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Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

1 Peter 3:13-22

Augustana, 2011

39 Sermon for Easter 6.mp3

Note: the three examples toward the end of this sermon came from The Lutheran Difference, Baptism, pp. 355-376.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon this morning is the Epistle for today, specifically the second half beginning at verse 18,

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. (1Pet 3:18-22)

This really is the epistle lesson assigned for this Sunday in our lectionary and I can think of no greater blessing than to have witnessed precisely what Peter is talking about in the baptism of little Kaleb.  And Kurtis, Erin, you guys are my witnesses, I didn’t coerce you to have Kaleb baptized today, did I?  Today just seemed like as good a day as any and indeed it is.

The last couple Sundays, I have been preaching about how the early church devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, that is the doctrine of the Apostles.  Baptism is surely one of those teachings.  Baptism is like the great flood that God sent upon the earth to destroy sinners.  That’s what the apostle Peter says here.  God sent a flood to destroy the earth, to destroy the wickedness of the people on it.  But God commanded Noah to build an ark and Noah built an ark according to God’s instructions and he and his wife, and his sons and their wives were saved in the ark.  God brought them safely through the flood.  Baptism corresponds to this.  God has just now brought Kaleb safely through the flood waters.  Baptism has not washed away any dirt from Kaleb but it has washed away His sins.  God did it.  Baptism is something God does just like the flood was something God did.  This leads Doctor Luther to say, “Now baptism is by far a greater flood than was that of Noah.… Baptism drowns all sorts of men throughout the world, from the birth of Christ even till the day of judgment.… [Noah’s flood] was a flood of wrath, this is a flood of grace.” (AE 35:32) God flooded the earth.  God baptized Kaleb, and God baptized all of you.

Flooding the whole earth seems like a drastic measure but the cure was appropriate to the disease.  This is how God saw the earth at the time just before He sent the flood.  Moses records for us in Genesis chapter 6, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. 13 And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” (Gen 6:11–13)  We are not surprised by God’s assessment of the earth.  We may only be surprised by when it was that God said this about the earth.  He could very well have said it last week or this morning.  Most older people today seem convinced that the world was a better place years ago.  In this case, I think age gives us the benefit of forgetting some of the bad things.  No, the heart of man is just as corrupt as it ever was, now, back 50 years ago, or back thousands of years ago.  Human experience is proof that the earth is no different today than it was in the days of Noah and if we still need convincing we need only watch 10 minutes of the evening news.  Flooding the earth was a cure for the drastic situation of the wickedness of the people in it.

“Now God saw that Noah was righteous and commanded him to build and ark.” (Gen 7:1)  Noah is commended to us as an example of living by faith in the Letter to the Hebrews, “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household.  By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. (Heb 11:7)  From these two Scriptures we might get the idea that it’s a good thing we got little Kaleb here just when we did.  Just look at him; he can’t possibly have done anything wrong, yet.  And yet in the same paragraph of this great teaching on the rescue we receive in baptism we also have the teaching of what we have been rescued from—unrighteousness, sin which brings us unrighteousness.  “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.”  We, not even little Kaleb, nor Noah, weren’t the righteous ones that deserved to get saved, Jesus in His divine mercy died for the sins of all people.

Children inherit physical characteristics and even psychological traits from their parents.  Folks may say, “He has his father’s eyes.” Or, “He has his mother’s smile.”  We don’t speak as frequently about the spiritual trait we inherit from our parents: sin.  Psalm 51:5 clearly says, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”  And in Romans 5:18-19, Paul tells us that we inherit our sin from our parents.  It was for this sin, Peter tells us, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.”

So the conversation might go like this at work tomorrow.  “Church was really uplifting yesterday.  We celebrated the baptism of a little baby boy.”

“What do you mean?  You baptize babies at your church?”

“Sure, you mean you don’t?”

“No, of course we don’t.  Babies are too young  to make a decision for Christ or even remember their baptism.  What good will it do?”

From his cell in a Nazi prison in 1944, Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a letter to his newborn nephew Dietrich Wilhelm.  It began, “Today you will be baptized a Christian.”  It would be years before little Dietrich Wilhelm would ever understand or read this letter for himself.  Cynics might say that Pastor Bonhoeffer’s letter is a waste of effort, a waste of words.  But words are not so powerless.  In that letter Pastor Bonhoeffer tried to pass on to his infant nephew a heritage and an inheritance through the encouragement of words.  With that letter, he left something of enduring value for his nephew after the Nazis made sure he was executed in the final days of the war.

Our Christian friends are absolutely correct when they say that Kaleb does not have the ability to understand what is happening today.  He can’t understand the words of his parents’ lullaby or the legal implications of his parent’s will.  But does that mean that his parents shouldn’t sing to him or get a will, just in case?  Of course not!  Although infants can’t understand such words, they still receive the benefits and blessings of their parents’ love and care.  Most objections to infant baptism are based on human conditions.  Yet God’s grace and mercy are unconditional.  God is the one doing this great thing, not Kaleb.

I’ve got one more.  Think about a baby who gets adopted.  An infant who is adopted plays no part in determining which family will adopt him.  Instead, an infant receives all the blessings and privileges from being adopted into the family because the family chose to adopt him.  It’s the same with our adoption by God.  He chose us.  Today He chose Kaleb.  He has already chosen you.  We are all unworthy recipients of His overwhelming grace.

We are here this morning on the 6th Sunday of Easter with the shouts of Christ is risen still ringing in our ears.  We have already heard Peter, blessed by the Holy Spirit to preach to the crowd gathered at Pentecost.  “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.”  (Ac 2:38-39)

Little Kaleb, “Baptism now saves you.”  Just as God has saved all of your brothers and sisters in Christ.  You are baptized; you are saved.  God has done it.  Want proof?  It’s there in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  “Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!”  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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