Saturday, June 13, 2009

Called From the Water

Called from the Water
Matthew 28:16-20
Synod Women’s Organization Convention
June 13, 2009
Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, Moorhead
“Now the eleven disciples came to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus commanded them, and when they saw him they worshiped him, though some had their doubts. And Jesus stepped forward and spoke to them, saying,
‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
So move out and disciple all nations,
Baptizing them into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
Teaching them to keep absolutely all that I commanded you;
And look! I myself am right there with you all the days, to the consummation of history.’”[1]

The next time you meet someone for the first time, and they ask you where you’re from, why don’t you look them right in the eye and say: “I’m from the water.”
That should get a reaction—don’t’ you think? Either the other person will think you’re a little whacky…or perhaps she’ll be curious and ask you to say more.
“You’re from-- the water? How so?”
And here’s what you might say: My life began not the day my mother’s “water broke” and she birthed me, as amazing as that day was…but rather, my life began in the water of my baptism into Jesus Christ. I really wasn’t much of anything before that day. But all that changed when Christ washed over me. Life really began for me when I hit that other water, the water in the font….when that rescuing, renewing water splashed over me I became a new creation. It was my second birth--when I was claimed by my three-personed God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
To be called from the water, as our convention theme has it—to be called from the water is to say something about our origin, where it all began for us, where the true story of our life began. Jesus, as he laid the Great Commission on his first followers, articulated how foundational baptism is for all of us.
Twenty-seven years ago this past Mother’s Day, my dear wife Joy celebrated her first Mother’s Day (as a mom, that is) by watching me nearly drown our newborn son.
Mother’s Day seemed like the perfect day for a baptism, so we invited the whole family to our little country church just north of Willmar—to celebrate with us and our one-month old son Erik.
But somehow, as I got ready for the baptism, I went a little overboard (no pun intended).
I remembered how one of my seminary teachers--sort of a wise guy professor of worship--liked to say brash things like: “When you preside at a baptism, make sure you splash enough water around that the janitor has to bring in a mop and clean up afterwards.”
So when we got to that part of the worship service, I scooped up a huge handful of water and poured it—not carefully over my little son’s forehead…..but rather I splashed the water over his whole face and right up his nostrils to boot. Little Erik came up from his baptism, sputtering and coughing, and my wife Joy looked at me with an expression that said: “Are you crazy? After all those hours I labored to bring him safely into this world—are you drowning my precious baby?”
And, of course, I felt about this tall—as I glimpsed in my mind’s eye a horrible headline in Willmar’s West Central Tribune: “Rookie Pastor Accidentally Drowns Infant Son During Christening.”
But that’s not what happened, thank God.
Babies are harder to break, more difficult to do in than we think…and after a few good coughs, sneezes and sputters, Erik recovered from his baptism and all was well with the world.
What if, though—what if persons occasionally died in the baptismal font? That would wake up the sleepers in the third pew, don’t you think?
It’s water, after all….and water can kill you! In fact the New Testament is replete with images of baptism that all imply a kind of death happening, right at the beginning of our lives.
“We were buried therefore with Christ by baptism into death,” Paul says, soberly in the 6th chapter of his epistle to the Romans. “I’m from the water, all right….my life began when I died in the waters of my baptism.”
But isn’t that language a bit overly dramatic? No—not really. This is serious stuff. We come into this world kicking, screaming and showing symptoms of a fatal disease, revealing soon enough that we’re victims of a sin-pandemic sweeping through the whole human family, like a devouring wildfire.
But God, who is rich in mercy, has snatched us out of that wildfire, and washed us with the water of baptism, joining us—lock, stock and barrel—to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
We are called from the water, all right—that is our origin.
But we can spin this all another way, employing another preposition in our convention theme.
We’re not just called from the water. We’re also called to the water!
“From” bespeaks our origin, but “to” points toward our destination. Our direction, our destiny, is to travel ever deeper into our baptism, every day of our lives, until we’re sunk deep into our baptism on the day we draw our final breath, when we’re laid in our graves, awaiting the resurrection.
We’re called from the water….and at the same time we’re called to the water. We’re baptized in church just once—but we’re born again and again and again as we return, every single day, to our baptism. We hit the rewind button (so to speak), we return to our baptism, whenever someone reminds us of it, even as I am reminding all of you right now.
Friends, we’ve got to get over the idea that baptism is ancient history—that it’s over and done with.
“Um, we’ve come to get our baby ‘done,’ pastor…”
“Sorry, friends—no can do. We can only start her baptism…but it’ll never be ‘done,’ it won’t be finished until the Day of Jesus Christ.”
Baptism just gets us off to a good start, as our life in Christ begins….and what an astounding life it is. We receive a whole boatload of possibilities in our baptism into Christ.
Martin Luther put it this way in his Large Catechism:
In Baptism every Christian has enough to study and to practice all his life. He always has enough to do to believe firmly what Baptism promises and brings—victory over death and the devil, forgiveness of sin, God’s grace, the entire Christ, and the Holy Spirit with his gifts. In short the blessings of Baptism are so boundless that if timid nature considers them, it may well doubt whether they could all be true.[2]
We’re called from the water—that’s our origin.
We’re called to the water—that’s our destination.
And there’s one more preposition we must toss into the mix with our convention theme: we’re called through the water, as well!
It’s a water-way that we’re traveling through life. Baptism doesn’t sit still. Baptism never leaves us immobilized. Jesus, the Risen One, launches us onto a water-route toward God’s new creation. You can’t get there by land—you can’t get there by staying dry, looking good, staying above it all. No—you have to get wet, you have to “go under,” you have to take the water route; it’s the only way to arrive where God is leading us.
Please notice the movement Jesus draws us into here in his Great Commission from Matthew 28. I’m struck by the vivid language of Frederick Dale Bruner’s translation: “Move out and disciple all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to keep absolutely all that I commanded you…”

As usual, the verbs grab our attention here. They’re strong, striking verbs….painting in vivid detail what the water-route of baptism looks and feels like.

Move out, Jesus says to us. Baptism into Christ sets our feet in motion. We’re taken somewhere, driven to our neighbors, dispatched into the world. We’re saved to be sent.

Disciple, Jesus commands us…..that is: get people close to Jesus, help folks get “aligned” with Jesus’ way of life, help persons get behind Jesus so he can lead them from death to life.

Move out…disciple…(those are the commands in the Great Commission)….and to hang some specificity on those commands, two participles get tossed into the mix: baptizing and teaching.

· We might say—clean ‘em up and fill ‘em up!
· Rescue and enlighten.
· Cleanse and equip….so that the whole business keeps repeating itself….as the baptized, taught ones start moving out, discipling, baptizing and teaching others.

That’s how Jesus gets so much done. He refuses to do it all by himself. Jesus keeps commissioning, Jesus keeps giving marching orders, Jesus keeps catching us up in the action!

And because we do none of this under our own power, our Risen Lord wraps up his Great Commission in two breath-taking promises: the promise that all authority in the cosmos has been given to him—to Jesus our Lord….and the promise that we fulfill his Great Commission by his power, never our own power.

For Jesus goes with us—behind, below, above, and always ahead of us…to the end of the age.


[1] Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew, A Commentary--The Churchbook: Matthew 13-28, Revised and Expanded Edition (Eerdmans, 2004), p. 804
[2] Martin Luther, Large Catechism, Part IV.

No comments:

Post a Comment