Sermon for Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost and Baptism of Aubrey
September 21, 2014, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Isaiah 55:6-9
Sermon Theme: “God’s Ways Affirmed through Baptism”
(Sources: Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 24, Part 4, Series A; Original Examples and Ideas; Anderson’s Preaching Workbook, Cycle A)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
When I was four and a half years old, in the late 1930’s, I found a family picture album I had not seen before. One of the photos in it was a picture of my twin brother, our dog, and me, standing on the front steps. Seated in front of us was a blonde-headed toddler, playing with his toes. I didn’t recognize him, so I asked my brother who he was.
My brother said he thought his name was Gary, but he didn’t remember much about him. I remembered nothing about this little Gary, so I asked my mother about him. With her eyes tearing up, she told us about “little Gary.”
In the late Thirties, the tail end of the Great Depression, there were many, many people who lived like hoboes, uprooted from their homes, hitching rides on trains or with the few automobile drivers who could afford to travel by car. With an unclear destination, they disembarked in small towns in their search for work or stability. Some were single; some had family with them. Little Gary’s parents were among them.
It seems that they boarded with us during cotton harvest time, and then had to journey farther to look for more work, when that was over. They couldn’t provide for Gary, so they left him with us, for my mother to care for him until they could afford to come back and get him. Gary bonded with my mother deeply, as she wondered if the parents would come back for him. Finding good jobs and a stable life, they did come back and take him with them, a very sad time for both my mother and Gary, though a joyous time for the parents.
In the many cases of abandonment in this country, many children do not fare as well as Gary. My wife’s adopted brother was dropped off by his biological parents “somewhere,” and they told him they would come back for him, — they never did! He carried this un-kept promise in his heart throughout his life, always thinking one day they would return. My wife’s biological parents died when she was a baby; she and her brother were adopted by a loving couple who were unable to have children of their own.
Today, when you look at the mind-boggling number of cases of child abuse, child neglect, and child abandonment which keep Child Protective Services workers busy around the clock, you cannot help but question the providence of God. Last Sunday’s Old Testament text about Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers gave some answers to our questioning, when Joseph told his brothers that while what they did was evil, God used it for the good of many people, including Joseph and his brothers.
As Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”
Further understanding of this is found in today’s Old Testament text from Isaiah, which is our sermon text: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
OK, so here we are on very shaky ground now. It would be very easy for you to reply, “So God deliberately takes a baby’s mother away from her, either through death or abandonment, so that later something good can happen to this child?” No, no, no! You see, God has an ACTIVE will and a PERMISSIVE will. It is never the ACTIVE will of God for anyone to suffer or for anyone to be killed, or die. But for reasons we don’t know, — “His thoughts are not our thoughts” – God permits, he ALLOWS, bad things to happen, — “Your ways are not my ways.”
It was not God’s active will that my wife’s biological parents should die, or abandon her, or whatever happened, so that her adopted parents could adopt a child they wanted so desperately. But God uses the loss of parents (whether by death or desertion or however) for the good of the child who loves Him. Because this wonderful couple adopted my wife, she was not only able to have a secure, happy home, but also to travel to Europe, Africa, Tahiti, British Columbia, Mexico, Alaska and all the other states in the Union, and graduate from Baylor and Harvard. But most important, as Christian parents, they brought her up on the Ten Commandments and the knowledge of Salvation through Jesus Christ.
Today, we have baptized Aubrey Brzozowski. I know personally that Nicole would never abandon Aubrey, that her heart is bursting with love for this baby, that she is willing even to make great sacrifices to care for this wonderful gift of God. As all of us know, this cannot be said about every parent. Not only can you physically abuse, neglect, and hurt your child, you can do so spiritually as well by turning your back on Christ and all that He stands for.
So the greatest act of all is that Nicole brought her child to the baptismal font, just as Nicole herself came to this very same font over 7 years ago. In those 7 years, Nicole has chosen, and it was her choice, to attend church and Sunday School 52 Sundays of every one of those 7 years, and Vacation Bible School every summer for 7 years with very few exceptions. That speaks well for the blessings she received from her own baptism. Mark 16:16 says, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” Acts 2:38-39 says, “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.”
In our sermon text, Isaiah invites the people to “seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near.” This is not to suggest that there are times when God capriciously removes Himself from our presence, but there are times in our lives when, due to circumstances, a window of opportunity is opened for us to enter into the nearer presence of God.
It’s not that God is any closer but that we are more open to His presence. It may be an unhappy event, such as death or divorce, or a time of joy, such as a wedding or the birth of a baby. We need to take advantage of those windows of opportunity to let the Holy Spirit enter our lives. In other words, we need to seek the Lord now, when He is near. As Christians, we know that the way to find God is through faith in Christ.
Pastor Gifford Grobien tells a modern-day parable about a father who had an old autographed baseball, worth money because it was a collector’s item. He was careful with it, although he didn’t keep it locked away. He would tell stories of how he had been given it by his father, who had gotten it many years ago.
The man’s son couldn’t quite figure out why his dad never played with the ball. So the boy played with it – when dad was at work and wouldn’t notice. The boy always returned the ball to its place. But one day, the boy hit the ball under the fence into the lot with all the ivy. And try as he might, he couldn’t find the ball; the overgrown ivy had swallowed up the heirloom.
It took the father a few days to notice the ball was gone – which seemed strange to the boy but made him that much more nervous. When Dad did finally notice, he came into his son’s room, sat next to him on the bed, and put his arm around him. With all his pent-up anxiety, the boy burst into tears – tears of anger.
He even flailed out at his dad, angry that Dad had “made” him play with the ball and lose it. The father sat there, keeping his arm around his son, until the boy’s tears turned to tears of sorrow and contrition. Now, the boy was angry at himself for letting his dad down. The father remained near and drew his arm tighter around his son.
The son couldn’t understand the father, at least not completely. He couldn’t understand how he loved the ball, yet wasn’t angry with him, and why he continued to hug and love him. The father’s thoughts were not the son’s thoughts. But the father was near to his son to forgive him.
It doesn’t take a genius to understand this as a parable about our Heavenly Father. Even when you don’t understand our heavenly Father’s ways and thoughts, the Lord is with you to forgive and love you and treat you with tender compassion. Although human ways are often not the ways of love and compassion, God’s ways are! Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.