Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Grace of Baptism

Listen to the audio here. 

As soon as we are born we begin to be formed and shaped by the world around us, by our parents, by our siblings, our environment, and culture.

No sooner do we become conscious of our autonomy than we are presented with choice.  What impulses will we follow? What inclinations will we obey? Where will we look for guidance?

It is the responsibility of our parents and elders to lead us in the right way. The book of proverbs says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

Left to our own devices, like sheep, we are all liable to lose our way. We need to be gently shepherded and put on the right path. We need to be taught to choose what is right and follow the path that leads to life.

How many times have one of my children begun to do something foolish or destructive and I have observed my wife level her gaze at them and ask, “Is that a good choice?”
Jesus Says, “I am the good shepherd.” He leads us to choose what is good. It is he who is the shepherd and guardian of our souls. Trusting in him we shall not want. It is he who restores our souls, who feeds us with good pasture, who defends us against evil, and who will lead us at last to his Father’s house.

If there is a good shepherd, there is also a wicked and a false shepherd. If the good Shepherd has our best interest in mind, then the false shepherd has evil designs for us. Following the false shepherd leads to ruin.  This is the hireling who does not own the sheep, who does not care for the sheep.

We must be on our guard not to be lead astray by those things that do not reflect the true meaning and purpose for which God made us. When we give ourselves to serve and follow what is less than God, this is idolatry. We were not made for idols but for God. God is our Father and we are his children. The idol is a stranger.

When we present a child for baptism—as we are with James and Emilio this morning—we are welcoming them into the sheep fold of the Good Shepherd. They are adopted into the family of God and made children of God.
In baptism we are brought into the divine reality, into the fellowship of the Father Son, and Holy Spirit. By extension we are also brought into the communion of the Church which is Christ’s body. As members of Christ and of the Church we are formed and shaped by the Holy Spirit.

As we said before, simply by virtue of being born we are already being formed and shaped, cultivated by our environment and influences. In bringing James and Emilio to the waters of Baptism their parents and godparents are saying that they wish these children to be brought under the influence of the Holy Spirit and raised as Christians.

As growing Disciples of Christ in the community of Christ, these Children will learn to know and follow the voice of their shepherd. Jesus says that he knows his own and his own know him. They will receive their spiritual nourishment from Christ in the Holy Eucharist. Even as they grow and learn daily, moving ever more into maturity, so we ask by God’s Spirit that they grow more and more into the stature of Christ.

The scriptures teach us that God created us in his own image. He created every person with dignity and worth, but in the garden we were lead astray by a stranger’s lie. We were deceived into seeking our identity apart from God, into worshiping idols instead of the true God. In these waters the pollution of that lie is washed away. In the place of that darkness we receive the knowledge of our true identity in the light of Christ.

In baptism we take our rightful place as God’s own children and heirs of his promises. We are able to take these privileges only because Christ has refuted the lies of the evil one and vindicated us as his rightful children in Jesus Christ. We say that we become God’s children in Baptism—and so we do—but in saying this we say only that we become what we already are by God’s own gracious choice.

Saint Paul tells us that we were called according to God’s purpose and predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.  He has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world.
F.W. Robertson compares our Baptism to coronation, the crowning of a King or Queen. Coronation makes a king, but crown a pretender and the coronation will not make a king. It can actually only make one king who is a king already by divine right.

The coronation is an official and authoritative recognition of that status before God and man by witch that status becomes a reality in the present. Baptism makes a child of God in a similar way that coronation makes a king. It is the outward and visible sign of a spiritual reality, an authoritative declaration from God himself that we are his children and that he has chosen us in Christ. The blessings and status conferred by this rite is actual, no mere symbol, but a Divine Sacrament.

The worst thing that we could do is to exalt ourselves in believing that our baptism gives us a special claim to the love of God that is denied to our neighbor. God forbid we should think such a thing! Christ has called us to go to every people and nation in the world to baptize them in the triune name because he is the savior of all, because God is the Father of all, and the Holy Spirit the royal inheritance of all people.

He says, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
Brothers and sisters, this is the great responsibility of our Baptism. God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ in order that we might be a blessing to the world.  We have a mission to proclaim the love of God in Christ to all people, to respect the dignity of every person, to draw them into the fold of the Good Shepherd, and claim for them their inheritance as children of our heavenly father.