Sermon 7.30.17 Pentecost 8

Titus 3:3-7    Pastor Kenneth Frey.   Pentecost 8    7/30/17

Titus 3:3-7 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

What does Baptism do for us?
1.  We are saved by grace
2.  We are saved by baptism
 

“In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  When are those words spoken?  At the beginning of the worship service.  We call that the Invocation.  The Invocation reminds us of another time when those words are spoken:  at our baptism.  Every worship service begins with that reminder of our baptism.  

Our church also was designed to keep a reminder of our baptism in front of us.  The pulpit represents God’s Word, the altar reminds us of the Lord’s Supper and the font reminds us of our baptism.  Word and sacrament – the means of grace – are the focus of our church.    

As you have already heard, today we continue to focus on Luther’s Small Catechism, today focusing on the fourth chief part, baptism.  In the spirit of the Catechism, therefore, we ask a question:  What does baptism do for us?

To answer that, we need to understand who we are and what we need.  Paul wrote,  At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.  That’s a pretty ugly description.  Even though we can send men to the moon and rovers to Mars, deep inside, God’s Word says that all we are is out of control and weak people.  He said that we are enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures.  Isn’t that a pretty good description of Americans?  We live for fun.  Our lives are dominated by chasing after pleasures.  

All of this reminds us that we were in no condition to save ourselves.  Even babies, who look cute and cuddly, are born dead in their sins.  Every human being enters the world stained by sin, and we desperately need someone to wash us and make us clean.  

Enter God.  As unlovable as we are, God still loves us.  Even though you and I have done nothing to deserve it, he saved us.  But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. Did God save us because we’ve done enough righteous things to qualify for this salvation?  Did he save us because we’ve one more righteous things than many other people have done?  Did God save us because he looked into the future and saw that we would respond to his mercy with faith?  No.  Not for any of these reasons.  No one can gain eternal life by doing righteous things.  God saved us because of his mercy and grace alone.  God saved us because he is a philanthropist.

In 1868, when Andrew Carnegie was 33 years old, he had an annual income of $50,000.  He resolved that in the future he would spend anything he earned above that amount for charity.  As it turned out, he had plenty to spend for charity.  He made a fortune in the oil, railroad and steel industries.  True to his word, he gave away more than $350 million during his lifetime.  People called him a philanthropist.  

That’s the word that Paul used to describe God.  It’s the only time in the New Testament that this word is used of God.  It literally means “friend of mankind.”  It emphasizes that God not only loved us unconditionally, but that he likes us.  He is our friend.  And that is the only reason we are saved.  We are saved by his mercy and love alone.  

We are saved by Jesus.  But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared.  When did his kindness and love appear?  When Jesus was born in Bethlehem.  His love appeared at the Jordan River when he came to be baptized by John.  His love appeared for 33 years and then his love appeared on the cross, bleeding and dying for our sins.  We are saved by Jesus.  We are saved by grace.  

We are saved by baptism.  He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.  Paul is saying the same thing here as Jesus told Nicodemus in our gospel lesson this morning.  “Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.’” (John 3:3-5)

If you want to see a merciful God, look at your baptism.  You had done nothing to earn God’s love or forgiveness.  All you did was disobey his commands and earn hell.  But when you look at your baptism, here you see a holy God take you, a lost and condemned sinner, and give you the gift of the Holy Spirit.  He turned you from being an unbeliever on the way to hell, and gave you faith to believe in Jesus.  

The practice of baptizing infants rests on this truth that God save us because of his mercy alone.  An infant has had no opportunity to lead a life filled with righteous deeds.  An infant has not experienced a critical point in life at which he makes a decision for Christ.  An infant is not capable of so much as a request for baptism.  It makes no difference.  God saves us through baptism not because of righteous things we have done, but because of his mercy.  

It wasn’t impressive as far as rivers are concerned.  It wasn’t particularly deep.  It certainly wasn’t navigable.  The silt in the water even made the river take on a brownish color.  To the proud Syrian, the Abana and Pharpar rivers of his homeland were far more impressive.  However, after much hesitation he did as he was told and bathed seven times in the muddy waters of the Jordan.  It was a miracle.  Naaman the Syrian obeyed the word of Elisha the prophet and he was healed of his leprosy!

It wasn’t impressive as far as water is concerned.  It wasn’t bottle water.  It wasn’t naturally carbonated or imported water.  It came from the faucet in the church basement.  To all appearances it was just plan water.  

But as Martin Luther said in the Small Catechism, “It is water used by God’s command and connected with God’s Word.”  Just as God connected his Word and promise to the water when Naaman washed, so God connects his Word and promise to the water of our baptisms.  

And what is that promise?  He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.  The promise is that we are justified, declared not guilty in God’s sight.  Peter put it very clearly in our other lesson today.  “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” (Acts 2:38)  Baptism brings us forgiveness of sins.  Baptism brings us justification.  Baptism saves.  In fact, God’s Word clearly connects our salvation to baptism so that Martin Luther, in the Large Catechism, said, “Baptism is most solemnly and strictly commanded so that we must be baptized or we cannot be saved.” (Large Catechism, part IV, para. 6)

In baptism, God adopts us into his family and makes us his children.  And as his children, we are his heirs – heirs of eternal life.  I knew a boy that used to shake every present under the Christmas tree, trying to find out what his gifts were.  He didn’t like to wait for Christmas to find out.  He wanted to know before then.  

By baptism, we are heirs of eternal life.  But we can’t open it yet.  We can only shake it and feel it and get a vague idea of what it is.  But we can’t open it yet and enjoy it.  

Just because we can’t enjoy it now, let’s not forget about it.  Life can do that to us, can’t it?  We can get wrapped up so much in this world that we can forget who we are and where we are going.  When the troubles of life cause us to question our identity or doubt our future, we can turn to the promises God gave us at our baptism for comfort.  Instead of looking at your bank account, your physical health, or your love life to see if God loves you, look at your baptism.  Luther put it this way in the Large Catechism, “So when our sins and conscience oppress us, we strengthen ourselves and take comfort and say, ‘Nevertheless, I am baptized.’” (Part IV, para. 44)  

For this reason it would be good to have a reminder of your baptism in your bedroom or somewhere else in your home.  Find your baptism certificate, frame it and put it on the wall.  Or find something else that can remind you, “I’m baptized.”  When temptations come, you can remember, “But I’m baptized.  A child of God doesn’t do that.”  When problems make you doubt God’s love for your, you can remember, “I’m baptized and so a child of God.  God does not forsake his children.”  

Every time you come to church, see the font and remember, “I’m baptized.”  Then hear the invocation and remember, “I’m baptized.”  And never forget all that baptism does for you.