Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Sermon Wednesday in 2 Lent - The Way of Discipleship (Baptism)

Romans 6:3-11
Based on Chapter Nine of Discipleship by Bonhoeffer

Have you ever wondered when the apostles were baptized?
After all, it is not recorded that Jesus baptized Peter, James and John,
or Levi when he was called from the tax booth.
This seems to contradict the doctrine of the church that baptism is necessary.
If it wasn’t necessary for the apostles,
why is it absolutely necessary for us?

But Eberhard Bethge, a student of Bonhoeffer’s who became his best friend,
wrote in his study notes on the call of Levi,
“By being called, Levi has become a ‘baptized disciple.’

The encounter with Jesus is what happens in Levi’s call and in our baptism.
The same Jesus who met Levi at the tax booth
is risen and meets us in Word and Sacrament.
If in his call, the incarnate Jesus ‘baptizes’ Levi,
then in his church’s baptism he calls us.

Baptism is not something we offer to God;
it is something that God offers to us.
Just as none of the disciples could ‘choose’ to become a disciple,
but were called to follow,
so none of us choose baptism,
but are chosen.
Those who are infants are chosen, those who are adults are also chosen,
for it is never a matter of us nominating ourselves,
no matter our age.

[This is why it is problematic for peo[ple to say
that we need to make a ‘decision’ for Christ.
In Baptism Christ decides for us,
he is always the subject of the active verb.

It is also problematic for well-meaning parents to say
that they won’t raise their children in the church
because they want them to ‘decide’ when they’re older.
No one, whether child or adult, can follow Jesus
without the call of Christ,
and children are called just as they are;
there is no age of reason for disciples.
Indeed, children may well be more faithful than parents.

Finally, it is problematic when we teach
that when infants are baptized, it is the parents’ decision,
and that when teenagers are confirmed, it is their decision.
We want to give children a sense of responsibility –
but actually we let both children and their parents off the hook.
We are not glorifying Jesus,
but the decision-making independent self.
Whereas if we had taught rightly,
we would have taught that in baptism,
Christ has called us by his own name,
and we are never independent from him;
our God-given freedom is to be used for him.]

Just as Levi was called from the tax booth,
our baptism into Christ calls us out from the world.
Baptism implies a break between the old life and the new.
It is not a chronological break,
as if before baptism we were one self
and after baptism we are another.
This helps us to understand why an infant is baptized for sin not yet committed,
and why an adult must still struggle with sin even when the new life has begun.

The old life is the life of self-interest that clings to us throughout our lives,
and the new life is the life in Christ which we are given by grace,
in which we may love God and neighbor.
In the old life we relate to other human beings, money, time, talent,
nation and community on our own,
but in the new life Christ always is involved in the relationship.
It is never just my life, but my life in Christ.
The old life and the new life are always at odds,
but Christ is constantly at work in us to drown the old and to bring forth the new.
Baptism is death for the old self and life for the new.

Just as Jesus’ call required a public act of following in front of everyone,
so in our baptism we are called to follow publicly.
Our faith is personal but never private.
Baptized people become visible in the community of the church.
In the service of baptism, the parents are instructed
to bring the children into the community of the church.
In the service of affirmation of baptism,
the first thing we are asked if we will ‘continue to live among God’s faithful people.’
The life of baptism is neither merely an assent to certain truths
nor is it simply a vague commitment to doing good deeds.
Rather, it is to associate with Jesus,
and that means to be a visible participant in the Church of Jesus Christ.

In some places in the world, that visibility can lead to physical death.
But the break with the world in baptism requires and causes our death,
whether or not we are given the grace of martyrdom.
Bonhoeffer writes, ‘Every call of Christ leads to death.’
It means that in baptism we live under God’s word,
seeking his will and dying to our own,
and we are commanded to bear the cross,
that is, to deal with and bear others.
If they wish to maintain community with Christ,
Christians cannot wall themselves away from others,
whether they are secure in their posh resorts
or living in whatever fantasy they can afford,
but must encounter the other
who makes claims on their time, energy, and resources.
That too is death of the old self.
But this death is a gift of grace,
it is not a punishment.
It is a gift because we are with Jesus,
who is the way, the truth and the life,
and if we are with him now, we are with him for time to come.

If, in Jesus’ call of the disciples, they were baptized,
then in the baptism of the Church, we are called.
This baptism is God’s grace which we receive.
Baptism liberates us from serving the world
or making the world serve us,
and calls us to serve Christ in the world
Baptism requires public identification with
and participation in the Church.
And baptism puts to death the old self-seeking person
and brings to life the one who seeks God alone.

‘Having taken their life from them,
[Jesus] now sought to give them a life that was full and complete.
And so he gave them his cross.
That was the gift of baptism to the first disciples.’
And, may I add, his gift to us as well.