Our Baptismal Identity
Topic: Biblical Verse: Romans 6:1–6:5
Midweek Lenten Service
March 13, 2019
“The Disciplines of Lent: Our Baptismal Identity”
It was February 1962, and yours truly had been born in the midst of a raging Iowa snowstorm. After I was brought home from the hospital, my parents planned for my Baptism, but the winter weather just didn’t let up. It was going to be pretty hard to bring a newborn to church for Baptism because of the risk of getting stuck in the snow on the country gravel roads leading into town. So my mom and dad arranged for me to be baptized at home, and that’s what happened on March 10, 1962 on the kitchen table in the farm house where I grew up. The pastor, Rev. E.A. Schuetz, somehow made it out to officiate at the Baptism, and my godparents, Craig and Sue Dorr, also were present. At my mother’s funeral in January, Sue was there, and she reminded me about the circumstances surrounding my Baptism. This is the little Baptismal napkin from that day. Even though I do not remember my Baptism all those years ago, others do. Even if others forget, what matters most is that the Lord remembers. He remembers that through the grace given in holy Baptism, “we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand” (Psalm 95:7). In holy Baptism, we are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, just like Paul the apostle tells us in tonight’s Scripture reading. In Baptism, we are joined together with Jesus and graciously receive all that he has done for us. We become one with him. In Baptism, our identity is linked into Jesus’ identity. That becomes the theme for the message this evening as we focus on The Disciplines of Lent during these midweek Lenten services. Tonight, based on what Paul writes in Romans 6, we focus on “Our Baptismal Identity.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
There is a strong Baptismal component to the season of Lent. These 40 days were originally a time of instruction for candidates preparing for holy Baptism at Easter. If we are going to understand what Lent is all about, we must know that it doesn’t begin with us and what we give up or sacrifice. It begins with God and what he has already done for us by giving up and sacrificing the life of his beloved Son, Jesus, who died the death we rightly deserved because of our sin. Lent begins with understanding who we are – and whose we are – through our Baptism.
Paul is writing to first-century believers in the city of Rome, encouraging them in faith, and Paul is still encouraging us in faith today across the centuries. In writing what he did here in Romans 6, Paul makes clear that just because God graciously forgives sin does not mean that we are to keep on willfully and deliberately sinning against God. We are to be dead to sin and alive to God. And it begins with this thing called Baptism. Baptism is what we call a Sacrament; that is, it is something commanded by God (Matthew 28:16-20), it has a physical element (water), and it conveys God’s grace and forgiveness. Scripture does not dictate how Baptism is to be done, only that it is to be done. Baptism may be done by pouring, or sprinkling, or by immersion. All are valid and acceptable. We run into trouble when there is an insistence that it must be done this way or that way. We cannot insist on something on which Scripture itself is silent. By doing so, we turn the Gospel into Law, and the work of Jesus becomes the work of the devil.
Baptism is not about what we can do for God; it is about what God in Christ has already done for us. My identity as a newborn child in February 1962 was that I belonged to Hans and Ruth Ann. I was their child and their DNA was passed on to me. But my original parent’s DNA was also passed on to me. Adam and Eve’s original sin of disobedience and rebellion (Genesis 3:1ff.) became mine already in the womb, as David writes: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). I didn’t ask for this, but it was given to me anyway, along with every other person born into this world. And so the cycle of sin, both original and actual, perpetuated itself throughout our human race until “In the fullness of time, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). This adoption process begins with holy Baptism where God claims us as his own. In Baptism we are marked with the cross of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit for eternal life. That gift of forgiveness, life, and salvation which God has given in Baptism needs to be tended and nurtured as we go along in life. Unless this happens, the seed of faith doesn’t have opportunity grow and develop. Unless that Baptismal gift is cultivated, we forget who we are and whose we are. We wander and go astray. It also happens that despite the best intentions of faithful Christian parents, children stray from the fold. For a whole bunch of different reasons, people we care about, loved ones, can and do walk away from the faith. Maybe we ourselves have walked away from the faith. It hurts. Sometimes we are the ones who hurt, and sometimes others hurt for us. At such times, it is enormously helpful to hold onto what God did for us in holy Baptism: washing away our sin and claiming us as his own. Sometimes that’s all we have to hold onto, and we are forced to turn that family member or friend over to God because we can’t seem to help them. But we can sure pray, and we should pray that the Lord would rekindle faith in their heart and return them to the grace first given them in holy Baptism. We pray, and we pray, and we pray. One thing I have learned is that when a young person whom I do not know comes through the doors of this church, there is usually a praying mom or dad, or a praying grandma or grandpa, who has been lifting this person before the Lord in prayer.
Many years ago when my girls were little, one of my daughters wanted nothing more than to have a Woody doll. After much digging around in bins and boxes in the basement, I finally found Woody here. Woody is from the Pixar animated movie, “Toy Story,” which came out in 1995. In “Toy Story 2” from 1999, Woody is stolen by a toy collector who is getting ready to ship him overseas for big money. In getting spiffed up for this, the name of Woody’s owner, Andy, marked in ink on the bottom of his boot, is painted over. Woody starts to forget who he is, and whose he is, but by the end of the movie, Woody is reunited with Andy, who loves him. That, my friends, is what our Baptismal identity is all about. In holy Baptism, our Owner and Master, puts his mark on us. Along life’s way, we, like Woody, can all too easily forget who we are and whose we are. We get caught up in things that take us away from God; going down pathways that are not life-giving. We need to be reminded again and again and again whose we are. We need to be reminded that “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). Walking in newness of life isn’t something we can do solo. We need one another to strengthen and encourage us to persevere in faith and walk in that newness of life. Be a Barnabas. This person from the New Testament was a missionary partner who worked with the apostle Paul in the Book of Acts. His name means “son of encouragement,” and that is what we are to be to each other. Be that son or daughter of encouragement to one another as we walk together on our journey of faith, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-4).
One of the Scripture lessons appointed to be read on Christmas Day is this: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7). That’s Baptism talk! Through holy Baptism, by God’s amazing grace, we know who are because we know whose we are. Amen.