Grace to you and peace from God Our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Pastor Alan Watt
As a young person—either with my family or some friends—I remember
us driving through the community of Ravenna, Ohio, when we pulled
into a large parking area in front of a lake. From the car we watched a
that had gathered there. Several of the people, wearing white robes,
into the water until it came up to their waists. Then, one by one, they
a man, who had accompanied them, lower them backwards into the water—
three times for each person. Something was being said. But we were too
to hear it.
Although our denomination—like many others—uses fonts inside of
with which we usually baptize by sprinkling water on infants or young
I have to admit there is something very dramatic about baptismby
and in a place with naturally flowing water, even if it is cold!
Immersion illustrates so well not only the new life of the Xn, but,
the old life that must first be done away with. As St. Paul puts it so
in his Letter to the Romans:
Do you not
know…all of us who have been baptized into CJ were baptized into his death?
Therefore we have been buried with him…
When we think about it, that’s a really vivid image, isn’t it? Now
a metaphor having to do w/what happens in a cemetery: “…we have been
with [Christ]…” But, in my opinion, since he is talking about
the more accurate way to describe it would be, “…we have been drowned
with him…” To me, that has a more immediate, physical, and violent
sound to it,
don’t you think? Putting an end to the old self in each of us—the
self that goes
its own way—is a struggle. It is, in fact, a life-and-death struggle.
Only when the heart of that struggle has come to an end---the old life
of the oxygen of sin and so, in a manner of speaking, suffocated to
can the new life emerge from the waters
of that death.
It reminds me of an older woman I once met when on a research trip.
It was a week spent in Philadelphia—at the Presbyterian History Center
up on Society Hill. Lodging, of course, is usually expensive in a large
and, at the time, I was a semi-impoverished graduate student.
a friend told me about a very reasonably priced hotel of sorts.
It was owned and operated by the International Peace Mission,
a religious movement founded by a man who called himself Father Divine.
It was a kind of self-help church in which people at the bottom of
in order to be pulled up to a new way of living. E.g., members were not
to drink, smoke, or gamble. Both men and women had to dress modestly.
The previously down-and-out folks worked at a number of establishments
by the church, especially hotels and restaurants.
One morning, as I was about to head out for the day, I saw an older
who was cleaning the floor in the lobby. We struck up a brief
and as I often do, asked her about herself—where she came from, her
and so on. Her reply surprised me: “Oh, we’re not supposed to talk
about those things. They belong to our past. We have a new life here.”
Then it dawned on me: Why, of course, those who have left behind a life
of abuse, drugs, crime, have been rescued by the mission.
To dwell on their former lives, to possibly return to relationships
that had been destructive, could once again put them back on a path
to certain death.
But leaving behind a sinful life is easier said than done—at least to
with anything even remotely close to perfection.
In other words, although in baptism we fundamentally become new
creatures, we nevertheless struggle with wrongs that we continue
to think & say & do. As M. Luther, in his commentary on Romans,
puts it so well
and so simply: “We are in sin until the end of our lives”—that is,
And so the new life we live in Christ is always, in our time on earth,
a work in progress. But, thankfully, it is a work begun and sustained by
It can be a tricky thing. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus,
God blesses us with salvation. God does it all. We can’t take any
credit for it.
Yet that view can actually lead to a cynical attitude, as in this
“I love to sin. God loves to forgive. What a wonderful arrangement!”
The other problem, the other extreme is, we can become so overly
about living out our Christian life, in doing so we may fall back into
on our own goodness. In other words, thinking we must first win God’s
in order to deserve eternal life. That obviously is no good, either,
as Luther found out by torturing himself through too much fasting,
too much work, and too much time spent in confession.
Fortunately, various places in scripture point us to a third way.
And that is made known to us by two words having to do with how we use
That’s right—verbs. Now, right off that may not sound encouraging to
of you who have never been too keen on grammar. But, really, what I am
to share makes perfectly good sense.
So, 1 mood of a verb is known as the indicative. A second mood, the
This is what one person—his name is Bill Muehlenberg—says about
The indicative mood…expresses a…fact
or [a] reality. It is the mood
of certainty. As to the New Testament, the indicative refers to what
God has done [and continues to do] for believers in Christ.
contrast, the imperative mood…expresses a command,
a request…the imperative calls on
believers to live in a certain way,
for example, in a godly manner.
faith and obedience we follow our Lord, becoming more like him
& less like our old
selves. But all this is based on what God
has already done on our behalf.
In other words, G.simply says: “Become who you already are!” As in
in another letter by Paul:
in another letter by Paul:
God reminds us “to be who we already are,” as imperfect as that may
To some, that might be a message of discouragement, of self-defeat.
Some might ask, “What’s the point in trying to be who we’re supposed
if inevitably we’re going to fail somewhere along the line? And fail
and over again?”
Some might compare themselves to one of the characters in Greek
His name was Sisyphus, a king of the region that later became known as
Although gifted in promoting the local economy, he was greedy,
and cruel. Having gotten on the wrong side of Zeus, Sisyphus was
to Hades &, for eternal punishment, was forced to roll a boulder
towards the top
of a steep hill, only—just before finishing—to have it roll all the
way down again.
And so it was—an endless exercise in futility.
We may be tempted to see the Xn life that way---that our efforts to
our old, sinful selves and become truly new creations in Christ—is
doomed to fail.
At best, we may think whatever progress is made to be so small as to
But a much better way to see things is knowing that each and every day
we have another opportunity to become more the persons God has intended
to be. Each day we start fresh again. We don’t necessarily make much
And sometimes we may fall into the routine of “1 step forward, and 2
Yes, that is what I meant to say: “One step forward, and 2 steps
Reading scripture—such as today’s passage of P’s Letter to the
a great help. And sometimes Martin Luther also has a good thing to say.
As in these words in The Small
[Baptism] signifies that the old person in us with all sins and evil desires is to be
drowned through daily sorrow for sin and repentance, and that daily a new person
is to come forth and rise up
to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Let us indeed become who we already are.
Let us indeed become who we already are.