Sunday, July 14, 2013

Going Under

(A Baptism Sermon for Sunday, July 14, 2013)

Romans 6:1-11

Do you ever feel like you’re going under? Do you ever feel like your mistakes and your missteps are about to catch up with you? Do you ever feel like the temptations you face are going to overwhelm you?

Well, welcome to life in the real world.

Recently, a woman was commenting on how she had been helped by joining the adult choir of her church when she was only thirteen. She spoke of how it taught her discipline; she learned, she said, that if she wanted to be treated like an adult she had to act like an adult (Lorienne Schwenk, Letter to the Editor, Christian Century, July 10, 2013, p. 6.) I hear that.

It’s funny, though; we talk a lot about how growing up and being an adult means learning to take care of yourself—and there’s a lot of truth to that—but growing up as a child of God means learning to let someone else take care of you and taking advantage of the ways that someone else provides for your care and well-being. That someone else is God.

We have baptized four young ladies this morning and I want them to hear something important about growing up in faith. Really, though, I want all of us to hear it because it will be beneficial to all of us who are baptized or who will be baptized.

Being baptized—being a child of God and a follower of Jesus—makes a difference in our lives. Over time, we become different; we might even say that we become “better” so long as by “better” we mean more loving, more grace-filled, more forgiving, and more generous. But it can be a struggle because there is so much inside us and outside of us pulling us in other directions and threatening to pull us under.

We need to know that the God who raised Jesus from the dead can hold our heads above what threatens to engulf us. A heart-warming story came out of Australia last year. A woman named Nicole Graham was riding her horse on the beach when the animal became mired in the mud. Finally, after sedating the horse, rescuers were able to pull him out with a tractor. During the three hours that the rescuers labored to extract the horse from the mud, the woman stayed with him, holding his head above water as the tide began to come in.

God will hold our heads above the rising tide, too. Sometimes that’s what we need; sometimes we get ourselves mired so deeply and the tide is coming in so rapidly that letting God hold our head above water is all we can manage. Being baptized doesn’t exempt us from getting ourselves into such a fix. And if just having our head held above water is what we need, God will do it.

That has been my experience and I suspect it’s been yours, too. Thanks be to God for the grace that leads God to lift us up from sin when we have gotten ourselves stuck in it.

This might be a good time to say something to our newly baptized ones and to all of us about what sin is. Sin is much more than doing things we ought not to do. Sin is living in ways that betray a lack of trust in God; the particular nuance of sin for a follower of Jesus is being motivated by less than love and grace in what we do—after all, love and grace are the ways of Jesus whom we follow. Yes, it is possible that we will give ourselves over to behaviors that are destructive to us personally but it is much more likely that we will give ourselves over to attitudes and prejudices that are motivated by fear of the possibilities rather than by trust in God.

As most of you know, the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial came down last night. Perhaps I will say more about it at a later time, but in the context of this sermon I want to observe that a case could be made that the entire episode that led to Zimmerman’s shooting of Trayvon Martin was motivated by fear: each of them feared the other. When we fear each other, we give in to generalizations and characterizations and it is possible that we will finally try to destroy each other.

We are called not to fear but to trust.

Such attitudes and prejudices are the realities out of which we spend a lifetime trying to grow; such trust and love are the ways of being and living into which we spend a lifetime trying to grow.

That kind of growth and change is truly possible!

Paul points out that we are in reality—a reality symbolized by our baptism—“baptized into Christ Jesus” and therefore “baptized into his death” (v. 3); “our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin” (v. 6) so that we can consider ourselves “dead to sin” (v. 11). In the baptized life we can “walk in newness of life” (v. 3); we “believe that we will also live with him” (v. 8) and that we can consider ourselves “alive to God in Christ Jesus” (v. 11).

Yes, one way to live is to just barely hang on and let God hold our heads above water until we die and the resurrection comes and the heavenly tractor comes and pulls us out of the mud.

Or we can take ongoing advantage of what is always there: the new life in Christ in which we can freely and fully walk.

Debra and I are watching “Lost” this summer; we’re about half-way through so don’t tell us how it turns out. For those of you who don’t know, the series is about a group of survivors of a plane crash on an isolated Pacific island. At least that’s what I think it’s about. So far as I can tell, the island really is isolated.

But I remember a made-for-television movie of many years ago about a couple who were stranded on an island; they struggled to make it in their dual isolation. At the end of the film, though, they discovered that there was a thriving resort on the other side of the island to and from which people traveled all the time. They were not really alone; had they just looked around a bit more they would have found help.

We have access to the new life in Christ right here and right now. Yes, sometimes it is all we can to let God hold our heads above water; but most of the time we can be becoming more and more who God has made us to be and who Jesus died to enable us to be. That new life is available to us in our dying with Christ and in our being raised to new life in him that are symbolized by our baptism.

It’s funny, but going under is how we are delivered both from the threat of going under and from just living from one near-drowning to the next…

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