Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Baptism of Inara Fae Means

Readings: 1 Kings 19:1-8 | Ephesians 4:17-5:2 | John 6:35–51

Text: Ephesians 4:17—5:2

Everyone has desires and needs, ideals for which they strive, a sense of how it should be.  But do we stop and think where that comes from?

While humanity was originally created the image and likeness of God, sin has come into the world and deformed what began as a good creation.  And this is what we experience in our lives.  We have an idea of good versus bad, but there’s also a sense that something is missing. 

          26 Then God said, “Let us

         make man in our image, after

         our likeness. And let them have

          dominion over the fish of the

          sea and over the birds of the

          heavens and over the livestock

          and over all the earth and over

          every creeping thing that

          creeps on the earth.”

         27 So God created man in his

         own image, in the image of God

         he created him; male and female

         he created them.

                  (Genesis 1:26-27)

But then sin entered the world, and something was fundamentally changed about humanity. In biblical terms, we lost the image of God. Now, as descendants of the first man and woman, we bear the image of Adam (Genesis 5:3).  You could think of it like copies from a corrupted original, or forming something out of polluted material.

What God created as good is broken.  Got breathed life into man, but now that life is stolen away by death (sometimes quite prematurely).  He meticulously created the body with all the parts working together, but now there’s deformities and disease.

What God created as good is also corrupted: religion, the spiritual life before God, is used as a means for men to aggrandize themselves, exercise social control, and make themselves seem pleasing before God.  Rulership is abused to control and deprive others rather than serve them.  Both of these we see in Ahab and Jezebel seeking to kill Elijah because he called out their false worship (1 Kings 19:1-3).

Our ability to detect good is also skewed. The sensors have lost their calibration.  They can’t accurately detect where the plumb line should be.  The human conscience, which was made to tell right from wrong, is able to excuse what is contrary to nature, like when we justify slaughtering innocent lives and call it women’s healthcare, or construct artificial distinctions between biological and identity.  With these broken senses, objective truth is rejected in favor of what “feels right” or “makes the most sense to us.”  And finally, our appetites are for things that do not satisfy like when we look for all good in another person only to have our hopes dashed, and when we find more delight in our favorite TV shows than in pouring over the very words of our Creator.  In the Lord’s words of John 6, we “work for food which perishes, [not for] the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man gives to us.” (John 6:27)

This is what sin has done to humanity, and if we were left to our own devices, we would never discover the root cause.  We know people have tried to put their finger on it (just to name a few): the real problem is that we have unfulfilled desires so we must purge ourselves of all desire (Buddhist), cure this or that disease so that people live longer; eliminate racism by eliminating privilege of all kinds.  While these scratch the surface of the problem, all people are able to see is fogged by warped minds, wills, and emotions.  Remember those broken sensors.

But there is good news. There is rescue.  Our Creator has not just handed us over to our own groping in the dark.  The One who made heaven and earth and us in it, has come to our aid.  This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, that He has done what humanity, what you and I, so desperately needed!  He came to reverse all that is wrong with us, and with the world.  But unlike our solutions that only treat the symptoms, He goes to the root cause.  “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the Last Day.” (John 6:40)  And this He does by putting Himself in our place: He answered for our guilt, the evils we think, say, and do, with His own holy, innocent life.  God, who has been teaching atonement by a substitute from the get-go gives His Son as the truly innocent and all-sufficient substitute for the sins of all people.

God the Son takes death head-on by enduring it Himself.  He died so that He would save us from futile birth and his beautiful creation left in decay.  The Son rose because death had no claim on Him, and Jesus came the firstborn among many brothers (Romans 8:29).  This is the hope of all hope which the Gospel gives to all who believe: “the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting.” (Apostles’ Creed)

But contrary to popular belief, being a Christian isn’t about “dying and going to heaven.”  God delivers this good news in a concrete way to us each day as we both live under the curse of sin and death, and in the hope of the resurrection and everlasting life.  The hope begins here on earth, today in our lives. 

