Sunday, March 16, 2014

Second in Lent

Year A, Gen 12: 1-4; Romans 4: 1-5, 13-17; John 3: 1-17
Baptism of Nolan Charles Nachreiner

Good morning, grace and peace this Second Sunday in Lent, and in the midst of this spiritually rich and meaningful season what a great privilege to join with the Nachreiner family to celebrate and witness the transformational power of God as Nolan is presented to be passed through the deep waters of baptism and in the affirmation of Christian identity and life to be adopted as a child of God and numbered in the household of faith.  Lately we’ve been saying a lot that “big things are happening around St. Andrew’s,” and this morning we can say with certainty that it doesn’t ever get any bigger than this.

This is not of course a stand-alone moment, for Nolan and his family, for any of us.  To be woven into a continuous fabric of lifelong discipleship, individually and in community.  Not the end of something, but a beginning, the spiritual foundation of prayer and incorporation—and on this foundation we will all of us—mom and dad and family, godparents, friends, Church School teachers, members of the congregation, each and every one of us here this morning will have a critical role to play, building all the richness of Christian life in our prayers and in our affection and support, in the example we give in our lives, in our stewardship of resources, in our work in the mission and ministry of the church.  This just “Day One.”   As the saying goes, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”  We make this promise to do “all in our power,” and of course I know we would all of us desire to take that seriously.

John Richardson, a Church of England priest who is also what I guess these days we call an “Internet Friend” of mine in the Facebook and Social Media sense, wrote about this recently I think both for his parish and as a proposed baptismal resource for the wider church.  He reminded us, and I’m quoting here, that “to be effective, the outward act of baptism in water must be joined with inward faith in the Word of God.  It is therefore necessary for this child to be brought up as a believer if he is to enjoy the benefits which will be promised to him today.  In baptism he will be united with Christ.  He will be buried with Christ in his death, and so he must die to sin in his own life.  And he will be raised to new life with Christ in his resurrection, no longer to live in slavery to sin but as a servant of righteousness and a child of God.  Therefore as we praise our God who gives us these great blessings, so we also pray that he will grant this child grace to believe, and his parents the wisdom and ability to bring him up to love God as his Father, to obey Christ as his Savior, and to walk in step with the Holy Spirit as his guide and comforter.”

And again, I would emphasize, not only his parents, though they will have a primary role, and his godparents, who stand in we might say as special, deputized representatives of the Christian family.  But then also, all of us.  As we will join together in a renewal and reaffirmation of our own baptismal vows, remembering the work begun and continuing in us, and then as we join in that great welcome after the baptismal rite, “We receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.”  Nolan will hear these words this morning, I suppose, but I don’t know that they’ll mean too much to him right now!  A lot of noise, friendly and loving voices, the splashing of water.  But in the years to come, it would be my hope and prayer that that the things we say this morning will unfold in clear and meaningful ways, that he would hear them and see them lived out in his family and in the Christian family day by day.  That these words of invitation and a life of Christian companionship would be spoken with an intentionality and a self-evident reality, not simply with our lips, but in our lives.

Great readings this morning for a baptism!  To pause just here for a moment on our way to the font.  The call of Abraham!  Wow.  And even more critically, the response of Abraham, in the last verse.  This the vocational turning point and key moment in the great drama of redemption.  Out in the plains of ancient Mesopotamia, we can already see shimmering in these words the image of Jesus and his Cross, and the life of this Christian family, every step of the way.  God chooses, speaks, invites.   “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  Think of the words of Jesus in John 12 over us at every service of worship here at St. Andrew’s, “And I if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all men unto me.”  And Abraham says yes.  Actually, he doesn’t even seem to need to say the words.  He puts it into action.  Might remind us of the words Mary will speak when she hears the angel.  “Let it be to me according to your word.”    So much meaning in those simple words in verse 4, “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him.”  That’s the key.  He gets up, he puts his “yes” into action.  Abraham places his trust, his hope, his self-understanding, in the God who has called him.

And then John 3.  Must be the perfect reading for a baptism!  Nicodemus makes this risky passage under the cover of darkness.  Not led we see by simple curiosity, but with the deepest hope in his heart that in this Jesus God was himself fulfilling his promise to Abraham.  He struggles with it.  Can I even know myself a blessing, broken as I am?  Can this old dog learn new tricks?  And to hear Jesus speak the word about what is possible, as the Holy Spirit brings forth for us new birth, regeneration, renewal. Water and spirit.  What we’re all  about this morning.  A second birth, from above, in the power of God. 

It is all about what our local New Testament scholar Dr. Ken Bailey calls the central message of the Cross, to make present for us God’s unexpected gift of costly love.  The present is loss, but the future is bright.  For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, fully everything of himself, putting himself on the line, all that he is, Creator, Master, Lord of Heaven and Earth, for us.  The cross rising up in view in this Second Lenten Sunday in that ancient desert as God calls Abraham, and in that secret nighttime conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus.  All about the cross.  God giving himself for us.  So that everyone who believes in him should not perish, but should have everlasting life.  That all the world may know conciliation and forgiveness and blessing in him. 

Thank you, Jennifer and Eric, --Nolan, thank you!—and family, godparents, good people of St.  Andrew’s.  A great morning for celebration in that Holy Spirit rushing down upon us from on high, and a great morning in the splashing of water in the old font here at St. Andrew’s Church, a great morning for each of us to refresh and renew our obedience and our love.  That’s St. Paul in Second Corinthians 5: If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away.  Behold, all things have become new.

So now with big smiles and full hearts, simply, Eric and Jennifer, if you could bring Nolan and his godparents forward, and we can turn together to the order for Holy Baptism as it continues in our Service Leaflet . . . .

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