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Evalgelical Lutheran Church in America Northeastern Ohio Synod
Letters from Pastor Alan Smearsoll

February 2019

I recently preached a sermon on the meaning of baptism. I had several people respond to the message in such a way that I thought it would be good to print it here so that those who were not there to hear the Gospel on that weekend could receive the word as well.

The sermon was preached on January 13th, the Baptism of our Lord. The text was Luke 3:15-17, 21-22. The occasion of Jesus’ baptism gives us cause to reflect on the meaning of baptism. Now, I am not going to pretend to sum it all up in a ten minute sermon, for baptism is too broad a topic to do that, but I hope to present to you something you hadn’t considered before and the significance of this for your everyday life.

If I asked everyone individually who is here today what the meaning of baptism is, I would guarantee that I would have a different response from each of you. Some might say that it is about the forgiveness of sin. Well, yes, I suppose it is, but it is not just about that. How can I say that? Jesus was baptized and he was sinless, so there must be more to it than that. Others might say that baptism is about eternal life. Well, yes, I suppose it is, but it is not just a “ticket to heaven.” How can I say that? Jesus was baptized and yet he is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. He was and is and will be. Eternal life was his already.

So what can we learn about baptism from Jesus’ baptism? At its core, baptism is a covenant, a sign of God’s commitment to you. “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” In our reading from Isaiah, chapter 43, we hear God say to the people “I have called you by name, you are mine.” From the very beginning God has claimed us, yet we don’t often acknowledge that. Have any of you, in the last day or week stopped to think about God’s claim on your life? Obviously neither did the Israelites of Isaiah’s day who seemed to need reminded of this. We too need reminded. That is why the baptismal font sits front and center; a visible reminder to us that we are baptized and claimed by God. This is why we have a service of affirmation of baptism every once in a while, to remind us that God has called us by name and we are God’s beloved.

In baptism, you are named, identified as a member of God’s family in Christ. It used to be that the last name of a family was often tied to the trade of the family. Baker; Smith; Shoemaker; Carpenter – all indicating that the family was most likely a baker, or a blacksmith or a cobbler, or a woodworker. In baptism, you are given a last name that reflects who you are:  Christian; a member of the family of Christ. Say your name and end it with “Christian.” This is who you are and you live in the “spirit” of this family. No other can claim you as theirs. This is why the devil despises baptism, for the devil has lost claim to you forever!

That doesn’t mean the devil won’t try to win you back, however. I hope you know that being baptized doesn’t place some magical bubble around you that keeps you safe from every harm, that the baptized life does not promise a bed of roses. No, baptism is not a protection spell, but a promise. Again, we turn to Isaiah. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord you God…your Savior….Do not fear, for I am with you.” This is the promise – I am with you.”

When Moses asked God who he should say sent him to save the Hebrew people from slavery, God responded with, “tell them ‘I AM’ has sent me to you.” The great I AM is with you! Your God is by your side. Are you being tried or tested in some way right now? Remember that you are baptized and the troubles you face will not “overwhelm” you or “consume” you; though they may seem insurmountable, you never face them alone.            

Are you feeling unimportant or of little value at the moment? Remember that you are baptized and therefore loved, “beloved.” You are created for glory, formed and made by God. Therefore, you are of great value.

As children of God in Christ, heirs of the Kingdom; as people with the last name “Christian;” we honor the family name by serving; by loving; by being Christ for the world.

So, yes, baptism is so much more than a “one and done” event in your life. Really, it is a way of life for all who believe. Hear God say to you as you remember that you are baptized every day, “You are mine. You are loved. With you I am well pleased. Do not fear, for I am with you.”

Pastor Alan


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