September 15, 2019 Owen Lau Baptism
I've told the story of Christa's horse Romeo before, but it bears repeating today in light of our gospel reading. Christa wanted a horse her whole life. I was basically dead-set against the possibility of getting a horse. Well, Christa got her horse. She worked for the Liestman horse farm and earned a horse named Romeo. A big horse, an independent horse, a scary horse. But Christa was excited to finally have her horse. So she took him out of his pen to put his saddle on and go for a ride—this was the first day she had him. She turned to pick up the saddle and Romeo sprinted out of the yard.
Now I was not a fan of horses to begin with and here stood this scary horse, no rope, no harness. I grabbed him around the head in a kind of headlock and Christa was able to harness him and led him home.
Now you don't have to be a theologian to see where I'm going with this story. We were very happy to have “found our lost sheep”, Romeo. “`Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
Baptism was originally about repentance. Today we celebrate the baptism of a little boy who is unable to repent. And what could he have to repent of? Crying when he's hungry, dirtying his diaper at inopportune times? No, we are not celebrating Owen's repentance but his call by God into the family of God. By baptizing this baby, we are announcing that god's grace comes to us without any merit on our part.
We are looking at the letter Paul wrote to Timothy. Timothy was a young preacher and Paul was his mentor. In our passage for today, we can find three main points that deal with grace. The three points are that God's grace is undeserved, it is abundant and it is given to us to be shared with the world around us. We will look at these three points and consider them in light of the baptism we celebrate today.
Grace that is undeserved. Paul, one of the greatest Christians who has lived, makes it clear that his position in Christ was not due to his own merit. “I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence.” And the record shows that, preaching against the Lord Jesus, supporting the people when they stoned Stephen to death, chasing down worshipers in their homes and having them arrested. Paul was in many ways a type pf terrorist, he used violence to try to persuade the Christian community to return to his view of the truth. And yet here we are, reading his words 2000 years later. He's respected teacher of Christianity. And he tells us about of the grace with which God dealt with his sin. He writes, “The grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-of whom I am the foremost.” That sinner Paul was saved by faith even though he did not deserve God's grace. And that statement is true for every one of us. All have sinned. Every one of us. And yet Jesus offers that same grace to us. And about today's baptism, little Owen is not guilty of sinning but is born into a world of sin. The grace that Jesus offers him is is demonstrated in the ceremony we share in today.
Second, grace is abundant. Paul said it overflowed for him. In my Max Lucado devotional, he titled one of his devotions Grace Upon Grace. He wrote, “We never exhaust (God's) supply (of grace). God has enough grace to... wipe every tear you cry and answer every question you ask.” It overflows.
Some time ago, I gave a sermon on grace—no big surprise there. When done, Don M. reminded me of a way that we differentiate between mercy and grace. Because if you read closely, Paul starts with mercy and moves to grace. “I received mercy... and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me.” So what is the difference? A good way to remember is this, mercy is the act of withholding deserved punishment, while grace is the act of giving unmerited favor.
An extreme example. Say there is a prisoner on death row, a young man who is guilty of murder. Everyone knows he's guilty, but he pleads for mercy. He sends his appeal to the governor. And then the governor pardons him, that is mercy. But let's take it a step farther. Say the governor then invites him to his house, welcomes him to his table and in fact adopts him into his family with all the rights and privileges associated with that position. That is grace.
In our gospel, Jesus mercifully engaged with the wrong people, in the eyes of the Pharisees. In today's reading we read of their anger. “All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.'" Jesus showed mercy just by accepting them into fellowship. But in relationship, he went a step further and offered grace by welcoming them into the kingdom of God, welcoming them as beloved children of the Father. The Pharisees and scribes understood that that isn't fair, it isn't what those sinners deserved. Mercy to forgive, grace to welcome them into the family.
And the third point, this grace is to be shared, both in word and deed. Paul explains that too in this letter to Timothy, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-- of whom I am the foremost, so that in me, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life.” Paul doesn't tell of his failed past to earn pity points, but so that he can serve as an example to all his readers; the grace of Jesus covers all our sins. And so we gather here on a Sunday morning celebrating that grace in the sacrament of baptism. As I said earlier, baptism was a sign of repentance. Baby Owen cannot repent but we baptize him as a sign that Jesus came to save sinners... which we all are. We proclaim in this baptism of a baby that the grace of God is not about what we do, but what Jesus has done.
And so this baptism is one way we share the good news about the saving grace of Jesus. For if we look at salvation as something we can earn, then we are tempted to take the credit for our goodness or wisdom. And if it is our doing, who gets the glory? We do. And then what happens to the power of the cross? It is decreased. Jesus went to that cross for you and me. Paul recognized his sin and his need for grace. We are sinners who need that forgiveness, mercy and grace. May each of us here this morning once again know that wonderful good news of overflowing grace. And when the baptismal vows are spoken this morning, make those promises once again for yourself. When we gather around the baptismal fount, we will hear and proclaim what the church has proclaimed forever: We renounce the evil ways of this world, we turn to Jesus as Lord and Savior... trusting in his grace and love. Then we promise to be faithful disciples-- with God's help. That is the normal process-- confess/repent, trust in Jesus, and seek to live out our faith. Many of us have gone through that process. But baby Owen will not confess or repent. He will not pronounce a faith in Jesus. On his behalf, Alex and Kelly will proclaim their faith and we will all promise to support this family in word, deed and prayer. And because Owen can't make these promises for himself, we are reminded that grace is not earned but a free gift.
So this sacrament is a sign and seal of God's undeserved, abundant grace for all the world to know. At the font, know again that God claims us, God frees us from sin and death, and we are all united in Christ; the babies, the mothers and fathers, the grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, united with Owen through baptism. And beyond that, each of us is united to this baby, to his family and to each other in this great mystery of grace and love. As we consider this, we may understand where the final sentence in our reading came from. As Paul considered this great mystery, he couldn't help but praise the Lord. “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” May we join in praise of Jesus Christ for his immeasurable grace. Amen.
Hymn: 356 Come, thou Fount of Every Blessing