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Sermon for Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Lectionary 24B (Pr19)    
Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church    
Lakeland FL    
September 12, 2021  

Isaiah 50:4-9
Psalm 116
James 3:1-12
Mark 8:27-38

Grace to you and peace from God and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Please pray with me. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

His name is Terry. I’ve not seen him for over ten years. I first met him when he came to the monthly community breakfast at church. He came with his friend Bobby. They lived down by the tracks, near the second bush from the empty patch. And on some Sundays, Terry would come to church. He made a point of sitting with the woman who served the scrambled eggs at the breakfast. Sunday upon Sunday he came. Then one day at the altar rail as I gave him communion, Terry leaned up to me and said, “Pamela” – cuz that’s what he always called me –“Pamela, can I talk to you sometime?” Of course, Terry. 

And then I didn’t see him for months. Such is the life of the homeless. And then on July 26, 2009, Terry came back. And after service when we were having some lemonade, I said, “Terry, last time I saw you, you wanted to talk with me about something. What was that?” “Well, Pamela, I want to be baptized. Can we do that sometime?” “Terry, we can. Is there any reason that we shouldn’t do it now?” “Well, I don’t look so good.” “Terry, you don’t need to clean up to take a bath. Shall we do this now?” “Yes.”

And so I announced to the fellowship hour lemonade drinkers that we should go back inside because we were going to have a baptism. An altar guild member got the font ready. Someone lit the candles and the Paschal Candle. Another got the hymnal for the service rite. Someone went to my office to get the anointing oil. The scrambled egg server would be one of Terry’s sponsors and my husband Earl would be the other. And on that Sunday, on the one year anniversary of my ordination, Terry was baptized, washed and claimed as a beloved child of God. Marked with the cross of Christ -- forever.

A few weeks ago we pondered the mysteries and wonder of Holy Communion and today we will do the same with the mysteries and wonder of Holy Baptism because in a few moments we will welcome Olivia Hazel into the holy catholic Church as she is brought by her parents and family and godparents.

Holy Baptism is one of two sacraments that are celebrated in the Lutheran Church; the other is Holy Communion. A sacrament is something that brings God’s grace to us. It has a visible sign and is accompanied by the word of God, the command of Jesus. So, for example with Holy Communion we have a visible sign – bread and wine – and the command of Jesus – “do this.” So it is with Holy Baptism – we have a visible sign – the water – and the command of Jesus – “baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Water and word. Together these convey a mighty outpouring of God’s grace for each of us. Tell me, Pastor… how does this happen?? I don’t know. But I know that it does. This is a mystery. I don’t know how it is that the clouds over the water are amazingly beautiful every single night. It is a mystery to me. Yet, I believe. I don’t know how it is that I get a phone call from a loved one just when I need a word of encouragement. It is a mystery. Yet, I believe. I don’t know how water and word bestow God’s grace. It is a mystery. Yet, I believe. And I pray that you do too.

Pastor John Buchanan tells the story of his baptizing a two year old child. Water and word. Grace bestowed. And at the end of the rite are these words, “Carolyn, child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.” And then Carolyn, in two year old fashion, said, “Uh-ohh.” And truer words were never spoken. Uh-ohhh is right. As baptized children of God, things are different for us. We have talked about the difference between being members and being disciples – well, baptism marks the beginning of our life as disciples. 

A life not of privileges but a life of responsibilities because we are bathed in grace. Uh-ohhh.

Because/therefore – because of God’s grace poured out in the waters of our baptisms, therefore we are called into a life in which we “walk wet” in those waters. In today’s gospel, Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” My friends, we too are asked that question – who do we believe that Jesus is? Is he a wise guru? A hippie before his time? A good man? 

With Peter, may we say, “You are the Christ, the Messiah. You are the one who saves us from sinking into the evil that surrounds us. You are light. You are life. You are the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega. You are the Son of God. To whom else could we go?”

So, when Terry was baptized, he was brought into relationship with Jesus and a community of faith that loved him, cared for him as he was. And he was not perfect. He was not a tidy “Jesus saved me from homelessness and turned my life around” package. There were many difficulties ahead of him, he was close to death many times, he continued on the streets, he came back to the breakfast many times. And through the workings of the community of faith, he was restored to relationship with his family and nurtured in his life of physical healing. How did this happen? In the waters of baptism, God again reached into his life, poured grace all over him, surrounded him with fellow disciples, and gave him a safety net onto which he could fall when other supports gave way.

And God does the same thing for each of us – God reaches into our life, pours grace all over us, surrounds us with fellow disciples and provides a safety net onto which we can fall when other supports give way. This is the life of discipleship.

Terry’s baptismal birthday is July 26, 2009. Mine is June 21, 1953. Olivia’s is September 12, 2021. Do you know yours? If your certificate is tucked away in a cedar chest, dig it out. If you can’t find it, claim any date that is meaningful to you – it may be your confirmation day or a day that you know that God was 100% present with you in a difficult time or a joy-filled time. Or it could be a random day in a random month. Decide and mark it on your calendar. And on that day splash in the bath and luxuriate in the grace of God. Light a candle and remember who Jesus is, and who and whose you are.

My friends, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. Remember this as often as you can – when you wash your face in the morning, wash your hands before you eat, when you come into the sanctuary and dip your fingers in the bowl of water, when you gulp from a glass of cool water on a hot day. This remembering is not – I WAS baptized – an event that happened some time ago. This remembering is – I AM baptized. And you are too. Washed, redeemed, forgiven. Marked with the cross of Christ forever. 

And all God’s people said – Amen.