Sermon transcript, 14 June 2015 (Baptism of Robbie England)
Lifted up in Christ by Fr. Dana
Ezekiel 17:22-24, Psalm 92, II Corinthians 5:1-10, Mark 4:26-34
Man was created to have relationship with God. In Genesis, the first book of the Bible, chapters 1 and 2 are about creation: how He made the universe and all that is in it, including how, after He had created all the animals, He paraded them in front of Adam and let him name them all. Adam did not find an adequate companion, and so God put Adam to sleep, took a rib and made a woman and that was the perfect companion for Him. They both also had a relationship with God: an intimate relationship; not just “He’s up there somewhere, we know about Him, we can see the evidence around us, but He’s gone to sleep and we’re doing whatever we want”. Genesis 3:8 says, “They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day”. They heard the sound, and the key is that they knew what that sound was: they knew what it sounded like for the Lord to go walking in the garden. They knew because He did it often and they were there. There is no Scripture that says that Adam and Eve walked with God, they were familiar with Him being in their midst and, as the Bible shows us, having conversation with them.
Unfortunately this particular verse is the beginning of the end of that relationship, because the second half of the verse says that they “hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” They didn’t normally do this, but on this day they did, and you can probably guess why: Adam and Eve ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the one thing in all creation that God said “Don’t go there”. “You can have everything else: all the animals and plants, the mountains and the ocean, you can do anything you want to do, but don’t even go near that tree.” (Genesis 2:16-17) He said that because He knew that tree was tempting. Having everything else in the universe was not enough: they had to do it. And when they did, and God came walking as He normally did, they said, “Whoops! We’d better hide”, because they knew they were naked (Genesis 3:10). The remainder of chapter 3 describes how Adam and Eve, who were designed to have a relationship with God, and to walk in and enjoy the garden, because they did the one thing… There weren’t Ten Commandments; there was only one: keep your hands off that tree! And they disobeyed it. That was the end of that intimate relationship of actually walking with God.
Only God can restore us
As you know, we’ve all been suffering the consequences ever since. One of my daughters said that she would like to meet Adam and Eve, and just _______, because they were so _______! But the truth is that if we had been there any of us would have done the same thing. It’s easy to say “No, I wouldn’t”, but you weren’t there, and you don’t know. Man lost that intimate relationship with God through his own actions. Unfortunately, there is nothing that man could do in his own actions to restore that intimate relationship: it wasn’t possible. The whole Old Testament teaches us that it wasn’t possible. God tried to get that idea across to us by establishing all the sacrifices and various laws for the Jews: the people with whom He chose to have the closest relationship, to be an example to the rest of us. All the things He set up for them to do still didn’t do it. All the blood sacrifices, morning and evening – and even more often on the Sabbath – and all the things they had to do, never restored that relationship. In fact, God said the blood of animals sacrificed by a sinful priest isn’t going to do it. [Psalm 143:2, Micah 6:6-7, Galatians 2:16, Hebrews 10:1-4]
And so God knew this would happen from the very beginning – when He created Adam, He knew that Adam would fall – and He already had a plan: He already knew what He would do about it. [Acts 4:27-28, Romans 11:32] And it wasn’t to ask man to do something; instead, He asked His Son to become man, and to do what man could not do for himself, which was: to live a sinless life and to be sacrificed, to offer Himself as a sacrifice just as all those animals had been sacrificed, to offer Himself as a payment for the sins of mankind; and Jesus said, “Yes, I’ll do it” [Hebrews 10:5-7]. We have expressions such as “A man pulls himself up by the bootstraps”, which means “A man takes control of his own life and makes something of himself”. Or you hear of a “self-made man”: nobody helped him; he went out, worked hard, and did it. The truth is, in terms of spiritual salvation, we can’t do that. And in fact, even in our physical life: we think this person did it on his own – Frank Sinatra: “I did it my way”. No you didn’t! – Guess who gave you that voice: God did. Guess who made all those women go crazy over you: God did. Man did not lift himself up: God does.
