in the mess we all had a hand in.  And that for me is the image I have of Baptism.  When we are bogged down by muck and mire of our lives, even when the mud on our faces is our own doing, there is the cleansing water to take away the mess of our lives, the forgiveness of a loving parent, and a new clean white baptismal garment to wear until we find ourselves stained again by the mud of our lives.        

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We gather this day to hear God’s Word and celebrate God’s promises through earthly elements of water, bread and wine.  Given the shared reality of our daily need for forgiveness and a clean start, it is fitting that we focus on the sacrament of Holy Baptism this day.  For it is through the washing of the Word and the hope of God’s promise to forgive and bring us new life both to ourselves and to all the baptized, that we can find comfort.

  • Comfort in God who loves and accompanies us always.
  • Comfort in God who pursues us, even when we wander off. 
  • Comfort in water that can terrify, representing flooding, drowning and death.  
  • Comfort in water that can cleanse, restore, refresh, renew and sustain life.  
  • Comfort in Holy Baptism, water and Word that is a gift of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

By water and the Word in Baptism, we are liberated from sin and death by being joined to the death and resurrection of Jesus.  In Baptism God seals us by the Holy Spirit and marks us with the cross of Christ forever.  This God of comfort, Holy One, Holy Three delivers us from the forces of evil, puts our sinful self to death, gives us new birth, adopts us as children, and makes us members of the body of Christ, the Church. 

Holy Baptism is for the sake of life in Christ and in the body of Christ, the Church.  It also may be given to those who are close to death, and is a strong word of promise in spite of death.  Individuals are baptized, yet this Baptism forms a community.  It is for children.  It is for adults.  It is done once, yet it is for all of our life.  It is received by faith alone.  

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By faith alone is where we find Paul in his letter to the Romans today, reminding them and you and me that we all start out as sinners. The Bible, God’s Word leaves no doubt about it: 

   There’s nobody living right, not even one,
      nobody who knows the score, nobody alert for God.
   They’ve all taken the wrong turn;
      they’ve all wandered down blind alleys.
   No one’s living right;
      I can’t find a single one.
   Their throats are gaping graves,
      their tongues slick as mudslides.
   Every word they speak is tinged with poison.
      They open their mouths and pollute the air.
   They race for the honor of sinner-of-the-year,
      litter the land with heartbreak and ruin,
   Don’t know the first thing about living with others.
      They never give God the time of day.

What is written in God’s Word is addressed to us and spells out that we’re sinners, every one of us, in the same sinking boat with everybody else.  God who pursued the People of Israel to set things right through the Law and the Prophets became become Jesus, God’s ultimate gift to set things right for us.  And not only for us, but for everyone who believes, because there is no difference between us and others.  Why no difference?  Because we are all utterly incapable of living the lives God wills for us.  God out of sheer generosity pursues us throughout our lives and puts us in right standing with Gods-self. 

Baptism makes everything new… God gives us unconditional holiness, transforming forgiveness, and a faithful foundation for a new life, a new start for each and every new day.  Martin Luther said, “No, greater jewel, therefore, can adorn our body and soul than baptism, for through it we become completely holy and blessed, which no other kind of life and no work on earth can acquire.

I am reminded of poetic lyrics of Thomas Herbranson who weaves the following words on Baptism…

This Spirit’s entry now: The water and the Word, The cross of Jesus on your brow, the seal of both felt and heard.   

This miracle of life reborn Comes from the Lord of breath; The perfect man from the life was torn; Our life comes through his death.  

Let the water be the sacred sign That we must die each day To rise again by his design As followers of his way.  

Renewing Spirit, hear our praise For your baptismal pow’r That washes us through all our days. 

Lord, cleanse again this hour.

Friends, God does it all for us.  Claims us.  Adopts us.  Washes us.  Walks with us.  Forgives us.  Gives us faith.  Pursues us.  God does not respond to what we do, rather God gives and loves unconditionally and we respond to all that God does.  Our lives with God and with others is all about letting go of being in control, and letting God set the pace along the way.  God sets the pace through the Holy Spirit poured out in the water and Word on our foreheads and poured into our hearts as faith alone.

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God gets us out of the mess we’re in and restores us to where God always wants us to be.  That place is with God, pursued and loved by God, in relationship with God our maker, savior, and sustainer.  God did this by becoming truly human in Jesus Christ, the way, the truth, the life, Immanuel, God with us …

  • God who was there to hear your borning cry, 
  • God who will be there when you are old, 
  • God who rejoiced the day you were baptized, and 
  • God who was with you to see your life unfold.

These words of the hymn we will sing in a few minutes, remind us of God’s promise sealed on our foreheads at Baptism, and God’s presence and love which pursues us throughout our lives.  When I sing it, I feel these words written on my heart by God who claims, loves and forgives with unbounded love.  When we sing it, listen for God singing the words to you, writing them on your heart, this is the story and song of our lives with God.

And when the evening gently closes in, and you shut your weary eyes, God will be there as God has always been, with just one more surprise!

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