By Rev. Chris Jorgensen
October 27, 2019
Scripture: Romans 6:1-11
I have to confess. I have always been a bit envious of adults who have experienced an immersion baptism like the one we saw today in worship. I guess you could say I suffer from baptism envy. I was baptized by sprinkling as an infant, but whenever I have seen adults baptized or watched videos of immersion baptisms, I’ve been like “Aww, man. I wish that was MY baptism experience. I wish I was baptized by immersion.” Anybody else feel that way?
I think there’s something legitimate about that. There is a distinct kind of power in this symbol. If our faith is synonymous with our dying and rising with Christ, then we really see that in an immersion baptism. That image is really powerful.
In today’s reading, the apostle Paul talks about baptism. Paul expects baptism to be transformative for folks. Paul expects baptism to liberate one from slavery to sin and death and save that person for new life in Christ.
NT Wright, an expert on Paul, says that Paul ties our baptismal story to the Exodus story. Paul was a Jew. His understanding of Jesus was rooted in his Jewish identity and the Jewish story. And one of the most important Jewish stories was (and is) the story of God saving the Israelites from slavery in Egyp,t so that they could live in freedom in the Promised Land.
Now, you might remember how this story goes. The Israelites are enslaved and oppressed by the Pharaoh in Egypt. In fact, they have been slaves for awhile – like generations – and kind of putting up with it. It wasn’t so bad. They had places to live and food to eat – I mean so what if they were doing what the Pharaoh told them?
But then Pharaoh starts to make them do more and more work, and eventually he starts throwing all the baby boys who are born into the Nile. Suddenly this slavery thing is looking way worse that it did before. They used to be pretty comfortable. But the Pharaoh has made things untenable. The Israelites are feeling overwhelmed and oppressed and abused.
They have to get out.
So Moses, their leader (with God’s help of course) convinces Pharaoh to let his people go. Now, here’s the pivotal scene: the Israelite people are leaving, they are heading toward the Red Sea, and Pharaoh changes his mind. He’s like “Woah there goes all my free labor!” So he sends his army out to stop the Israelites. The Israelites are stuck there on the banks of the Red Sea. Pharaoh’s army behind them. Water in front of them.
The only way for them to go with God, to go into a life of freedom is to take that first step toward the water – and God parts the sea for them. God brings them up out of the water and onto the path to new life in the Promised Land!
God brings them up out of the water into new life.
This is the story echoing in Paul’s head as he writes about baptism. This is the story of a people who have been living, separated from God’s will for them. They are separated by the powers outside of them: the powers of evil like Pharaoh and the oppressive system that holds them down. They are also separated by their own choices, their own complicity, to live as slaves because well, it’s easier than being free. Life was easy in some ways. Yet they were living in a life in bondage – a life that was not the one that God desired for them.
So they had to do something risky. They had to trust in God to bring them out of the water…and so do we. We have to walk right into that water, so that we can be born into new life with Christ.
That means we have to come face to face with everything that threatens to overwhelm us. We have to confront our own complicity with life in slavery – that bent toward sinning that threatens to overwhelm us. We have to really see the brokenness of the world that threatens to overwhelm us. We have to consider the lies the world tells us about where our worth comes from and decide if we want to be part of that anymore. We have to engage the hard facts about our mortality, our decaying bodies. We have to enter into those waters, and we have to trust that God will bring us through.
Now as Christians, we are often instructed to remember our baptisms, but I’m going to be honest – I remember zero things about that actual event. But you all have just seen a baptism. So today, I’m not going to ask you to remember your baptism. I’m going to ask you to imagine your baptism.
I invite you to close your eyes. Close your eyes, and imagine this. You step into the water. You let go and lean back. You are under the water. You are under everything that threatens to overwhelm – sin, evil, brokenness, the lies of the world, your mortal body. It is too much. Maybe it even feels like death. And then! The light begins to break through! The water is parted! And God brings you out. You are dead to slavery and sin and mortality – and born anew, right now, into the realm of God.
You can open your eyes.
Beloved, here’s what I want for you. I want you to keep remembering and imagining your baptism, every day. In every overwhelming situation. Through the whole of your mortal life. God is there with you, and God will bring you through it.
Even in that last moment, as you prepare to take your very last breath – you might feel overwhelmed then, too. Imagine your baptism. One last time…until the waters begin to part, and God carries you to a new life in Christ finally, again.
Thanks be to God.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
1) Do you remember your baptism? What was meaningful about it? What do you maybe wish was different about it?
2) Pastor Chris says our faith is “synonymous with our dying and rising with Christ.” What does that mean for you in your life? What do you die to (turn away from, let go of) so that you can live a more loving, compassionate, liberated life?
3) What is one thing that is keeping you from living in the fullness of God’s presence right now? What would a life lived more closely to God’s desires for you look like?