Sermon on Baptism and the Devil

2013-1-27 NBW Sermon    <—-click here to listen along.

In the church of my childhood it was taught that the “age of accountability” was somewhere around 12. To hit the age of accountability was to, like,  spiritually go off of your parents’ insurance. At age 12 the clock starts ticking, spiritually speaking; you know right from wrong now and because of this you are accountable for every time you screw up. And if you sin knowing right from wrong and then die before you chose to be baptized, you might burn in Hell for eternity. So age 12, as you can imagine, is when kids start choosing to get baptized. The lag time between entering the age of accountability and having your slate wiped clean through baptism can be terrifying. Many of us kids would pray not to die in a car crash before we were baptized, like other people pray to not get sick before their employee benefits kick in.  So basically, Twelve year old Church of Christ kids experience a wave of devotion like a Great Awakening comprised only of 6th graders. And this is partly because we were all terrified of the devil and temptation and sin. Since, as we were told, all the bad things we’d done may have been washed clean in baptism, but the devil was waiting right outside the baptistery to try and get us to be bad again.

While I am certain evil exists I’m not sure it’s in the form of a red man with horns and pitchfork and tail.  That image that terrified me as a child is now a bit too cartoon-y for me to take seriously.

31 years later I still don’t know what to do with talk of the devil and demons or that whole “powers and principalities” thing. Like a good middle class mainline Protestant, I tend to arrogantly look down my theological nose at all of it as superstitious snake handling nonsense, as though it’s all the embarrassing spiritual equivalent of a Monster Truck Rally. At best I think the talk about demonic forces I hear in some parts of Christianity is no more than a result of ignorance and lack of education; at worse it’s just a way to externalize our own sin. Because if the Devil made me do it, then I don’t have to face the reality that perhaps I made me do it. Not to mention it’s all so ripe for abuse:  some of you guys have fallen victim to other Christians trying to cast out the so-called demon of homosexuality as though spiritual warfare and culture wars are one in the same thing.

Yet I know for a fact that evil exists.  And more and more I think it’s dangerous to pretend otherwise. Call it the devil, call it darkness call it what you will, it is out there. Darfur, Sandy hook, Penn State.  But it can be more subtle than that too: white lies, self-involvement, cheating.  Addiction, compulsion, depression. There are forces that seek to defy God that swirl around us and even within us.

Which brings me back to baptism and the Devil.  How awesome is that a few minutes ago we stood here and vowed to renounce the Devil and all his empty promises.  Take a moment to take that in.  When else do you get to stand in public and renounce evil?

So were you to ask me what good is baptism to us, I would have to say that, in part, it is humans partaking in an event of God which defies evil and forever claims us as God’s own.

Which is nice theological language, but what good is it to us really?  I mean really, really.  Well…that’s where Luther comes in.  Luther had some very real encounters with what he believed to be the devil.  But for him, rather than the devil tempting him to do bad things, the devil mainly tried to get him to doubt the power of God’s promises.  When Luther started to revert back to thinking that God was an angry hostile vengeful God he knew that it was the Devil trying to get him to doubt God’s grace.  And when Luther experienced this despair and discouragement he was known to throw an occasional ink pot at the devil while yelling I am baptized! Not I was baptized, but I am baptized.

To yell I am baptized! is to again renounce the devil and all his empty promises.  To yell I am baptized! at the forces of discouragement and addiction and every other thing that tries to rob you of the peace that is yours in Christ is to again renounce the devil and all his empty promises.  To yell I am baptized! when the power of fear and self-loathing and hubris and hatred creep in to try and tell you who you are, is to again renounce the devil and all his empty promises.  And this is now at your disposal Cassie.  It may sound crazy, but use it. It should totally come in handy.

Renouncing the Devil is awesome, but if baptism is in some part about the defiance of evil and all of its empty promises, it is even more so about the receiving of God and all of his binding promises.   So today as the waters of your baptisms glisten on your head from the mark of the cross, may you know this: You had about the same chance of choosing your God as you had in choosing your parents.  This God of Sara and Abraham, this God who so madly loved the world God created that God slipped into skin and walked among us as Jesus…this God who speaks through crazy prophets and kisses lepers and makes whole that which is broken, this very God has chosen you…claimed you and named you as God’s own.  It’s a wonderful mercy.  A wild mystery to have a God who comes down to claim you in water and words forever marking you as God’s own.

These promises of God are forever bound to you Cassie.  And to all the baptized.   It’s what we call a “done deal” You can’t escape them.  Because these promises will hunt you down and bring you new life as you die and are raised again and again in your baptismal walk.

And this will happen to you Cassie; this death and resurrection of the baptismal life.

So I really hope that you grow to love metanoia, which is repentance, changing your thinking and returning to God. For in the act of repentance there is the hope of new thinking, new acting, and new life which you simply don’t get when you still think you are right about something.  Don’t listen when people say that following Christ means being right.  To follow the crucified and resurrected one is to live as a people who get to be wrong –and be re-born to new life in Christ.  So I hope you are often wrong Cassie …so that you might drink deeply from this grace of God which makes all things new.  Because this is now a life of returning to your baptism.

