Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent

Text: 1 Peter 3:20-21
The few people in the boat – eight in all – were saved by the water, which was a symbol pointing to baptism, which now saves you. It is not the washing off of bodily dirt, but the promise made to God from a good conscience. It saves you through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Baptism – a journey with Jesus

For a moment, imagine you’ve been invited to a wedding and you don’t have a thing to wear.  You really did look to see if you could make anything that you owned do the trick but everything just looked so well-worn and old fashioned, and besides, you can’t wear what you wore at the last wedding. 

Even the clothes you consider to be your better items aren’t up to the occasion.  This one has a little stain here – something from the canapés at a birthday party; that one’s lost a button somewhere in the church at the last christening, and my goodness, look at the hem on that one.  The material in that one seems to have shrunk a bit.  It doesn’t fit like it used to.  Nope, nothing is good enough.  You want something that is going to be just perfect for the occasion.   

So you go shopping.  In the clothes shop a particular item catches your eye.  The colour and the style are just right.  The material falls just right.  There are no buttons missing or grubby patches or dodgy stitching. You try it on and it fits perfectly.  No adjustments need to be made.  It really compliments your body shape and makes you look a million dollars.

Now this suit or dress has got to be an expensive piece of clothing.  You’re a bit too scared to look at the price tag.  You know you want to wear this piece of perfection but you’ve got a feeling it’s going to be more than you can ever afford to pay.   Holding your breath, you look at the price.  You are expecting to be disappointed and blown away by how expensive this beautiful new suit or dress will be, but you stand there with your mouth open in disbelief.  The price tag is $0.00 – it’s free. 

We might think, “It’s too good to be true!” but no one in their right mind would walk away from a bargain like that.  No one would go home and pull out one of their old well-worn garments with their stains and sagging hems in preference to getting something that is perfect and new – all for nothing.  It might seem like a trick but it’s a genuine offer – it’s free!

The New Testament often talks about the Christian life as taking off the old and replacing it with the new. Paul says in Ephesians,
“Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy” (Ephesians 4:22-24).

The picture that is painted here is this – when we are connected with Christ, we are clothed with something that is new and beautiful.  It’s like taking off an old shirt or dress and putting on a new one – a new garment that doesn’t cost a cent.  It’s free.  There is nothing to pay. Jesus paid the price but for us, it’s free. 

Today in our reading from 1 Peter the claim is made – baptism saves you.  It’s not a symbol or a sign or a pious gesture on our part.  This is not some kind of initiation that you get done and then forget about.  It’s not a tradition or a family thing. It’s not a vow of allegiance that you make to God.

Baptism is powerful.  It does something.  At the point of your baptism God is doing something really important in your life – he is changing your direction and giving you a new beginning.  The Apostle Paul put it this way, “You were baptized into union with Christ, and now you are clothed, so to speak, with the life of Christ himself” (Gal 3:27). 

In baptism God joins us with Jesus – his life, death and resurrection and all that he accomplished through his perfect obedience for us – we are joined intimately with all of this. The goodness and rightness and holiness of Christ become ours as the simple water of baptism flows over us.  It’s quite simple.  We heard from our reading – “baptism saves”.  It’s not because the water has any fairy-tale power or the act of baptism has something magical about it.  Baptism saves because it’s the channel, the conduit, the way that God brings Jesus’ death and resurrection into our lives and changes us.

Today Emelia was baptised.  We didn’t see any brilliant light or haloes or dazzling spectacle.  What happened in the water of baptism was invisible to the naked eye.  Jesus gave her new clothes to wear. 

He gave her new life, a new relationship with God, a new way of living. 
He gave her the new clothes of forgiveness, the new clothes of cleanness and rightness, the new clothes that are fitting for a child of God;
these new clothes will be freely supplied every day until eternity.  Jesus will keep on giving her new clothes to wear as she sheds her dirty sinful clothes and is refreshed with a renewed connection to her Saviour.

When you and I were baptised, however long ago that was, it was as though God took the whole of our life, say if we live 70 or 80 or 90 years and squeezed those years together into the few seconds and dipped them into the water of baptism.  In those few seconds God began something new in us for the whole of our lives. 
We received the forgiveness that Jesus won for us on the cross.
“Forgiven” was written across the length of our whole life. 
We received life that goes beyond the grave.
We received the gift of the Holy Spirit.
We received new beginnings. 

Then God took our compressed lives still dripping with water and stretched them back to their full lengths and told us, “Go and make your baptism, the life that you have in Christ, real during every moment of your life.  Daily get rid of lovelessness, greed, selfishness, impatience, unkindness – these are old dirty clothes – they are completely “out of fashion” for wearing in the presence of Christ.  In their place let the new clothes of Christ – love, kindness, self-control, patience, generosity, compassion and a forgiving spirit – control every word and action. 

You see, there is the “sinful me” in all of us;
that “me” which wants to make myself the centre of my own little world;
the “me” that wants to remove God to the sidelines of life and does it quite successfully;
the “me” that is selfish and inconsiderate;
the “me” that Luther calls in his Catechism “the old Adam”;
the “me” that readily wants to follow evil rather than good;
every day we need to turn away from that old me and be made new. 
To fail to reject “the sinful me” would be disastrous.

In repentance and faith and we come to Jesus with empty hands and pray that once again he clear away the old and bring in the new.  As Paul says, When anyone is joined to Christ, he is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come (2 Cor 5:17).  This is not just a one-time action on the day of our baptism but something that happens every day.

Perhaps it is at this point we need to ask ourselves questions like –
“What kind of clothes am I wearing at this moment?” 
“Am I happy to wear old and dirty clothes in preference to the new clean clothes that Jesus gives?” 
“Do I easily forget that I am God’s child through baptism, and adopt the values and attitudes that are all screwed up”?

Probably all of us can say without hesitation that the sinner in us wins out regularly. That’s why the simple statement of Peter is so important, “baptism saves you”.  It saves you because every day it connects you to Jesus.

When we confess our sin, our baptism reminds us that we are connected with Jesus’ death on the cross – we are forgiven.
When we pray, we know our prayers are heard because we have become the beloved children of our Father in heaven in our baptism.
When we are confronted by death, we are comforted by our brother in baptism, Jesus, who has overcome the power of death.
When we are confronted with trouble and powers beyond our control, we are loved by one who, to use Peter’s words, “has gone to heaven and is at right side of God, ruling over all angels and heavenly authorities and powers” – there is no problem that we have that is too hard for him to handle.

Lent is a particularly good time to reflect on our relationship with God and it’s beginning in the water of baptism.
Such grace,
such unity with Jesus himself and all that he has done for us,
such an outpouring of the Spirit into our lives,
such regeneration and revitalisation,
such hope for the present and the future even when the darkest clouds are looming on the horizon,
leads us to respond with faith and to regularly return to the beginning, to our new beginning, and to begin again with changed hearts and minds.

During Lent reflect on the relationship that God has with you because of Jesus, reflect on his journey to the cross and his resurrection and how the blessings of these events have been brought to you through your baptism;
repent of your failure to live the new life that has been given to you and,
rejoice in the love and grace of God that was first planted in you in your baptism and has been a treasure in the past and will be in the future, as you discover again and again the joy of the hope and comfort that only Christ can give.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
22nd February 2015

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