Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 21, 2017
Acts 17:22-31, Psalm 66:8-20, 1 Peter 3:13-22, John 14:15-21
Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
We are only baptized once in our lives. Baptism is many things, but one of them is an adoption. When we are baptized, God speaks to us the same words he spoke to Jesus at his baptism in the Jordan River: you are my beloved child. In baptism, we are re-born children of God. And, like any adoption, it only happens once, and changes the reality of who we are and whose we are. That one moment changes us. It re-forms our relationships and our place in the world. We are born children of a fallen humanity; in baptism, we are re-born as children of God. In baptism, God claims us as his own, washes us clean from our sins, creates us new people in him, and unites us with the death and resurrection of Christ, so that as Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, so we, too, will be resurrected when Christ comes again. Like an adoption or a marriage, baptism only has to happen once, because it completely changes us from one thing to another. Martin Luther used to say that baptism was an everyday reality, that through our baptisms we die every day to sin and rise to new life in Christ Jesus. Just like new parents signing the adoption papers, or newlyweds signing the marriage license, baptism is the beginning of a new life together, that lasts our whole life long.
God’s adoption means our salvation. Just as Jesus Christ died and was resurrected, so we too will die one day … and when Christ comes again we will rise from our graves just as he did, healed and made new and perfect, all our sins washed away and every bad part of us gone. In our baptisms we are tied to Jesus’ death and resurrection. Just as Jesus rose from the grave, so we too will one day rise from the grave. We live now in this world, but in baptism God has made us citizens of his kingdom. Just as when a couple adopts a child from a foreign country, that child becomes a citizen of his new parents’ country, when God adopts us as his children in baptism, we are made citizens of God’s country.
But like an adoption or a marriage, sometimes we need to re-affirm our baptism. We need to remember our baptism and think for a bit about what it means, and re-commit ourselves to living with the baptismal relationship. Just like married couples celebrate their anniversaries, or sometimes renew their vows. Like any relationship, the more you put into your baptismal relationships, the more you get out of them. So it’s important to take the time to think about what that means. We need to think about what it means to be a child of God, a follower of Jesus Christ, and how we should be responding to the love of God poured out on us in our baptisms and throughout our lives. God will never abandon us or cut us off, just like loving parents never abandon or cut off their children; in return, we should be living as God calls us to live.
Today at Augustana we are confirming two young people, MiKayla and Kaleb. If you look at the rite in your hymnals, you will see that the formal name for it is not “Confirmation” but “Affirmation of Baptism.” This rite is a time to remember our baptisms and re-dedicate us to the one who claims us as his own. Not just for the two young people standing up in front of the church in white robes, but all of us. We are all baptized children of God. We are all called to live and work as God’s people in the world.
Now, if you ask different Christians how we should live and work in the world, you’ll get a lot of different answers. Some will have a long list of things we can and cannot do—but not all Christian groups would put the same thing on that list. And some people would say we shouldn’t have hard-and-fast rules at all, but rather go where we feel the Holy Spirit calling us. So the question is, what guiding principle should we live our lives by? What is the core thing that Jesus wants us to do as we follow him? What central thing should guide our interpretation of Scripture and the rules by which we live?
In our Gospel reading, Jesus said to the disciples: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” What commandments does he mean? There are a lot of commandments in the Bible, some of which were specific commands for specific times and places, some of which are more general and apply to everyone everywhere in every time. What commandments is Jesus talking about in this reading? Well, this is a short excerpt from the Farewell Discourse, Jesus’ last instructions for his disciples the night before he was arrested and put on trial. It’s four chapters long, and in those chapters Jesus gives the same commandment: love one another. If you love me, Jesus says, you will love one another. You cannot love Jesus without also loving your neighbor. In baptism, God claims us as his own children because he loves us; we respond to that love by loving God, and loving our neighbor. That’s the way the Christian life is supposed to go. That’s what all of Scripture boils down to: love God, and love your neighbor.
In Confirmation class we spent almost half of this year talking about the Ten Commandments, what they mean for us and what they might look like in real life. And one of the things we talk about is that they’re the foundation of Christian ethics, but they are not the sum total of what we are supposed to do. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves. If we love God, we’ll keep him first in our lives, we won’t take God’s name in vain, and we’ll take time both to rest and to worship God. If we love our neighbors, we will not kill them, or cheat on our relationships, or steal, or lie, or be jealous.
But we can follow all those rules and still be mean, petty people. We can follow all the rules and still hurt people. We can follow all the rules and still not be the people God called us in baptism to be. We can follow all the rules and still not live up to the citizenship we have in God’s kingdom. Because the rules don’t exist for the sake of having rules. The rules exist to guide us to God, and to provide a framework for the healthy and loving relationships that God desires us to have with each other and with him. The rules exist to help us make this world a little bit more like God’s kingdom, our true home. The rules exist to give us a little bit of an idea what the world would look like if we really and truly did love one another as God has loved us. To help us see that there is a better way. To help us be the people God created us to be, and called us to be in our baptisms.
That’s a big order. That’s huge and intense. I don’t know about you, but I find that a lot of the time, following the letter of God’s commandments is a lot easier than following the spirit of them. Checking off boxes on a list of how a Christian is supposed to live is a lot easier than following Jesus’ command to love. And if I were to rely solely on my own abilities and strength of will, there is no way that I could live up to that command. There is no way I could be the person God created me to be.
But God does not leave us to struggle through on our own. God does not give us a commandment and then stand up in heaven with a clipboard judging us and writing us off when we fail. God sent us Jesus Christ, to teach us and to save us, and when Jesus returned to heaven after the Resurrection, God sent us the Holy Spirit, the advocate, the comforter, the encourager, the one who inspires us to be the people God created us to be, who lights a fire in our hearts, who gives us the strength and wisdom to put God’s love into action.
May we live each day remembering that we are baptized children of God, filled with the Holy Spirit, loving God and our neighbor.