So I hope in this baptismal life ahead of you that when you encounter water – this most common of substances which surrounds land and comprises our bodies…I hope when you drink it in; when you dive deep in a pool of it; when you wade in a stream of it; that even when you wash dishes with it; I hope that you are reminded of the promise of life eternal: a promise that life with God is as close to you as water and bread and wine and human bodies.  Because to be Christian is to know that the eternal is always contained in the present.

So may you not neglect to gather around the table in the community of Christ with all the other blessed and annoying sinners so that there you might behold who you are and become what you receive:– the very body of Christ for this hurt and broken and beautiful world.

And when voices other than God’s try to tell you your worth – when the categories of late stage capitalism or the siren song of professional advancement or the various ridiculous ranking systems in society, or your own head tries to tell you your value and trust me, this will happen, but when it does may you again remember your baptism – remember that you have renounced the Devil and all his empty promises and are marked with the cross of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit and that you belong to God, because nothing…nothing else gets to tell you who you are.

Amen

 

 

About Nadia Bolz Weber

I am the founding Pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado. We are an urban liturgical community with a progressive yet deeply rooted theological imagination. Learn more at www.houseforall.org

  • BaBa

    The best presentation of baptism I’ve ever read.

    • fws

      amen! this was a truly Lutheran and therefore Pauline sermon.
      I have never ever heard better. Kudos Pastor Nadia!

  • Shibui

    Perfect! I am going to give this to the 8th-grader I am mentoring for Palm Sunday baptism… and then sit down with her and see what, if anything, she understood…. or what SHE heard in your words, Nadia. It will be a great seed for us then seeing where our conversation goes (and for MY having to say what I saw in your words!). I think this will click with Anna.

  • http://patheos.com jason greene

    wonderful
    thank you and thank GOD.
    I AM BAPTIZED….

  • http://whoivealwaysbeen.blogspot.com Carolyn Counterman

    Remembering that “age of accountability” from the old CoC days gave me a good chuckle. We had an elder and his wife that were shaking in their boots because their son waited until after high school to get baptized. Of course, I got baptized at nine. Not because of fear so much as I just KNEW in my very bones that Jesus would always be a part of my life, so we might as well seal the deal, right? That might be strange thinking for a nine-year-old, but then I’ve always been strange.

    These are amazing truths that you have spoken about baptism. Thank you for the reminders. I’m printing them out to re-read during this dark time of my life. I’m so glad my friend Diana sent me to this post.

  • JAdamK

    I am so grateful God gives us modern prophets! Not that those of the Old Testament don’t have incredible value and worth, but its refreshing to hear God’s voice through someone of today! Thanks! Peace. blessings. Keep the Holy Spirit fed and alive!

  • Dani

    Last paragraph: true that. Heard those voices just today. Thanks for the good words.

  • http://winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

    I often can’t figure out how you are part of the “emerging” movement. You redefine the devil only enough to distance yourself from the man with horns image, but you keep the fear of losing God just as real as ever. It’s nice that you allow people to be okay with being wrong, but hammer in how important it is too remember that you’re going to heaven. What about living a life that has meaning right here and now?

    Worst is your exclusivity. When you said, “When else do you get to stand in public and renounce evil?”, in my head I said, “Really?” You’re afraid to speak out against evil in public? What’s up with that?

    • fws

      um. Lausten, you missed parts of the sermon that did , indeed address your concerns.
      1) losing God: “God choses us, we dont chose him”, and he binds his promise to us personally in Baptism. Our being with God depends, in NO way on us.
      2) Life with meaning here and now. “Eternity is in the here in now in water, bread wine….. ”
      3) renouncing evil: think just a bit more poetically… exclusivity?! baptism is for all nations… it is the very antithesis of exclusivity. The context here is Baptism.

      • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

        1) She tells Cassie to repent, to return to God, and that she won’t get the gifts if she doesn’t. She says don’t let other systems of ranking or value systems fool you.

        2) Here and now, as in the life you have, the one that will end, not eternity

        3) What she said implied is there is something special about her church and that ceremony that they could renounce evil there, but not elsewhere. I don’t need a special protected place to speak out against evil. And, look at her last sentence.

        • SKPeterson

          Lausten,

          I will leave aside my theological and doctrinal differences with the author (I left the ELCA for the LCMS for precisely the reasons she celebrates the ELCA. Oh well, on this one she’s right, so credit given where credit is due). Hey, Frank!

          What exactly is wrong with the last sentence? Did you first declare yourself for God, or did God first declare Himself for you on the Cross and give Himself to you in Baptism and in the Eucharist? She has merely articulated in short form the basic tenets surrounding the sacraments of Baptism and its intimate relationship with repentance. Our repentance is nothing more than the daily drowning of the old Adam in those very Baptismal waters.

