Posts tagged baptism

A Matter of Death and Life

The best way to express it is, “I am baptized!” It’s a present reality. Speaking historically, of course, one can say, as I do, personally, “I was baptized,” in that it actually happened on Holy Trinity Sunday, May 31, 1953, at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church on the North Dakota prairie some four miles north of Niagara, North Dakota, at the hand of my father, then pastor of that congregation. Though it happened nearly 60 years ago, however, it is still a present reality, so “I am baptized.”

It was not something I did. It happed to me and it has shaped reality for me ever since. My parents brought me up in the faith, teaching me the Word of God. The Lord Jesus has brought into my life so many people to show me His grace (my wife, Faith, being the most important) and to flesh out for me what it means that I am baptized. All of this is pure gift of God in Jesus! All of this comes from living each day in the God-given confidence, I am baptized.

How does our Lord’s apostle put it?

Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His (Romans 6:3-5).

Let’s parse this a bit. You “have been baptized.” It’s a gift. It happened to you. It is essentially God’s doing, no matter what age you were when it happened. What happened? What did God do? “We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death…” It happened to us. God buried us with Christ. Why? So that “as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” This brings the great promise for all so united with Christ: “if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.” That’s what we are called to believe. All of us have to die. But in Jesus Christ, God is in the business of raising the dead. In fact, this is the only game in town. This is what God does – He raises the dead, in Jesus, all who are united to Him.

How does that work out in daily life? As we remember, I am baptized. Many of you know the catechism:

What does such baptizing with water indicate?  It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. (Small Catechism IV:11ff).

Christian living truly is a matter of death and life! It’s a daily dying to sin, and a daily living in the forgiveness of sins, raised to new life each day. Again, the Word of God:

We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:9-11).

One of God’s means for keeping us in His grace as His baptized children is the practice of confession and absolution. We confess our sin before God. In other words, we agree with the judgment of God’s law that we are dying sinners. That law puts us to death. And then, remembering God’s business is to raise the dead, we hear the Word of absolution as God’s pardon for Christ’s sake, as God’s Word to raise the dead, to call us back to life in Christ.  It happened when we were baptized: we died with Christ and were raised to life. It happens over and over again when we confess sin and hear the Word of forgiveness: we are raised to life again with Christ. It is simply a repetition of what God did when we were baptized.

It happens in the public confession and absolution in our worship. It happens when Christians forgive one another in the name and for the sake of Christ. It happens in pastoral care, particularly in private confession and absolution. We die to sin and are raised to life in Christ as we hear in the voice of another the voice of Christ, I forgive you all your sins. The Lord Himself is delivering it. For we have died and lived again, as we each can say, I am baptized! And then we are called to give away to others the same mercy we have received in Christ. He never runs out, for there is always more.

Yes, it’s a matter of death and life – in Christ!

 Herbert C. Mueller
LCMS First Vice President

Baptized for This Moment

That’s our theme for the convention of the Synod set to take place here in St. Louis, July 20-25, 2013. The Southern Illinois District of our Synod will be our host district as we come together to worship, to study God’s Word and to discuss various aspects of our life together as the Synod. Whatever our past, we have been “baptized for this moment” (see Acts 2:38-39). We are members of Christ, incorporated in His body, baptized in His name. He turns our faces to the future for He forgives, renews, restores and sends us for witness, mercy and life together.

If you are going to be anywhere near St. Louis the evening of Saturday, July 20, come on by the America’s Center in downtown St. Louis for the opening service. If you are a delegate of any kind, we are praying for you and seeking to prepare this opportunity for you to serve the Lord and to serve your fellow members of the Synod by your participation. As the convention approaches, you will receive mailings and emails from the President’s Office to help you prepare. Delegates should look for this material soon.