God brings down the proud and lifts up the humble
And that’s what the Scriptures that we heard today tell us. Ezekiel 17:22-24 is talking about a tree, but he’s really not; the alternate reading (Ezekiel 31:3ff) talks about Assyria as a tree. He’s talking about Israel and the other nations including Assyria, and He has a theme: “I will do it; you can’t do it. You can try all you want, but you can’t do it – I will do it.” God raises up the lowly and brings down the lofty; God raises up the humble and brings down the proud: God does it. Ezekiel 31:10ff says, in other words, “Because I grew you big and powerful, and you were lifted up in your heart – ‘I did this’ – I’m going to bring you down.” And God brought them down. Whatever He wills to do, He does it: “I am the Lord… I have spoken, I have performed it.” The good news is that He wills to do good things for us; but we need to remember that He lifts up the humble and brings down the proud.
In Psalm 92:7 He talks about “When the wicked spring up like grass, and when all the workers of iniquity flourish”. It certainly seems in our day that if you’re doing wrong you’ll prosper: if you’re stealing, either from the rich or the poor, you’ll prosper; if you’re advocating evil, you’ll prosper, grow and succeed. But if the rest of the verse says “it is that they may be destroyed forever.” Hitler had a good thing going: it looked as if he was going to conquer the world; Napoleon and Alexander “the Great” both looked as if they would conquer the world; the Roman Empire and all these other empires were great and mighty – where are they now? God raises up and God puts down. The wicked spring up, but only for a season, so that He can show us through their end what the end of all man is when he depends on himself.
God lifts up the humble in Baptism
What does that have to do with today? What does it have to do with Baptism? Today Robbie has come to be baptized; and while that’s a great thing for him, it’s an awesome thing for us as well. It’s an awesome thing when a man says “I can’t do this myself; I’m not capable; I need the Lord.” I grew up in an evangelical church where Baptism was primarily a sign: I was baptized at Easter, April 1963; and so if Satan comes after me and says “You’re going to hell”, I can say, “It says in my Bible that I was baptized on 12 April 1963, so there!” That’s true, but that’s not all that it is by a long shot. It wasn’t about me standing up and saying, “OK, I’m ready”: that’s a little piece. The big piece is what God did in me on that day. That’s why we call it a Sacrament. It’s not just a sign – though it is a sign – but it’s something that God does in a man or woman that changes him or her. It is a prime example of Him lifting up the humble, of Him doing something in a man that man cannot possibly do for himself.
In Baptism we renounce the lure of the world, the flesh and the devil; we turn to Jesus and place our trust in Him; and the reason we do it is that He is the only One who can raise us up; He is the only One who can save us [Acts 4:12]. And we will hear that we will need to persevere: that when we fall, we need to confess our sins; that when we stumble, we need to confess and stand back up: not stop, but keep walking. And the reason we do that is that although Baptism does an awesome thing in us… When that water is poured over our head and we are chrismated as Christ’s, an amazing thing happens; but it does not instantaneously make us perfect. Just as when we were born physically, we came out helpless: we had to be fed, other things had to be taken care of; we had to learn to walk… First we had to learn to crawl: we fell crawling; you try to go too fast and go “plop” on your chin… We have to learn; we have to grow: we stumble, we crawl, we learn to stand, holding onto things, then we learn to let go and totter and fall, then we do that 117 times, then we take a step and our parents go nuts because we took a step… That’s what it’s like in the spiritual life: when we are baptized we are born again, reborn as Jesus said, born in the Spirit (John 3:5). We were born of water, which speaks of the water which breaks in the womb: physical birth in water and spiritual birth by the Spirit. That’s what happens at Baptism: water is a symbol.
A death and a new life
We die to self when we enter the water; and when that water washes over us, we are raised up again. [Romans 6:3-6] We have to die in order to live. We come to Baptism giving away ourselves, as Jesus did: He sacrificed His life; He went physically to death for us and was raised physically from death; and when you go to heaven and see Him, you will see that He still physically has the scars, He still bears the wounds in His hands. We know that because after He rose and appeared to the disciples they were able to put their hands in those wounds (John 20:27): He still bears the scars for us. And we are called to lay down our life, not physically – at least, not at Baptism – and that ends: the old man dies, and we become a new man – because of what God does, not because we submitted to Baptism. And we are given a new life, a life we’ve never had before. You will have a new life this afternoon that you’ve never had before, Robbie. It may not dramatically different, because again you start by crawling before you learn to walk; the spirit will be different, because the Holy Spirit will be in you; and we rejoice in that.
And in this ceremony we participate: we remember our Baptism, and we make the same promises again for ourselves that you make. This is a time to share in the joy of Baptism and the joy of a new life, and we are grateful for being a part of it.