Friday, June 4, 2010

Baptism/ Christ have Mercy 8/ The rubber hits the road.

Chapter 5 is titled:  "Baptized for This Moment".

It is a smart title.  The chapter deals with the Sacrament of Baptism, what it means, what it means within the community and how it bears us up in all manner of crises and demands AND how this is becoming part of a body that works together and helps each other.

The chapter reminds me again of Stefan's death.  When the accident happened and the pastors were wondering how we were doing, my husband always told them, that he had been going to church for exactly a moment like this.  They thought it was the best answer they had ever heard.  It's a similar situation.-- The rubber hits the road.

We hear in this chapter the story of the relief effort in the New Orleans disaster.  There are some thoughtful and sensitive accounts.  I appreciated the way the needs of the traumatized are recognized and addressed.  DP Schulz asked to be prayed with and this was the prayer:  "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.  Grant Your servant Kurt, O Lord,  the strength to bear up under this challenge in the name of Christ." 

Well, yes, Amen.  Nice and short and to the point and there is not much else to pray.  Strength is really what it is about in a disaster.  I found that when people insisted I deal with my grief properly and attend grief sessions, that that was not giving me strength.  It made me really sad and zapped my energy.  I stopped going.  I was better without it, but that may just be me.  I had lots of real people in my life to stand by me, I did not need a specially formed group to dig everything up.  I also had a blog.  And there was really not that much else to say.

To bless the Lord in such a situation is also a special grace and something to experience when it happens to you.  We obviously don't look for this or ask for this.  But you can just simply say what Job said.  It works.  We know from the Bible that it's a good prayer and it's ready for you and God pleasing.  So just have it.

Then we have in the chapter various actions to save people in New Orleans, and we have the congregation at worship and volunteering to help other, etc.  We see how Word and Sacrament strengthens people to reach out again.

I realized at that moment how I had underestimated the body of Christ there, at the point of duress.  They confidently chose to act in mercy for their neighbors.  God baptized and preached them into one body through Pastors Schmieling and David Buss and countless others.  They responded as "one body" because they had "one Lord, one faith, one baptism"  (Ephesians 4:5).  Truly, they "were baptized for this moment." (p. 65)
The rubber hits the road again.  We learn in this section what Baptism is, what it means, how it is commanded, and yet a gift and God's doing.  We begin to see how the book is a lovely primer on theology and everything flows from word and sacrament.  One can really give this book to anyone to understand all the basics and more.

Then in another rubber-hits-the-road moment we learn how all this goes together:

When Christians are baptized, they give ear to the Gospel, read Holy Scripture, partake of Holy Communion, and love their neighbor. Luther. (p.68)

This is also one of the heading quotes for the chapter.  And of course scripture's witness:

How can we [plural] who died to sin still live in it?  Do you not know that all of us [plural] who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  In order that... we [plural] too might walk in newness of life.  If we [plural] have been united with Him in a death like His, we [plural] shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.  We [plural] know that our [plural] old self was crucified with Him.  Now if we [plural] have died with Christ, we  [plural] believe that we [plural] will also live with Him.  Romans 6:2-8.  (p. 68,69)

Apparently, the "plurals" in Romans 6 "jump off the page."  The verbs, too, are something to think about.  Such as "ebptistheemen" which is "were-baptized-together-in" Christ.  The other verbs are like this.   Seems like an interesting verb construction in Greek.  But I don't know any Greek.  Anyhow, it looks like we are missing some things from not knowing Greek.

From this we get a little dissertation which strikes me as one of the key points of this theology.

This is not symbolic language.  the Church really and truly is the body of Christ.  Baptized into Christ and made members of His Body, because we are in Him, we become ever more what he is--merciful one to another.  Luther writes:  "Thus we Christians, through our rebirth in baptism, become children of God.  and if we pattern ourselves after our Father and all his ways, all his goods and names are likewise our inheritance forever.  Now, our Father is and is called merciful and good, as Christ says, 'Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful' [Luke 6:36]."

To deny mercy--even worse, to reject the demonstration of mercy and care to those in need--is more than breaking god's Law.  denying mercy denies and rejects the gospel of Holy Baptism.  It denies the mercy of God in Baptism.  It denies the triune God, who is named in Baptism.  It denies the gracious word of the Father ("this is My beloved son, "  Matthew 3:17).  It denies the Son who undergoes and opens Baptism to us.  It denies the Spirit, who descends also upon us in Baptism.  It denies the gifts of that same Spirit, among which are charity, mercy, humility, and love.  Denial of mercy to the unbaptized fails to recognize that we, too were once outside the church, outside of Christ.  We, too, were brought in the body of Christ through mercy, despite ourselves.

Infant baptism beautifully demonstrates this.  Born into the flesh, we are children of the flesh, "dead in our trespasses"  (Ephesians 2;5). God's mercy seeks and creates the object of its love--though that object is quite unlovable!  Denial of mercy to needy Christians in particular is a denial of Christ's Body, the church.  It is a denial of Christ in my neighbor, as we read in Scripture:  "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ"  (Galatians 3:27) or "As you did it to one of the least of these My brothers, you did it to Me"  (Matthew 25:40).  So Luther can say that Baptism (like the Lord's Supper) makes us all, with Christ, "one loaf".  Denial of mercy, even to non-Christians, is a denial of the way the Lord has sought and claimed us who were unlovable and condemned sinners.  Baptism is mercy. 

 There is a little bit more about this and then we talk about being "daring", daring to believe that "because of Jesus we are wholly pleasing and acceptable to God.  And it becomes daring to live life outside ourselves and in and for others:  "'The Father of infinite mercies has by the gospel made us daring lords.'" (p. 70).   We nevertheless bear crosses but are comforted by the promises of baptism.  And once more the exhortation to love:

I [Christ] have imposed the Gospel, Baptism, and the Sacrament on you.  And... it is your treasure, which I have given you gratis.... but now, since you have all received the treasure that you should have, do just this one thing:  be joined together in the bonds of love. (Luther)  (p. 71)

About this daring action, joyfully based on the joyful knowledge of God's grace and favor, I read an interesting thing on confessingevangelical, the other day.   "What would it be fun to present the Master with upon his return?"

It's just that maybe "fun" is not quite the right word, or maybe it is,  and it's not for the Master per se,  it is for the neighbor, in whom we find the Master, remember. That would be being merciful like him.

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