Baptism: God’s Gift of A New Life - 2nd Corinthians 5:13-21
We went to the hospital the first time the week of June 12, 1995. They said at twenty-nine weeks it was much too early. The doctors and nurses, though, prepared for the two of them to refuse to cooperate and sent a barrage of steroids in to develop his lungs. However, after an IV specialist team came in and started plenty of fluids, hours of heartbeat monitoring, and some quiet time, everything, other than the 1 centimeter of dilation, was back to normal. After four more trips to the hospital in labor and four more trips home with it stopped, we went the sixth and final time on August 14th. Weighing in at 10 pounds, 3 ½ ounces, Davey came into this world at 12:50 pm, two weeks early (possibly the last time he was early to anything). A birth, a new life, I don’t think I’ll ever forget the moment that Davey was brought out of the womb by the doctors during the C-section and that first cry as the blood and amniotic fluid were being cleared from his body.
For several weeks now, we have been talking about the gift that God has given to us called Baptism. We reflected on how Baptism itself is a mark of God’s grace. It is our recognition that God’s grace is already present and at work within us before we even recognize it—prevenient grace. There is nothing that we can do, no prayer we pray, no action we take, that can ever earn that grace of God poured into our lives. This is one reason why we, from the early days of our denomination, have baptized children and infants, as well as teens and adults…each stands equally undeserving of grace, and yet on all, God has poured out that grace.
We considered how one of the gifts that God presents to us in Baptism is the gift of family. We recognized that as these waters pour over our head, we are brought, by the working of the Holy Spirit, into God’s family. We are made brothers and Sisters of Christ and children of our God. We are then sisters and brothers with everyone who has received the waters of Baptism and have become part of the largest family the world has ever known, a family you won’t find recorded at ancestry.com but a family recorded in the Book of Life. We also were reminded that Sunday that this family that we are part of should not be marked by the abuse, neglect, pain, or abandonment that so many of our earthly families experience, but that God’s family should be marked by humility, love, and kindness, and that this family should influence our earthly families.
Last week we considered how in being joined to Christ through the waters of this gift we call Baptism, also brings us God’s gift of forgiveness. Joined to Christ, when God, who is a just God, looks down upon us, He does not see our sin-filled bodies, but sees the sacrifice of His innocent Son upon the cross, and rather than give us the death our sins deserve, he offers us forgiveness and mercy. We experience God’s justifying grace.
Grace…new family…forgiveness—where does that bring us? It brings us to yet another gift found in the waters of Baptism, the gift of “new life.” Hear the words of Paul again, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new…that is powerful my friends, if anyone is in Christ there is a new creation.
The power of these words is that they are not Paul’s alone, they echo the very words of Christ. Remember the story of that evening with the Pharisee Nicodemus. He came to Jesus and said, “‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above [or “born anew” or “born again,” depending on your translation.’” Being born from above? It left Nicodemus’ head spinning. “‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’”
My friends, if that kind of thinking about crawling back into his mother’s womb caused Nicodemus to shutter…just think of how any mother who has given birth would feel if that is what Jesus meant. Jesus, realizing that Nicodemus had missed the point, sought to clarify himself, “‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.’”[i]
I really think this famous encounter is what Paul had in mind when he offered the words of “if anyone is in Christ there is a new creation.” Maybe he avoided the “being born again” imagery to keep the children and mothers from shuddering, and simply talked about becoming a new creation.
It is all one and the same. Where are we born, as Jesus discussed, by water and the Spirit? It is here, under these waters of our Baptism. Where does God join us to Christ and make us a new creation? It is here, under these waters of our Baptism. Our old self dies and we rise from those waters a new creation.
What does it mean to be a new creation? What does it mean to be born from above, be born again, be born anew? What does it mean to have God’s Spirit enter us and make us into something that we have never been before?
It means so much more than we could ever imagine or conceive.
As forgiven, new creations, it means that our past no longer has any hold on us. It means those sins that we have committed in the past, no longer have to haunt us. (Does that mean that God is going to miraculously take away any earthly consequences of those sins? Well maybe, but most likely not. Withdrawal will most likely have to be gone through, tickets may still have to be paid or jail time served, the loss of family may still happen…). However, it means that those sins will no longer bring us the final consequence of sin—eternal separation from God. It means that those sins no longer have to keep us in a pattern of sinning. We are new creations, we have a new life, we can begin to live in a completely different way.
It means that if we were an addict, we no longer have to be an addict. It means that if we were an adulterer, that we no longer have to live in that sin. It means that if we were a liar, or a gossip, or one who regularly “cussed like a sailor,” that we no longer have to sin with our lips. It means that that if we lived out the sin of greed by seeking to gain more and more regardless of who we hurt, that we can now become people of generosity, giving away more than we keep for ourselves. Being a new creation, being born again…it is about becoming a completely new and difference person, whoever we are and wherever we are.
It also means, as Paul said, “we regard no one from a human point of view….” It means, my friends, that when someone comes under these waters, we can no longer see them the same way. That means, sisters and brothers, that if a drug dealer came forward to receive the waters of baptism, as God made her a new creation, we could no longer regard her as a dealer. We would see the new person, our sister in Christ. It means that if a gang member, all covered in his markings, came in and received the waters of baptism, that the only mark we would see upon him has no ink in it whatsoever, but the mark of the Holy Spirit, as the waters run down his face. As folks, whether it be us or others, come under the waters of Baptism, we and they no longer remain who we were, we are made new…given new birth…born again…a new creation.
It also effects how we see those who have not surrendered to this gift of grace that God offers. As God has remade us, we are charged with bringing others into a relationship with Him, that they might be made new creations: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us.” Just as the Father sent our Lord and Savior, and through Baptism, our brother, into the world not to condemn the world, but in order that all the world might be saved through Him, we aren’t sent into the world to condemn others, but to call them into this new-life-giving relationship—to help them recognize this gift of grace, to become part of this new family, to experience the grace of forgiveness, to be made new creations in this world, but no longer of it.
My brothers and sisters, this new life that is God’s gift to us, is a powerful life. It is a chance at a new beginning, a fresh start. It is a call to see the power of God’s redemptive work in creating others new. It is the honor of being an ambassador, a representative of God Himself in the lives of others.
And, my brothers and sisters, while baptism is a once in a lifetime event, the opportunity to be born anew through the power of God’s Holy Spirit is an event that God offers with the rising of each sun, the passing of each second. We each, today and every day, have the opportunity to live a new life as a gift from God. Will you accept it? Will you use it? Will you offer it?
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.