5th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,
I like to fish. We didn’t fish much when I was growing up, but I’d say that since I’ve lived here in Bemidji for the last 6 years, I’ve fished probably ten times more in the last 6 years than I did in the previous 26 years combined. Last weekend we had some relatives visiting so we went fishing a couple of times and actually caught a few nice fish. We brought them home and cleaned them. So, afterward we were left with some nice fish filets and the unusable fish remnants. What do you do? The filets go in the fridge or freezer, but what about the rest of the fish? I’ve heard they make nice compost and since we have a garden I just threw the fish remnants in our compost bin. That was a mistake. Warm weather plus rotting fish doesn’t make a very nice smell, nor does it help reduce the fly population. Apparently, what I should have done, is bury the fish remnants in the ground. You see, that way, they’re gone, the stench is gone, the flies don’t find them, they’re gone. That’s the power in burial. We bury dead things, right?
The word that we’re focusing on this week is “buried.” You see each of us needed to be buried. We don’t like to hear this, but each of us was far worse than dead, rotting, stinking, fly-infested fish entrails. Remember how God describes our original state born into this world? We’re born dead in sins, hostile to God, enemies of God, we hated God, didn’t want anything to do with God, we were born into this world spiritually lost in our sins and condemned to eternal death. That is who we were. And God would have been perfectly fair, perfectly just, perfectly right in burying us in hell- out of his presence forever. I mean, you wouldn’t put a partially rotted, fly-infested dead fish on your kitchen counter, would you? Why should God do anything else rather than be done with us and our sinfulness forever?
But what did God do? He did the unthinkable. We’ve talked through it each week so far in this series: He atoned for our sins making us at one with him again, He reconciled us to himself changing our relationship from enemies to His own dear children, He clothed us with a perfect righteousness. How so? He sent His own Son, Jesus Christ, to live the sinless and perfect life in place of all people, to die on the cross for each and every sin, and to rise from the dead as proof of the world’s forgiveness. Forgiveness of sins, life and salvation have been won for all people. And God gives it as an absolutely and totally free gift.
But that doesn’t mean that everyone enjoys the eternal benefits of God’s saving work in Christ. Jesus said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Through faith I receive all the blessings God freely won for me in Jesus. How does God work faith? He works faith through the gospel. The gospel in Word when we hear in the Bible of God’s saving work. And the gospel in the sacraments. In the sacrament of Baptism, through water and the Word, God writes His name on that person, washes away all their sins, adopts them into His own family, clothes them with Jesus’ perfect robe of righteousness, and makes them an heir of eternal life.
In fact, describing the blessings of baptism Martin Luther wrote in the Large Catechism: “In short, the blessings of baptism are so boundless that if our timid nature considers them, it may well doubt whether they could all be true. Suppose there were a physician who had so much skill that people would not die, or even though they died would afterward live eternally. Just think how the world would snow and rain money upon such a person! Because of the throng of rich people crowding around, no one else would be able to get near. Now, here in baptism there is brought, free of charge, to every person’s door just such a treasure and medicine that swallows up death and keeps all people alive.” What a blessing to treasure!
But now, here’s the question: If God has saved us totally by His grace, freely, there’s nothing I have to do or can do, why not live any way that I want? Why live any differently than before? Why change? Why fight against sin? Or the Satanic thought will enter our minds, “God forgives me anyway, I’ll just do this sin or that sin, it’s not really a big deal.” “I’m just an angry person, that’s who I am, I can’t change.” “That’s just the kind of language I use, that’s who I am, I can’t change.” “My wife should have known that’s who I am, even though this causes huge problems in our marriage, that’s who I am, I’m not changing.” “I know I have this pet sin, I’ve tried to stop, I can’t, it’s no use, I can’t change.” What sins are you struggling with? What temptations do you continue to give in to? Which lies of Satan do you continue to believe? What rotting, stinking, maggot-filled fish are you carrying around with you?
See what God says: “We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” And then God brings in baptism: “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” You see, your baptism intimately connected you, united you to Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Everything that Jesus accomplished is now yours. Think of it like this: a person becomes rich, how so? Through his or her own ingenuity, diligence, and effort. This rich individual then gets married. How does all that wealth then become the new spouse’s? By grace. By simply being married that person now has an equal share in all the wealth of the other. That’s what baptism did. Through your baptism you were intimately connected to Jesus. His death became your death to sin, His burial became your burial where your sins were left in the grave, His resurrection to new life became your resurrection to a new life.
Jesus came once to suffer for sins. The only reason people could lay their hands on Jesus while on earth was because He came to deal with our sins, He came to die for our sins, but now that our sins have been paid in full, now that Jesus has risen from the dead, Jesus has nothing to do with sin anymore. No one can harm Jesus any more, no one can lay their hands on him anymore, when Jesus returns in glory no one will be able to touch Him or put Him to death. He’s done with sins. That means we’re also done with sins, we’re dead to sin. “Our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.”
Yes, we carry around with us a sinful nature. Yes, we have an old sinful self that clings to us and tries to bring us down into sin every day. But that sinful nature was drowned and buried in the waters of our baptism. And even though it springs to life every day because of what God has done for us in baptism we have the power to say, “No” to sin. We have the power in Christ to change hurtful, wrong, sinful behaviors. We have the power to bury the dead fish and be done with it. We are no longer slaves to sin. Our sinful flesh, the world around us, and Satan himself have lost their tyrannical power over our lives. How so? You were baptized, buried with Jesus in death and united with Him in resurrection. You have the power to live a new and holy life.
One of the awesome pictures of baptism that God gives us compares baptism to a wedding. In Ephesians 5 God tells us how a husband is to love his wife and this is what God says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” Whenever I read that passage I think about my own wedding day when Katie and I were married. On that day I didn’t see Katie at all until she was walking down the aisle with her dad. I have this image burned into my mind of that moment. I was standing up front and I saw her, my bride, decked out in a beautiful white wedding dress, hair done just right, make up on, no blemish, no wrinkle, no stain. And I remember thinking, “That’s my bride!” It took my breath away. Jesus says that He’s that bridegroom in front of church and you’re his bride. He washed you clean with His own blood shed on the cross, in the washing with water through the Word in your baptism He made you His, holy, blameless, without stain or wrinkle or any kind of blemish. He says, “You take my breath away.”
Now, would that bride, beautiful, no wrinkle, stain, or blemish on her wedding day, decide to go and clean out the pig pen and roll around in the filth and dirt and manure? No way! Just so, we who have been baptized into Christ, clothed with His garments of perfection, do we really want to roll around in sin, in selfishness, bitterness, jealousy, anger, envy, hatred, giving into sinful lusts and passions? No way! That’s not who we are! We’ve buried that stench in our baptisms!
This week, every morning when you wake up, remember what happened at your baptism. You were buried with Christ in the tomb, your sinful nature was drowned, although temptations may come, sin has no power over you, you can live a new life, washed, cleansed, and forgiven. So, “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Amen.
“He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit…so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” Amen (Titus 3:5, 7)
“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.” (Luther)