Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sermon -- 6th Sunday after Pentecost (July 16, 2017)

ROMANS 6:1-11


In the name + of Jesus.

     The greatest gift that you received in this world is your baptism.  It is through your baptism that you received all the gifts that Jesus Christ won for you through his life, death, and resurrection.  Those events took place some 2,000 years ago in the land of Israel, but the benefits of Jesus' work is delivered to you here and now in your baptism.  It is there that Jesus washed you clean of all of your sin.  Through your baptism, you were adopted into God's family and made a child of the Most High God.  The Lord gave you garments of salvation to wear, marked you in Jesus' name, and made you an heir of everlasting life.
     Most of you were baptized as infants.  You can't remember the day or the water being put upon you.  But that doesn't mean it is useless.  You don't remember the day of your birth, either, but you are certainly benefiting from that.  Even though baptism was applied to you in years past, its benefits stay with you throughout your life.  In fact, it is your baptism which has given you life, because baptism sets you free from sin.
     St. Paul writes, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.  For one who has died has been set free from sin.” (Romans 6:6-7)  The old self is the sinful nature in which we were born.  All people are natural born sinners.  That is why people are so cruel to each other.  People who are supposed to care for you end up seeking their own interests.  We become bitter or envious toward people we are supposed to love.  And we are all too ready to believe the worst about other people, as if that somehow makes us better.  This is the sinful nature at work, and we all have one.
     But you died when you were baptized.  Your old self was crucified with Christ.  The sinner, which had stood at odds with God and his word, was put to death.  Now, if your old self died when you were baptized, you are no longer under sin.  It does not own you.  It cannot claim you.  It does not damn you.  You are free from its curse, its control, and its condemnation.  Baptism sets you free from sin.
     This freedom comes to you through baptism into Jesus Christ.  It was Jesus who first united himself to you when he became man.  Jesus became man to serve all mankind in his perfect life and sacrificial death.  He was baptized in the Jordan River, even though he had no need for cleansing.  Instead of being cleansed, he absorbed our sin and its curse.  He suffered for our sins, died under God's wrath, was dead and buried.  This is what sin brings on all who are guilty.  Now just as Jesus united himself to you by becoming man and being baptized, so also your baptism has united you to Jesus.  Listen to what Paul says: “Do you not know 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.” (Romans 6:3-4)  
     Baptism sets you free from sin.  You have been united with Jesus through baptism.  Your sinful nature was crucified with Christ and buried with him.  And just as Jesus has risen from the grave forever free from the power of death, so also you have been raised up a new creation.  In this new life, you are free from sin, death, and the devil.  Your sin no longer is held against you.  Your death is a temporary rest, but on the Last Day you will be raised from the grave with a glorified body to receive a life without end.  And Satan, whose name means “accuser”, can no longer taunt you over your sins or destroy you with guilt and despair.
    Oh, he will try.  You have probably felt his efforts before.  Satan accuses you of your sins and he does not make anything up.  He brings back vivid memories of words you wish you had never uttered, deeds which you wish you could undo, and thoughts which you pray would never be revealed to others.  Satan tries to crush you with guilt and shame and regret.  He wants to convince you that you are so worthless and wicked that God cannot possibly love you.  But Satan is a liar, and don't ever forget that.  He and his accusations are to be dismissed with one simple phrase: “I am baptized.”  Your baptism means you are clean on all counts.  It does not take away the consequences of your sins.  The thief will still go to jail.  The gossip may not get that friendship back.  But the guilt and curse of sin are taken away by Jesus.  In baptism, God assures you that he has made you a child of God, and you have God's own word on that.  You may have had a wicked past, but you are forgiven.  Baptism sets you free from your sins, and now you have a new life.
     As a new creation and a child of God, you walk in newness of life.  The newness of life means with the recognition that you are now under God's grace.  Your life is not about how many good works you have to do to get on God's good side and earn his approval.  God is already pleased with you.  And if you have to suffer temporal consequences for your sins, that does not mean God is angry with you.  In your baptism, you were clothed with Jesus' own righteousness.  God sees you as holy and blameless; and God loves what is holy.
     This new life also means that you recognize that God's word is true.  God has filled you with a right spirit which acknowledges that God determines what is good and delights in pursuing it.  You do not do it for gain or reward, but because the Lord has convinced you to love what is good.  And in the same way, you avoid what is evil because God has decreed it to be so.  Your flesh will always want you to give into greed, selfishness, lust, intoxication, gossip, and holding grudges.  Some may urge you to avoid these because they only add grief or pain to your life.  But that is like saying, “Don't get drunk because you don't want an addiction or a hangover.”  While that is true, the Lord has taught you better.  You avoid these things because God forbids them and they are evil.  Since sin is no longer your master, flee from the things which lead back to sin and death.  This is what St. Paul means when he says, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:11)  
     Baptism sets you free from sin.  Baptism sets you free for serving the Lord in joy as a child of God.  Now, you will never live up to being what a child of God should be.  We strive for it, but we all fall short.  When that happens, return to your baptismal covenant in repentance.  The Lord will not be disgusted with you or banish you from his family because you have fallen short of his glory.  The Lord does not tire of having mercy upon you or loving you.  His mercies are new every morning.  The Lord will be true and faithful to his promise which he made to you when you were baptized.  He will forgive your sins.  He will raise you up again as a new creation.  He will assure you that you remain a child of the Most High God, and therefore an heir of the heavenly kingdom.  Baptism sets you free from your sin.
     The idea was not original with Martin Luther, but he did put it in his Small Catechism.  He urges Christians to begin and end each day by blessing themselves with the sign of the cross and saying the baptismal formula, “In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.”  As you begin and end each day, remember who you are and whose you are.  You are Christ's.  You are beloved by God the Father.  You are the temple of the Holy Spirit.  You have been redeemed from sin, delivered from death, and released from the devil's claim.  You have been set apart for godly living and for the good of others.  You are a new creation in Christ.  Your baptism has bestowed all of these gifts upon you, and you get to live in the comfort and confidence that baptism marks you as the Lord's, now and forevermore.

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

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