Sunday, September 22, 2013

Running on Empty? Check Your Fluids (Romans 6:3-6; 1 Corinthians 12:13)

Or don’t you know that all who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  Therefore, we were buried together with him through baptism into his death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too can walk in newness of life.  If we were united together in a death like his, we will also be united together in a resurrection like his.  This is what we know: the person that we used to be was crucified with him in order to get rid of the corpse that had been controlled by sin, that way we wouldn’t be slaves to sin anymore.

We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jew or Greek, or slave or free, and we were all given one Spirit to drink.

Today, we continue in a series of messages called Running on Empty, because too many of us spend too much of our lives feeling empty.  However, we’re intended for something better.  Jesus said that he came so that we might have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10). 

One of the reasons we sometimes feel empty is we don’t take advantage of the opportunities to receive grace.  God’s offer of live-giving grace often sits like a beautiful gift that remains unopened.  In this series, we’re looking at how we open the gift and experience God’s grace.  Our metaphor is the human spirit is like a car, in need of regular maintenance as recommended by our Creator.  This recommended maintenance helps us experience God’s grace and move from empty toward full.

Last week we looked at using the right fuel, and we said that worship is our fuel.  Worship is where we draw our energy, and we are created with an overwhelming need to worship God, but we can worship others things.  Whatever we value most – whatever has our time and treasure – is what we worship.   Worshiping the life-giving Lord fills us up in a way that nothing else can and changes us for the better.

This week’s maintenance tip is simple: check your fluids.  May we pray.

Check your fluids.  This is some of the earliest car maintenance advice I received.  Not only is it generally good practice, but the cars I drove to begin with were in need of some, shall we say, special attention.  One car in particular comes to mind: a 1982 Ford LTD, robin egg blue with a dark blue vinyl top, christened “The Blue Bomber” around the halls of my high school.  This car rode like an old, soft sofa, and it handled like one, too. For some, a car is just transportation, but for others, it is a statement, and as a 17-year-old high school student, this car said a mouthful.

I learned the importance of checking a car’s fluids with this vehicle, because this car developed a hole in the radiator that eventually became the size of a dime, which my dad would not repair because he had bought a newer car for himself, and was done putting money into this car.

Some would be deterred from driving a car with a dime-sized hole in the radiator, but not me.  I discovered you could drive for exactly two miles before you had to stop and refill the radiator, and it just so happened that the distance between our home and my school was 1.8 miles.  Sloshing around in my trunk were two-liter soda bottles filled with water, which were poured into the radiator before every trip to school and every trip back home.  I carried more water in the back of this car than an entire camel caravan crossing the Sahara, until Western New York winter finally set in, and the laws of physics confirmed that water is not a permanent substitute for antifreeze.

You’ve got to check your fluids.  That car needed water to keep going, not unlike a human body.  We need water.  Even with our ingenuity and know-how, water remains one of our most basic needs.  We can go weeks or months without food, but we can only go a few days without water.

Simply put, we need water.  That’s true for us physically, and it’s true in the life of faith – we need water and the Holy Spirit – two things that come together to fill us with God’s grace in baptism.

Baptism is about grace (btw – it’s ALWAYS about grace!)
Here is a picture of me that was taken within a few weeks of my baptism.  I know what you’re thinking, too: “What an adorable kid - what happened?”   When this picture was taken, was I closer to the beginning of my life’s journey or the end of it?  Clearly, I was at the beginning of the journey.  Baptism is a starting point, not a final destination.  Baptism is about what God’s grace is doing within and through us.

Take a look at this picture again.  Do you think I could explain nutrition to you at that age?  Of course not - but that didn’t stop my parents from feeding me - I was obviously well-fed!  Do you think I could have explained the importance of good hygiene to you?  No, but that didn’t stop my parents from bathing me.  Could I have explained love to you?  No, but that didn’t stop my family from loving me.

So let me put that back in the context of faith.  Can small children explain grace?  No, but they can experience it.  Not only that, but they can show grace - often more thoroughly, readily, and effectively than we adults can.  God’s grace is abundant enough to confirm that God is at work in our lives, even when – I’ll even say especially when – we don’t know what we’re doing.  God fills us with grace in baptism, a grace which is for all people. It is that means of grace that starts us on the journey.

Baptism is dripping with God’s grace – given to us before we ask for it, understand it, or even know what it is.  Baptism is not about what we know, it’s about who God is.  And who is God?  God is Love, and it is God’s nature to lavishly pour out grace on everyone.