It began today for Inara, where God gave her the rescue which she never could have found for herself.  Her Creator wants for her to be saved from the futility of life apart from Him, of living with the sin she inherited, and the sins has committed since.  He does not want her to be left to bandaid, rationalizing human fixes for her sin.  This is what people do when they feel the disparity between what their God-given conscience says and see something bad they’ve done.  But God, in His love, does not want us to drown in our guilt or sugar-coat it or drown out the nagging voice.

In love for Inara—and, really, for every person—He gives a new birth in Baptism.  Jesus Himself explains, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3-5)  We all recognize our natural birthday, but in Baptism, building on that natural birth to our parents, God gives a birth which is full of eternal blessings.  God promises something incredible: “He saved us…by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” (Titus 3:5-6)  A washing with the power to recreate and renew, to be the start of God’s restoration of humanity and the world with us.

The best way to see the difference the Gospel makes is in comparing it to the absence of hope.  After describing the ignorance, futility, and callousness of men and women without God, the Apostle Paul instructs us not by experience or what is popular, or even what is most traditional.  He points us to Christ:

         20 But that is not the way you

         learned Christ!— 21 assuming

         that you have heard about him

         and were taught in him, as the

         truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off

         your old self, which belongs to

         your former manner of life and

         is corrupt through deceitful

         desires, 23 and to be renewed in

          the spirit of your minds, 24 and

          to put on the new self, created

          after the likeness of God in true

          righteousness and holiness.

God begins that work of a restored human race in His Christians.  No doubt, we still have many vestiges of first birth, but living in the new birth we have from God, we depart from the ways of corrupt humanity, and put on the new self, the renewed version of you who God is busy restoring and pressing toward the new creation.

This is what humanity is meant to look like!  We might be tempted to tune that out, because we’ve heard so many human ideas of what this ought to be, but they’ve either been false hopes or incomplete.  So listen to this, with an ear open to your Creator:

         25 Therefore, having put away

         falsehood, let each one of you

         speak the truth with his

         neighbor, for we are members

         one of another. 26 Be angry and

         do not sin; do not let the sun go

         down on your anger, 27 and give

         no opportunity to the devil.

         28 Let the thief no longer steal,

         but rather let him labor, doing

         honest work with his own hands,

         so that he may have something

         to share with anyone in need.

         29 Let no corrupting talk come

         out of your mouths, but only

         such as is good for building up,

         as fits the occasion, that it may

         give grace to those who hear.

         30 And do not grieve the Holy

         Spirit of God, by whom you were

         sealed for the day of

         redemption.

         31 Let all bitterness and wrath

         and anger and clamor and

         slander be put away from you,

         along with all malice. 32 Be kind

         to one another, tenderhearted,

         forgiving one another, as God in

         Christ forgave You.

Do you hear all those ways God is restoring you and me?  You are not an island, but a member of one another so treat others with love and nipping resentment in the bud before it has time to stink and fester inside you.  Rather than grabbing for whatever you can get your hands on, as a renewed human being and child of God, you see property as something as something which comes from God who gives good gifts for our use and for us to share in times of need.  Your tongue is for building up others, not a weapon to curse and destroy.  And you see other people the way God sees them and you—as lives worth the precious blood of Jesus.  Remember, He died even for His enemies.

This is what God works in His children, working through the new birth He has given to Inara, and to you in Baptism.  Now, we won’t see this fully realized until the Resurrection, but it’s in progress.  And of course God forces no one into this, but He actually does give us a new heart to want these things, to delight in being what He has created us to be, and to hate what sin has done to us and the world.  So, with the gift of the Holy Spirit, Paul summarizes in today’s reading, saying: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  And our prayer is that this is what each of our lives would be: dying to the old way inherited from our natural birth, being forgiven for our failures, and living in the start of an eternal life before God, which is ours through Jesus Christ, our Lord and our Savior.  Amen.

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