Learning to Swim

* a sermon preached at Luther Memorial Church of Chicago on May 17, 2015 *

Since sermons are primarily intended to be heard, you can listen along here.

Text: Romans 6:1-14


Pray with me this morning:

Cleanse us, and make us new, Holy One.
Today, and every day.
That your resurrection might be our hope,
And hope for the world.


It has been suggested to me, on more than one occasion, that perhaps, just maybe…that I have “too much fun” asperging the congregation on Sundays that we have remembrances of baptism.

And I just have to say…that I am really quite shocked…and it is just totally…patently…absolutely…true.

Are you kidding me?!? I love flinging water! Who wouldn’t?!? Maybe it really is just that fun to flick water. Maybe I enjoy, maybe too much, soaking some of you in the face. Maybe it’s just a way for me to be passive aggressive. “This is your warning. Don’t tick off the Intern.

Maybe the promises of baptism made tangible in a simple ritual act are so incredibly joyful that I just can’t help myself.

…Maybe I just love water. And I always have.

Maybe it’s a combination of any and all of those things…

Texas, where I grew up, is…some would say…rather “hot.” And in a place where 100% humidity on a 100 degree day is not at all considered abnormal, you can imagine, there are a lot of pools. We never had one, but I had lots of friends that did. And so, I learned to swim at an early age.

Parents, if you’ve ever tried to teach your kids to swim, you know this is true. You can spend all the time you want trying to teach the motions: the front paddle, the back paddle, the leg kick, and some really awkward combination of all three of those all at once…but at some point, you just gotta go for it. You just gotta jump in.

It’s a terrifying proposition.

And I think it’s a bit like what Paul is doing here. See, up to this point in his letter to the community in Rome he’s been teaching the motions: this is the law and this is the gospel, salvation through faith, justification by grace, boasting in suffering… And right here, in our reading today, is where Paul reaches his pinnacle.

This is getting thrown into the deep end, so to speak.

This is like the Lutheran equivalent of the sharp drop between the shallow end and the deep end of the pool. It would be like the shallow end is all those nice Lutheran words we throw around: “Grace! Justification! Sanctification! …Saved by grace through faith for the sake of Christ!”

And here’s the deep end of Lutheranism… The one you’re not sure about. The one that you don’t know how far it goes. The one that you can’t see the bottom of.

“Do you not know that those who are baptized into Christ Jesus are baptized into his death?”

A terrifying proposition.

You know, this passage is one of the ones we focus on in our baptismal seminars, where we bring in parents and children and those preparing for baptism and talk about what baptism means. And it’s difficult for parents to hear these words from Romans. And so we ask the question, “How do you feel about the thought that you’re baptizing your child into death?” And, basically 100% of the time, the answer is what you’d expect, “This is NOT what I signed up for!”

And honestly, I don’t blame you. Tiffany and I don’t have kids yet, but I can tell you that I will have the same reaction, “This is NOT what I signed up for!”

But just like last week, just like boasting in our suffering, we need to put away our western ears and minds for a second. And hear this from the perspective and context of the Christ-believing community in Rome…

The community for whom death was all but certain… The community who would gather behind locked doors, because if they were ever found out there was a lion in the coliseum waiting for them…

Hear Paul’s words in this way, “In baptism, you die. But not only that, you get to choose the terms. Your life is not taken from you, but you give up your life. If death is certain, be dead to the ways of the world and live. Live as children of God.”

THIS is Paul’s message.

In baptism, you die to the patterns of this world that separate you from God. In this refreshing bath you are cleansed from the grit and grime of self-absorption. In these waters you are released from all that which shackles you to yourself, and you are freed…to live lives in complete service of others.

Luther would say, “Christian, you are lord of all, subject to none. A servant of all, subject to every one.”

By dying with Christ, you give up your own life for the sake of the Gospel, so that the Gospel might be birthed in and through you…

And not only all of that, but…if we have been united with Christ in a death like his, how much more surely, dear friends, will we be united with Christ in a resurrection like his…

And this is the hope on which all of our hope is based. People of God, this is resurrection hope.

This is the hope that is at the crux of all of this. That by living as Christ lived; by dying with Christ in baptism; by becoming dead to our selves; by laying down our lives for others; by emptying our selves to give to others…that Christ’s resurrection might be our resurrection as well. And not just ours, but the resurrection of all of creation.

And I think that hope is desperately needed in a world that is hyper-individualized, that glorifies violence, and celebrates death as a punishment.

And it’s not an outdated and stale hope. It is a hope that is living, and active, and present, and still yet to come. Paul uses an interesting choice of verb tense in our Scripture today. In referring to being baptized into Christ’s death, Paul uses what’s known in Greek as the past perfect tense. It reflects a completed action, with lasting and ongoing effects. Done, and yet still happening. Already, and not yet. Was…and is…and is to come.

Paul’s hope in resurrection wasn’t just for himself. It wasn’t just for the community in Rome. It wasn’t even just for the first communities of Christ-followers. It’s for us also.

Paul’s resurrection hope, is our resurrection hope. And this is good news.

Dr. Martin Luther understood this as an ongoing process too. In a wonderful quote that Pastor Tim shared on our facebook page, Luther writes, “This life, therefore, is not godliness, but the process of becoming godly, not health but getting well, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not now what we shall be, but are on the way. The process is not yet finished, but it is actively going on. This is not the goal but it is the right road. At present, everything does not gleam and sparkle, but everything is being cleansed.”

At present, everything does not gleam and sparkle, but everything is being cleansed…

Be cleansed today. Be open to the renewing and refreshing waters of resurrection. Splash and play and swim in the living waters of God’s promises.

And next week, and in the weeks after, when Pastor Tim and myself come down the center of this aisle flinging water, find unrestrained joy in being soaked in a reminder of your baptism.


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