And so, if baptism is about God filling us with grace, and if grace is not earned, deserved, or merited, and if all people, including children can experience and show grace – that’s why we baptize children and infants and others who cannot answer for themselves.  Baptism isn’t about our choice or our understanding.  It is, first and foremost, about God’s grace, which is available to all.

So, “grace” is the first word you need to remember about how we understand baptism.  The second is “covenant.”

Baptism is a Covenant
A covenant is a binding agreement between two parties, but it is not the same thing as a contract.  For one thing, though we make contracts, covenants actually make us. For example, the covenant of marriage makes me a different person than I was before.  I have different obligations, priorities, and accountability, so my wife tells me.  I don’t define the covenant of marriage; the covenant of marriage defines me.

In the Bible, a covenant is initiated by God, and draws us into a particular relationship with God.  Baptism is a covenant initiated by God.  That’s really important to remember.  Write that down: The covenant is initiated by God.  God started it.  Long before any of us made a move toward God, God was already moving toward us.  Thanks be to God! 

Baptism gives us our identity, it tells us who we are.  Baptism is both the sign and seal that we belong to God – it’s like stamping “property of God” on us with permanent marker in big, bold letters.  Baptism is like God saying, “This one belongs to me.”

Another way covenants are different from contracts is a contract can be broken, while a covenant cannot.  God keeps God’s promises, even if we don’t keep ours.  The grace in the baptismal covenant reminds us that God is like Motel 6 - he leaves the light on for us.  No matter what we’ve done, no matter where we’ve been, no matter how late we’re coming in, God waits with open arms for us. 

God never walks away from us – even if you’ve sinned away all the grace God gave you in baptism, God still promised you an abundance of his grace, meaning that even when our behavior may have been less-than-pleasing to God, the promise of God’s grace in our lives still stands.  When God makes a promise, God always keeps it.  What’s required on our part is to recommit ourselves to the promise of our baptism.  If you find yourself running on empty, I invite you to check your fluids – the grace given to you by water and the Spirit in baptism.

Perhaps you’ve never been baptized and you’re thinking, “I’m missing out on something and I want to be baptized!” - if that’s you, talk to me after worship so we can sit down and talk about baptism and being filled with God’s grace and scheduling a date for your baptism; I don’t want anyone here to miss out on God’s transforming grace that is given to us in baptism.

Remember your baptism and be thankful
(9:00 am only – In a few moments, Parker Dixon will be baptized and sealed in God’s gift of grace.  Then, the rest of us will celebrate a congregational re-affirmation of baptism together.)

(10:55 am only – In a few moments, we will celebrate a congregational reaffirmation of baptism together.)

Those who have been baptized are invited to reaffirm the baptismal covenant.  No one is getting re-baptized today, I need to be clear about that, but today’s re-affirmation is an opportunity to renew your baptism and re-commit your life to Christ, to be filled and re-filled with God’s grace.

For those who have been baptized, whether you were baptized long ago or more recently, in this church or somewhere else, whether you were too young to recall it or can remember it like it was just yesterday, regardless, God’s grace was still made real in your life in your baptism.  Those who have been baptized previously will be invited to come to the front, where Jessica or I will touch the water to your forehead in the sign of the cross, and say, “Remember your baptism, and be thankful.”

Reaffirming the vows of our baptism is similar to couples who renew their marriage vows.
All relationships take work – good relationships don’t just happen – they require constant attention, commitment and re-commitment if they are going to be nurturing and life-giving.  That’s true in our human relationships, and it’s true in our relationship with God.

Re-commit yourself to your relationship with God and fill up with grace by remembering your baptism often.  Every time you come to worship, pause at the baptismal font in the gathering space, thank God for the gift of grace, and open yourself up to the Holy Spirit’s leading for the next leg of your spiritual journey – whatever that may be.

I’m even giving you a chance to remember your baptism at home.  We have two baskets full of these tags that can be hung in your shower, and they have this prayer on them – I have one hanging in my shower, and I pray this prayer every morning.   After you have come forward to remember your baptism today, pick up one of these shower tags and take it home, and make remembering your baptism a daily habit.

You don’t have to live your life on empty.  Take advantage of the opportunities to receive God’s grace.  God wants to fill you with his grace; don’t leave those gifts sitting un-opened. 

Know that, in baptism, water and the Spirit are God’s gift to you.

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