          Moreover, in the waters of Baptism God calls us His own. If that is not sufficient for overcoming any other rank and value systems I’m not quite sure what is, because those other ranking and value systems are based upon Man’s ideas, not God’s, and they are, at best, useful only for this life. For eternity they are meaningless and useless, and often, damning. Beyond that, I have no idea what you are talking about in Point 2 that isn’t some manifestation of a peculiarly materialistic view of reality.

          As to the rejection of evil. Yes, evil can be rejected at any and all times, both loudly and quietly. I don’t understand your objection though to having an actual explicit rejection of evil in the sacrament. I see nowhere in Ms. Bolz-Weber’s article that she says the rejection of evil found in Baptism is exclusive to that place. It is, though, an explicit feature of the service. I would note, that older Lutheran rites of Baptism also included a small rite of exorcism to drive Satan out of the squirming little Adamic brat to be replaced by the Holy Spirit who brings the gift of faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And it is that gift of Baptism, the gift of Christ’s death, that is the greatest rejection of evil ever. All we do is echo the victory cry of Jesus, “It is finished.”

          • fws

            “the squirming little Adamic brat ”

            Love that line SKP!

          • Dick Dixon

            Remember that the thief on the cross went with Jesus without being baptized. From the beginning of Adam and Eve, baptism was never mentioned, it was only with the coming of Jesus into His ministry was baptism mentioned or even used. With that said, what happened to all who came before? They were not baptized. John the Baptist baptized only for repentance, not salvation. Everyone wants to make it to heaven their way and not God’s way. John 3: 16 says it more clearly…”God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life”. Baptism is not the way to salvation, it is only believing in Him and accepting Jesus as you personal savior. NOTHING from this article is even mentioned or written in scripture. Trust in Jesus and the word of God…Jesus said in John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me”. These are God’s words and not mine. Read your bible daily and you too will know the truth. God bless and may you see and know the truth.

    • Stacey

      Someone here may benefit from the idea that Pastor Bolz-Weber “might not be the pastor for you.” To preserve your peace, mayhaps choose another one. :)

  • fws

    Nadia. Dear pastor BW. dear dear pastor.

    As a gay man, I cling to those words of the Promise you preach. “for YOU!” It is a promise unconditionally applied to me.

    With nothing at all in my hands except the Promise in my baptism, I simply accept the accusations of satan telling me that I have not repented enough, believed enough, dont have Faith or enough of it.

    Let me be a liar. But God cannot lie. and he, personally, applied his Promise to me, in Christ, right in my baptism, applied to me around age 1…..

    • http://www.sarcasticlutheran.com Nadia Bolz Weber

      Amen Amen Amen.

    • Dick Dixon

      Remember that the thief on the cross went with Jesus without being baptized. From the beginning of Adam and Eve, (not Adam and Steve) baptism was never mentioned, it was only with the coming of Jesus into His ministry was baptism mentioned or even used. With that said, what happened to all who came before? They were not baptized. John the Baptist baptized only for repentance, not salvation. Everyone wants to make it to heaven their way and not God’s way. John 3: 16 says it more clearly…”God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life”. Baptism is not the way to salvation, it is only believing in Him and accepting Jesus as you personal savior. NOTHING from this article is even mentioned or written in scripture. Trust in Jesus and the word of God…Jesus said in John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me”. These are God’s words and not mine. Read your bible daily and you too will know the truth. God bless and may you see and know the truth. Remember also that we all will answer to Him some day and what will He say to you? “Welcome”, or “I know you not”. The end of this life is either Black or white. There is NO gray…eternal fire or a life with Jesus. I myself chose Jesus. That is the true choice we all must make…Jesus.

  • Bob Cahill

    For another progressive view I refer all to “The Pickle” sermon http://vimeo.com/57459007 <= Copy & Paste

  • Marilyn Seven

    Nadia, thanks so much. I appreciate your sermons deeply. I grew up Church of Christ in Texas. Came to Union Seminary 1960-62. Became an artist. Hope to meet you, also, if I can get to Union Friday. Also hope you have a chance to see my Rouault Miserere paintings newly installed in tiny UTS Lampman Chapel. I appreciate the icons you often use. I think of baptism more as death and new life, but something actually happening there is absolutely right. And, in the tiny Orthodox congregation meeting at UTS I hear, for new members becoming Orthodox: Renounce the devil! Evil exists. But who could doubt that?!

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  • KingGeorge

    Honestly, the Bible, both the old testament and the new testament, presents homosexuality only in negative terms. It never gives the practice of homosexuality a free pass and certainly never condones it. If the preacher is using the same bible then how come she is not in step with what the bible says about homosexuality and instead sidesteps it by talking about the grace, love, and mercy of God? I have read all her articles on this blog and she has never been able to inform us what the Bible says about homosexuality. How come?


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