We ask you as well to keep the convention in your prayers. Pray that God would give unity in His Word both to the convention and to the Synod as a whole. Some time ago I read August Suelfow’s biography of C. F. W. Walther, Servant of the Word, in which he has this quote from H. C. Schwann, who followed Walther as president of the Synod in 1878:

What has kept us together until now was not our Constitution, as good as it is, not the personality of those who bear the highest synodical offices. No, it was something radically different, something which God Himself has given us. This was the unity of spirit and faith. We remain together outwardly because we are one inwardly. Because of this, districts, congregations and individuals can never be careful enough in whatever they are doing to maintain the bond of unity. Even though they may have the best intentions in undertaking certain items, if these are not properly thought through, and are not properly considered on the backdrop of love to others and with due respect to the welfare and furtherance of the whole [this unity cannot be maintained]. As long as we by God’s grace remain one in heart and soul through the Word and faith, our bond of fellowship at the continued existence of the Synod will not be seriously challenged. If this [spirit] is ever lost, then no constitution will coerce those who rebel, and the resulting cooperation will be of no value. (p. 133)

In that light, here is a prayer for our Synod: “O Lord God, our heavenly Father, you have given Your one and only Son to be our Savior by His death and resurrection and have gathered the Church by means of Your Word and Spirit. You have brought us together by our baptism into Christ’s body. You send the Spirit to renew and refresh Your Church. Look with favor, we pray, on the congregations of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, whose representatives are meeting in convention this summer. Strengthen our leaders so that we may be faithful to Your Word and zealous for witness and mercy in Your name. Heal any divisions in our life together by calling each of us back to Your Word, to the preached Gospel and the Sacraments done according to Christ’s Word. Keep our pastors, teachers and all our church workers focused on You. Give us a passion for Your Gospel and for people, that we may do everything possible to bring Jesus to them in Word, at the font and His table, through teaching and pastoral care wherever they are. Make our people bold witnesses of the hope You have given them in Jesus. Guide the convention delegates in their decisions so that everything Synod does will support our congregations in witness, mercy and their life together and give glory to Your most holy name, O Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.”

+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President

“It All Begins With Repentance!”

 [Sermon preached in the International Center Chapel, December 9, 2011, on the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Advent, Mark 1:1-8.]

Mark 1:4 simply states: John appeared.  That’s it.  John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness, and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Suddenly, it seems, there he is. Sent by God to prepare the way of the Lord.  To point to Christ and say, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” 

The Baptism of John pointed forward to the baptism to come in the Lord Jesus, pointed forward to the death and resurrection of Jesus, like the last Old Testament sign.  Our Sacrament of Baptism today both points to Jesus and actually brings Jesus to us today, in His death and resurrection.  As the Scripture says, you were buried by baptism into the death of Jesus, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we also might walk in newness of life.

In both cases, it all begins with repentance.  That’s because the Church really has only one thing to give – the Spirit in the Word of God to work repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

But what does it mean to repent? And who are the ones who really need to repent?  Who need to turn around?  To turn away from sin?  Isn’t repentance really only for the ones who have been REALLY bad?  We understand the need for a criminal to repent and to show some kind of remorse.  In fact, we look for it, and are disappointed when we do not see it.  But for those of us who have been in church all our lives?  Do we really need to repent?

YES!  John proclaims.  YES! Jesus will say, just a few verses later. 

There is no other way to receive the forgiveness of sins or to enter into the Kingdom of God.  The Spirit of God comes to rule in our hearts and lives only in THIS way: bringing true repentance and faith.

Friends, in preparation on this text, I tried to look for a new angle on repentance, something to jazz it up, so to speak. But there is no new angle.  It is simply this same old thing of recognizing that, when we talk about the problems of the world, when we talk about the evils of our society, those problems and those evils are not only “out there” but also “in here,” in my heart, in your heart. 

Whatever your struggles or faults or failings, to repent is simply to admit, and to say to whomever needs to hear it, including God:   What I did was wrong.  I am sorry

I need to be forgiven.   I need what God gives in Jesus.  I need the mercy of God in the cross of Christ.  I cannot go on without it.

You have heard that, in the first of his 95 Theses, Martin Luther wrote that, “When our Lord Jesus said, ‘Repent,’ He willed that the entire life of the Christian should be one of repentance.” That means, we recognize everything we have, and everything we have ever done, has been corrupted by our sin.  And that we see the forgiveness of sins Christ has come to bring, and we say, YES!  I need that, because I am a sinner.

When Christ comes giving peace for our hearts and minds, to repent is to say, “YES, I worry lots of times. I need the peace He brings.”

When I feel weak, that I’m not going to be able to make it, to repent is to say, “YES, I need HIS strength.”  When I am sick, to say, “I need His healing.”  To repent is to say, “I know I am dying, so I need the only One who gives life.”

Actually, at it’s most basic, to repent is simply to live every day in our Baptism!   Every day to die to sin, and rise to new life with God in the Lord Jesus. 

