October 4, 2017- Baptism for All Ages- Isaiah 55:10-11, Ephesians 4:4-6

infant baptism picture

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:10-11 (NRSV)

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling,  one Lord, one faith, one baptism,  one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:4-6 (NRSV)

The big deal about the universality of the sacrament of Baptism – why it is something meant for all, regardless of age or cognition or profession of faith- is that it’s God doing the calling.

God has a way of calling the unlikely, the underdog, the weak. This isn’t to say that baptism is not for those who come to faith as adults, but that it is always God’s Word that makes it effective regardless of who is brought to the font. It is God’s calling, whether through our own volition or through our parents and sponsors, that names and claims us through the water and the Word.

I have had the privilege of witnessing Baptisms of all ages, from an infant at the age of three days to my own grandfather who was baptized three days before he died at age 91.   Whether the person was aware of what the pastor was doing and why, or not, the power of the Sacrament is still manifested there.  God is the Author of our salvation and of our faith. It is His promise being given.

We can have confidence in what God promises, even though we might not fully believe and comprehend His promises. It’s always God doing the calling and the equipping.

Further, we say that we are not so much concerned to know whether the person baptized believes or not; for on that account Baptism does not become invalid; but everything depends upon the Word and command of God. This now is perhaps somewhat acute but it rests entirely upon what I have said, that Baptism is nothing else than water and the Word of God in and with each other, that is when the Word is added to the water, Baptism is valid, even though faith be wanting. For my faith does not make Baptism, but receives it. Now, Baptism does not become invalid even though it be wrongly received or employed; since it is not bound (as stated) to our faith, but to the Word. –from the explanation of infant Baptism, Luther’s Large Catechism

Today’s children and young adults have tremendous challenges ahead of them. It is easy to get caught up in the things this world tempts us with and not give the things of God a second thought. Often teens and young adults stray from the faith and don’t understand or don’t acknowledge the promise they were given in their Baptism.  Yet God is still at work in them and in their lives whether they acknowledge His work or not.

Baptism, and particularly infant baptism, clearly is an affirmation that God is in control. It is God Who redeems.  It is God Who names and claims and restores.

Therefore I say, if you did not believe then believe now and say thus: The baptism indeed was right, but I, alas! did not receive it aright. For I myself also, and all who are baptized, must speak thus before God: I come hither in my faith and in that of others, yet I cannot rest in this, that I believe, and that many people pray for me; but in this I rest, that it is Thy Word and command. Just as I go to the Sacrament trusting not in my faith, but in the Word of Christ; whether I am strong or weak, that I commit to God. But this I know, that He bids me go, eat and drink, etc., and gives me His body and blood; that will not deceive me or prove false to me.

Thus we do also in infant baptism. We bring the child in the conviction and hope that it believes, and we pray that God may grant it faith; but we do not baptize it upon that, but solely upon the command of God. Why so? Because we know that God does not lie. I and my neighbor and, in short, all men, may err and deceive, but the Word of God cannot err. –from the explanation of infant Baptism, Luther’s Large Catechism

Many of us have children or grandchildren who have strayed from the faith or who fail to acknowledge God. Yet we can call on God- and know that His promise given to them through His Word in their Baptism will not be empty.

If we have loved ones who have been raised in faith and baptized, but have strayed from God, we can take comfort that in their Baptism they too have been named and claimed, and that God will find a way to restore them.

August 17, 2017 A House of Prayer for ALL People – Isaiah 56:6-8

brother other mother

And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant-these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered. Isaiah 56:6-8 (NRSV)

Some of us have known the privilege of making a friend from a wildly different culture, nationality or unfamiliar ethnicity, and finding that we share a great deal in common. It is one of those “happy accidents” of God when we meet up with a “brother from another mother” so to speak.  Those sorts of friendships broaden our horizons and enrich our own human experience.

Much has been said in social and political discourse of late that pits human against human in petty and pointless arguments about skin color, nationality, ethnicity, or race, or heritage. The fact is that humans sin and fail each other for many reasons.  The reality is that none of us can erase what oppressions our ancestors suffered at the hands of others, nor can we take back what suffering or unfair treatment our ancestors imposed upon others.  Throughout history groups of humans have enslaved and oppressed other groups of humans. At one point or another should we look back far enough, we will find both oppressors and oppressed in our family histories, regardless of what ethnic groups or cultures we come from.

The only positive, God-honoring action we can take in response to racial and cultural hate is to love each other and treat each other respectfully NOW. The oppression and unfairness and discrimination can stop with us.  We are all human, created in the image of God, like it or not.

In this passage the prophet Isaiah is speaking about the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. In Christ ALL humans are welcome to participate in God’s kingdom, regardless of nationality or ethnic background, or skin color, regardless of their mistakes, or their family’s mistakes, or their pasts.

God is gathering ALL people to His kingdom. He is calling people who we disagree with.  He is calling people who may currently be our enemies.  He is calling anyone who will hear Him.

Are our hearts also houses of prayer, in which all who seek God and His kingdom are welcome?