Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 12, 2017, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Sermon Theme: “Choices in Life, — Baptism Is One of Them”
(Sources: Brokhoff, Series A, Preaching Workbook; Anderson’s Cycle A Lectionary Preaching Workbook; Emphasis Online Commentary; Emphasis Online Illustrations; Luther’s Small Catechism and Explanation; original ideas; The Gospel According to Peanuts)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
As a child, the story of “Alice in Wonderland” frightened me; as an adult the Peanuts’ Comic strip brightened me. Each in its own way had some very profound ideas to offer up, so I want to begin today by using both of them.
The story of “Alice in Wonderland” illustrates the difficulty of choosing when a person doesn’t know where she wants to go. One day, Alice was treading the path through the forest in Wonderland when it divided in two different directions. As she stood there wondering what to do, the Cheshire Cat suddenly appeared in the crotch of a tree. Alice asked him which path she should choose.
“Where do you want to go?” asked the cat.
“I don’t know,” said Alice.
“Then,” said the cat, “it really doesn’t matter does it?”
In a Peanuts comic strip, Linus, dragging his blanket behind him, is walking fast away from something, with Charlie Brown following on his heels. Charlie says to Linus as the strip begins, “What if everyone was like you?”
Linus stops. Charlie Brown continues, “What if we all ran away from our problems? Huh? What then? What if everyone in the whole world suddenly decided to run away from his problems?”
Linus turns and looks at Charlie and replies, “Well, at least we’d all be running in the same direction.”
Alice doesn’t know which choice to make, and Linus is running away from choices or decisions. There’s a third response to life, and that’s to make a bad choice.
The setting for today’s sermon text from Deuteronomy is the land of Moab. Moses addresses the Israelites as they are about to cross over the Jordan and enter the land of promise. He confronts them with a crucial choice which they must make that day. The choice is life, which flows from obedience to the Lord, or death which follows disobedience. They were about to enter the Promised Land, a land where the inhabitants served pagan gods and lived lives of sexual license, deceit and immoral behavior.
In the text, Moses says, “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in His ways, and by keeping the commandments and His statutes and His rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.”
You see, we are not doomed to an unknown fate. God wants us to have life, liberty, prosperity, health, and all which makes for an abundant life. We can reject this offer, and pay the consequences. God loves us and wishes for us only the best. God is not a vindictive God who punishes. We bring punishment on ourselves by breaking God’s immutable and eternal laws. Suffering and misfortune naturally follow disobedience. Like it was for the Israelites, our choice is to love or not to love God. God’s grace brings us abundant life now, but, far more important, it brings us eternal life forever rather than eternal death.
Today we live in a society much like the Canaanite civilization that the Israelites entered once they crossed the river. The Canaanites worshipped the fertility gods and goddesses, and many people in our society try to find ultimate fulfillment and pleasure in sexual license. The false gods in today’s world are secularism, pluralism, materialism, escapism via drugs and sex, and individualism at all costs.
Today, Jase’s parents made a choice, a choice of life for their son. At six months of age, Jase isn’t old enough to choose to follow God’s way. That’s why his parents had to act and speak for him. His parents, unlike Alice in Wonderland, do indeed know where they want Jase to go. They brought him to the baptismal font today, because they have chosen life over death.
You see, to choose to be baptized into Christ is to choose life rather than death. Mark 16:16 says, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” The Apostle Peter says in Acts 2:38-39, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children.”
As we saw today, the parents, the sponsors and the congregation speak for the child in Holy Baptism. They take the baptismal vows for the child and pledge themselves to see that he is brought up hearing the Word of God and being taught the Commandments and the Gospel and nurtured in God’s love.
We want him to grow up knowing that God loves him and all of us though we are sinners. His love causes us to love Him in return. God loves us and wishes for us only the best. God is not a vindictive God who punishes, but a God of love who loves each one of us. We can choose to reject His love, and you see, that choice is the choice of death.
Left to ourselves, we human beings have poor judgment and short memories. In the Garden of Eden, God provided a heaven on earth, but Adam and Eve made a bad choice, they got kicked out of their beautiful home because of their decision to sin. In our text, the Israelites stand at the threshold of a Promised Land of milk and honey, but remembering how the people on their exodus from Egypt forgot how God had delivered them and ranted against Him, Moses puts them on notice here and now that the land could be lost by their sins.
Indeed, Jase’s parents made an incredibly good decision today, the decision to have their son receive the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. As he continues to grow, both physically and spiritually, they will be faced with other decisions to make for him, and eventually he will be old enough to make his own choices. Today’s decision should set the pattern for the decisions to come.
To be sure, the joy of having your child baptized is one of the greatest joys in life. It’s as though today’s Introit, taken from Psalm 98, was especially chosen for our baptism today: “The Lord has made known His salvation, . . . Let the sea roar, and all that fills it, . . .let the rivers clap their hands, let the hills sing for joy together before the Lord.” Let today be a celebration of joy! Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.