It is to remember finally, and above all, that Jesus came for sinners.  He didn’t come for the good people, because there are none.  So we can stop pretending we’re better than others.

Jesus came for sinners.  Sinners like you, and like me.

The great joy of being a baptized believer, is the joy of of living with fellow repentant sinners.  The joy of telling one another and anyone else who will listen,   Here it is!   Here is the forgiveness of sins!  It’s here in the Lord Jesus! Here in the Word of God proclaimed to you. Here in the water of Baptism connected to the Word of God and poured out over you. Here also whenever you remember and return to your baptism, confessing your sins and hearing the Word of forgiveness and absolution.

The greatest joy of a pastor is to be able to say, as one sinner to another, “God has put away your sin.  You are forgiven!  Here it is!  In Jesus, God nailed up to the cross, it’s FOR YOU!”

I was only ten years old when I heard it, but it is a sermon I will never forget.  My father was preaching his first sermon in a new congregation.  How should he begin to work with that new parish?  What should he say?  His text was the story in 2 Kings 7 when the Syrian Army, the enemies of God’s people, had the city surrounded.  The people were starving.  The prophet Elisha one day received a promise from God that the very next day there would be food enough for all.

That night, there were four beggars, lepers sitting just outside the gates of the city, who were debating among themselves whether they should try to go into the city and die, or give themselves up to the enemy and die. 

When they decided to go into the enemy camp, much to their surprise, they discovered that the Lord had sent a great fear among the enemy soldiers and that they had all run away in the night, leaving behind all sorts of food and clothes and everything else.  At first the beggars were scooping it all up for themselves.  But then, they said to one another, “We are not doing right.  This day is a day of good news.  If we are silent and wait until the morning light, punishment will overtake us.  Now therefore come;  let us go and tell [this good news].  (2 Kings 7:9).

So the theme and gist of my father’s message that day was this – As a pastor, I am among you as one beggar, telling other beggars where to find food.  That’s what a pastor does.  He’s one sinner, among other sinners, giving out the forgiveness of sins.  And he gets to do it publicly, on behalf of all, giving it out as he baptizes, as he distributes Christ’s body and blood, as he preaches and teaches.

But each of you, baptized into Christ, have that privilege in your vocation, wherever God has placed you, in all your relationships, to show people Jesus…  To be the beggar who tells people, left and right and all over: Here’s the food!  Here’s the greatest treasure there is!  Here’s Jesus!

And through it all, KNOW THIS.  If you are a sinner, if you know you are a dying beggar, to repent and believe the Gospel is simply to give up all your sins to Jesus, because He took them all, on the cross, to receive from Him forgiveness, because He rose from the dead.  And to know that you are washed clean in His blood every day, for you are baptized into His death and resurrection.

Because, in Jesus, it truly is all for YOU!

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President

God's Own Child, I Gladly Say It

by Barb Below

Today in chapel we sang a great hymn, God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It. This is a “new” hymn to our church in that it is included for the first time in the recently published Lutheran Service Book (p. 594).  It is a great baptismal hymn that poetically describes the power of baptism over sin, death and the devil.  Even though the words tell a powerful story, the tune is light and seems to float through the air as it is sung. Click here to listen to the tune.  I was so uplifted and enchanted by this hymn I had to learn a bit more about this hymn and who wrote it. I found some interesting history and information about this hymn and the three men who played a role in bringing this hymn to us today[i].

The tune was written by Johann Caspar Bachofen and first published in 1727. He studied theology but served the church and community as a musician, teacher, music director and composer his whole life. Johann, who grew up in Zurich, Switzerland, served in the Reformed Church and he published several collections of hymns that were very popular in his day.

The lyrics were written by Edmann Neumeister and published in 1718. Neumeister was a German Lutheran theologian, poet, hymn writer, and strong opponent of Pietism and is best known for writing the texts for five of Bach’s cantatas.

“The main ideas of the hymn are taken directly from the section on Holy Baptism in Luther’s Small Catechism, which, in answer to the question “What benefits does Baptism give? says: “It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare”[ii].

The hymn was translated (below) in 1991 by an LCMS pastor, Rev. Robert E. Voelker who was a graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary Fort Wayne (1984) and, according to the LCMS church worker directory, currently is a pastor at Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Windsor, Ontario.

