2 Corinthians 5:6-17
Dr. Anne M. Cameron
June 5, 2011
Lake Highlands Presbyterian Church
6 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7 For we live by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
11 Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12 We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. 13 If we are "out of our mind," as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. 16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
Back at Lewis County Hospital, the town ministers take turns being chaplain for the week. The week Rev. Jones was on call, there was a baby born. Not a lot born in that little bitty thirty-bed hospital. But Jones went there, it was about nine o-clock in the morning, and he saw all these people gathered, looking through the glass. There was that one little bitty new baby, and it looked like half a town gathered around.
"What is it, boy or girl?"
"It's a girl."
"What's the name?"
"Well, is the father over here in this group?"
"No." Looked back over there, and leaning against the wall, was a young man. He stepped forward, "I am the father."
Jones said, "Baby's name Elizabeth?"
"Beautiful baby." She was squirming—you couldn't hear through the glass—but she was squirming, and red faced, and all like that. Jones thought the new dad might be worried, so he said, "It's good for babies to scream and do all that. I clears out their lungs and gets their voices going. It's all right."
He said, "Oh, I know it's all right. But she's mad as all get out."
"Why would she be mad?"
"Well, wouldn't you be? One minute you're with God in heaven and the next minute you're in Lewis County."
"You believe she was with God before she came here?"
"You think she'll remember?"
"Well, that's up to her mother and me. It's up to the church. We've got to see that she remembers, 'cause if she forgets, she's a goner."1
It's up to us to help children and new believers remember whose they are, where they've come from, and where they're headed.
This is one of the main reasons we have sacraments, to identify these mysteries, to help us all remember. This is one of the main reasons we have baptism, to help us all remember.
Presbyterians observe only two sacraments. And it's not because we like to keep things simple. We observe two sacraments because this is what Christ told us to do: "to go and make disciples, baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" and also, "Take and eat, and do this in remembrance of me."
In almost all the usual English translations of the Bible, you will not find the word sacrament. That is because sacrament is a church-y word, not a Biblical word. The church has used the concept of 'sacrament' to try to communicate the mystery of God's presence and God's grace.
First, some definitions of sacrament:
An outward sign of inward grace.2
Religious rites (ceremonies) that confer special graces.3
A holy rite instituted by Christ to signify, seal and show Christ's benefits.14 The visible Word. 5 (This is Word with a capital W—Christ)
This last definition, coming from St. Augustine in about the fifth century, is most intriguing and perhaps gets at the core of the mystery that sacrament represents. A sacrament gives us a glimpse of Christ's reality, if only for a moment. A sacrament helps us remember, and a sacrament holds us accountable.
Every sacrament has two parts: the outward sign (the physical sign—be it water, or bread, or wine) and the inward sign (God's grace). The outward sign points to and represents the inward mystery of God's grace.
Baptism is the sign and seal of incorporation into Christ. Baptism is the sacrament of "entrance" into the faith, whereas Communion is the sacrament of "sustenance" in the faith. Scripture tells of several different aspects of baptism.
- Cleansing: "and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also— not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 3:21)
- The confession of sins and repentance: “Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. (Matthew 3:6)
- Being clothed in Christ: "for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." (Galatians 3:27) (Baptismal garments)
- A new creation Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation! The old life has gone, and a new life has begun! (1 Cor 5:17)
- Adoption into a new family---the Body of Christ, the church
All five of these images: cleansing, repentance, being clothed with Christ, a new creation, and adoption---they all smack of newness, of change, something very different, a break with the past.
It has been said that people hate change. They don't want to change, they just want things to be better without having to make any changes. There is no denying, though, with baptism, there is a change.
And the change is this. The change is from death to life, from old ways to new ways, from life outside of God to life with God, from forgetting where we came from to remembering Who we are going toward.
The other thing about baptism that may be somewhat unique among Presbyterians is that baptism is an act of the entire community. It is not something the minister "does" to the baby, in solo. All baptisms are approved by the Session. We don't baptize babies that are not a part of our community, because we can't keep our promise to take care of children who are not part of our community. All baptisms are a part of the regular Sunday worship of the community. When someone is baptized, everyone in the community makes promises, not just the parents or the one being baptized.
Baptism is communal because Christianity is communal. We grow in Christ along with others. We make promises to one another. We support one another. Though one can believe in Christ in isolation, it is almost impossible to lead an active Christian life disconnected from a faith community. Listen to the actual promises we make when a person is baptized.
Rev. Jones wasn't the family minister for baby Elizabeth and her parents. But he went to the baptism anyway. Half the town was there. The little white clapboard Mountain Home Presbyterian church doesn't get very many baptisms way out there in Lewis County. Jones found himself in the eighth row back, his eyes glued to that little baby girl. Her freshly scrubbed pink face, a long white lacy dress. Clothed in Christ. Water sitting in a glass pitcher, reflecting light from the good shepherd stained glass window. Washed in the lamb. Then the questions.
The questions posed to a proud young couple, her lip quivering, his hand resting in the small of her back. Oh, this is new, never been asked of them before!
"Do you desire that Elizabeth Ann be baptized?" From death to life.
"Do you promise, through prayer and example, to support and encourage Elizabeth to be a faithful Christian?" A life changing promise.
"Do you turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and its power in the world?" A death defying call to repent! This is serious!
And then, the minister, his voice booming, addresses the congregation:
"Do you, as members of the church of Jesus Christ, promise to guide and nurture Elizabeth, by word and deed, with love and prayer, encouraging her to know and follow Christ and to be a faithful member of his church?"
This child of God no longer has only one set of parents, but many. She has been adopted by God, and you are God's teachers here in this church. It is up to you, it is up to me. It is up to us to see she remembers, cause if she forgets, she's a goner.