I’m guessing that we’ve all heard the expression, “It’ll all come out in the wash.” My mom used to say that when something bad happened that really wasn’t all that terrible after all…In the grand scheme of things, it was no big deal…Kind of has the same ring to it as, “Don’t cry over spilled milk”…First, it’s not that big of a deal and second, you can’t do much about it anyway.
It’s a comforting thought to know that some things just aren’t all that important and that the consequences of our actions can somehow be mitigated by someone we love.
Wait a minute! Isn’t that what today is all about?
This is the day we commemorate the Baptism of Our Lord and we renew our own Baptismal Covenant…Our gospel text is about a call to repentance for our sins and then forgiveness.
It’s not that our sins are no big deal, but it is about the fact that – IF we turn around from our bad behavior, we will be forgiven…The message of the whole gospel is that this forgiveness comes – not because of anything we deserve, but only because of God’s gracious love for us AND the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross…The effect of our sin is mitigated by the actions of Christ alone…there is no other way.
That’s what today is all about…Remembering who Christ is and who we are as Christians…It’s about admitting our complete inability to save ourselves and our absolute dependence on the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Let us pray…
You have taken us by the hand, O God, and kept us for your own.
You know us better than we know ourselves.
Our doubts, our fears, our weaknesses are not hidden from your sight, nor are our strengths, our potentials, our joys. May your Spirit work within us to spark and kindle our faith, to give us courage and vanquish our fear, that we may arise as your people, as your hands and your eyes in the world. Amen.
Several years ago we attended a charity auction and I came across an item I just had to have…The: “Wash Away Your Sins Laundry Bag”
Now I recognize that there may be some who find this as a bit irreverent and maybe even a little bit offensive…But, give me a minute to share why I think this serves as an excellent object lesson for us.
The instructions on this bag tell us to gather our load of sins, place them in the bag, and turn them over to Jesus to wash away…There is certainly an ample share of comic imagery here, but the over-arching message is clear: We need help doing our dirty laundry.
There is also a reminder that we will probably go out and sin again, so we need to keep the bag handy to repeat the laundering process.
As we consider what it means to be washed clean by baptism, it might be helpful to talk about what baptism really means within the context of our Wesleyan understanding. The question of what baptism means and how important it is for us is one that students and scholars wrestle with every day. John Wesley discusses the benefits we receive from baptism, and this seems to be most crucial to our conversation. Wesley says that the first benefit of baptism is “the washing away the guilt of original sin.” The merit of Christ’s suffering and death on the cross is active in baptism. As human beings, we are innately sinful and born under the shadow of the sin of Adam. It is only through the life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus that we can be healed from this sin…Baptism is the means through which we receive God’s healing grace…Only God’s presence in the Sacrament of Baptism has the power to cleanse our souls from sin…This is why you’ve heard me say that baptism is not about who does the baptizing or the amount of water used in baptism – it is all about God’s presence in baptism.
Wesley’s second point is that baptism seals our covenant with God…This is the new and everlasting covenant promised to God’s people wherein God will “remember their sins and iniquities no more.” It is God’s desire to enter into a covenant with humanity and baptism is the means by which Christians make this covenant a reality. Baptism is the sign that God fulfills his promise to cleanse us, give us a new heart, and fill us with his Spirit. Baptism is the mark of the new covenant between God and the followers of Jesus Christ. Baptism is our entrance into Christ’s church – the Body of Christ…It is the way in which we become members of the One Body with Christ as its head. Baptism brings us into the fellowship of Christ’s church…It unites us with Christ through the Holy Spirit and God’s grace…It joins us with our fellow Christians as sisters and brothers in Christ…It is a mystical union described by Paul in his letter the Corinthians: “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greek, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”
Only God’s grace and power can create this spiritual union that transcends any physical human understanding. If we believe that we were all created as children of God – in the image of God, the idea that baptism brings us into the family God can be challenging…We need to remember that, even though we are God’s good creation, we are all born separated from God by sin and the fall of humankind…It is only through the regeneration or rebirth of baptism that we are reconciled to God, connected to the Body of Christ, and adopted by grace as children of the Living God. It is not the water or the words of the ritual that accomplish anything here; it is the grace of God alone that acts to cleanse us, regenerate our spirits, and infuse us with God’s Holy Spirit.
Baptism is an outward sign of the inward grace of God. Because we become children of God through baptism, we also become heirs to the kingdom of God and beneficiaries of eternal life through Jesus Christ. It’s hard to have a comprehensive discussion about such an important subject in the time we have here on a Sunday morning…What I hope we have done today is get the highlights and encourage you to continue to study on the subject of baptism…Our covenant relationship with God is essential to our eternal life…How we understand the way to enter into this relationship is vital to our salvation…It is important that we find a way to wrap our minds around baptism and its role in our Christian life.
Humanity is by nature sinful and separated from God…The new life promise of baptism heals this separation and liberates us from the bondage of sin and death…The result is that we turn from our self-centered existence to a life centered in God under the guidance of the Holy Spirit…We are unable to accomplish this on our own; only God’s grace has the power to call us out of the darkness and forward into a life of freedom to love and serve God. It is through the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ that the power of sin is broken and it is through baptism that we participate in Christ’s sacrifice. Our gospel this morning shows us that Jesus set the example by submitting to baptism himself. He did not need to be washed from sin, but he stepped into the water to take our sin upon himself so that he could carry it to the cross on our behalf…No other person could accomplish this task – only Jesus could carry this burden.
So, when anyone asks you the way to eternal life with God, you can safely point to Jesus…“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” Jesus said, “No one come to the Father except through me.” We know of no other way; there are no short cuts; we travel a narrow path to God. Jesus invites everyone to follow him down this narrow path…This is not an exclusive club; all are welcome…However, to follow Jesus means to leave all else behind and truly commit to who Jesus is and who we are as Christians…We cannot hedge our bets by professing Christianity while holding to something else, “just in case”. With Jesus it is all or nothing and the Good News is that – IF you accept Jesus Christ as the only way to salvation – everything will come out in the wash.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…Amen.