The Hymnal Supplement Handbook paints a perfect picture of the hymn stating that “one cannot escape the impression of a child standing by an adult protector and ridiculing the neighborhood bully.”[iii] Looking forward to celebrating my baptismal birthday in a few weeks, I sang this song today with confidence that in baptism, through the Holy Spirit and with God’s Word, I am united with Christ in His death, resurrection and eternal life and can boldly turn and tell Satan to “drop your ugly accusations”. Thank you Bachofen, Neumeister and Voelker for your gift to the church, and to me, as I look forward to my baptismal birthday.

God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It

Stanza 1

God’s own child, I gladly say it: I am baptized into Christ!

He, because I could not pay it, gave my full redemption price.

Do I need earth’s treasures many?  I have one worth more than any

That brought me salvation free, Lasting to eternity!

Stanza 2

Sin, disturb my soul no longer: I am baptized into Christ!

I have comfort even stronger: Jesus’ cleansing sacrifice.

Should a guilty conscience seize me, since my baptism did release me

In a dear forgiving flood, sprinkling me with Jesus’ blood?

Stanza 3

Satan, hear this proclamation: I am baptized into Christ!

Drop your ugly accusation; I am not so soon enticed.

Now that to the font I’ve traveled, all your might has come unraveled,

And, against your tyranny, God, my Lord, unites with me!

Stanza 4

Death, you cannot end my gladness: I am baptized into Christ!

When I die, I leave all sadness to inherit paradise!

Though I lie in dust and ashes faith’s assurance brightly flashes:

Baptism has the strength divine to make life immortal mine.

Stanza 5

There is nothing worth comparing to this lifelong comfort sure!

Open-eyed my grave is staring: Even there I’ll sleep secure.

Though my flesh awaits its raising, still my soul continues praising:

I am baptized into Christ; I’m a child of paradise!


[i] Grime, P. & Herl J. (Eds.). (1998). Hymnal Supplement 98. St. Louis: LCMS Commission on Worship, pp. 107-108.

[ii] Grime, P, & Herl J., p. 107.

[iii] Ibid.

"We Dye to Live"

The sign hanging over the door of a medieval cobbler read: “We Dye to Live.” The message wasn’t complicated:  “We dye leather to make a living.”

Change a vowel, add a consonant, and you have a sign that could hang over the door of any Christian church, medieval or otherwise: “We Died to Live.” And this message also isn’t complicated, says St. Paul in Galatians 2:19, “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.” We have been so stricken and smitten by the law of God that we are left in despair—poor miserable creatures without hope of saving ourselves.

This must be a timely death, reminds C.S. Lewis: “We must die before we die.”  Once we take our last breath, it is too late—there is no further chance. Thankfully, for all of us associated with this blog, it wasn’t too late. We died to the law in our baptisms, when, as St. Paul writes to the Romans, even as we were baptized into Christ Jesus, we were “baptized into His death” (6:3) and “our old self was crucified with Him” (6:5).

“Crucified with Him” takes on special meaning this week as we follow our Lord Jesus to cross and tomb—even one small part of that “crucified” too huge for us to take upon ourselves. I still have the crown of thorns dropped off at the parsonage at my first parish by Mrs. Kamm, made, she said, from the “Judas vine” growing on a fence outside their house. The crown is ugly and exudes pain even to look at, much less to wear. It has had a place in my office or study ever since, a reminder of a death I might have died.

One thing about that crown of thorns—it is obviously several sizes too big, like everything else that Christ bore and suffered during Holy Week nearly 20 centuries ago. His crown, cross, burden, forsakenness, tomb—all are many sizes too big for us. But not for Him, who took upon Himself our death so that we might be able to say with Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

What a helpful thought for the week before us. It places us with Christ as we make our way through its passion history. I remember reading a story from a Reader’s Digest Condensed Book when I was a child, The Shape of Illusion. The crux of the story was a painting of a scene from the passion of Christ which caused viewers to see their spitting images in the angry crowd that was frothing and screaming “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Needless to say, this changed the viewers’ lives, which made for an interesting story.

Paul goes one better. He enables us to see ourselves, not in the crowd where we might well belong, but in Christ: “I have been crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20). Except that this is no illusion. We know from Paul how this happened for real: “We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). Our lives have been changed immeasurably, for the lives we now live in this flesh we live by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself for us.

May this week be truly meaningful and a blessing to each of us. It is about  our Savior, crucified and resurrected, but it is also about us: “We Died to Live.”

Ray Hartwig

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