Thanking God for my first sermon since my hospitalization. Memory Eternal to Freddie Fowlkes whom I eulogized yesterday. Praying for a wonderful service this afternoon in honor of our Deacons, Deaconesses, and Trustees.
Commitment for a Full Blessing
It is easy for us to shortchange the blessings and miracles of where the Lord has brought us from. As you know, I drove myself to the hospital last weekend not knowing that my blood sugar was 720. I should have gone into a diabetic coma, had a stroke, got dizzy, had an accident and died. But, by the mercy of God, none of those things happened. As you can see, I am alive and well. And I praise God for being better to me than I have been to myself. It is very easy for me to shortchange my testimony right now because my story is encouraging enough as it is. But, the fact that God has preserved my life, and all of ours, one more day has a deeper meaning and purpose. The ancient father, St. Isaac the Syrian, makes it plain in his highly regarded teaching, “This life has been given to you for repentance. Do not waste it in vain pursuits.”
John the Baptist was also a man who should have been dead. When Herod was killing the baby boys, John should have been one of those children that didn’t make it to the age of 2. In fact, John should not have even been on the earth because his father, Zachariah the priest and mother Elizabeth were elderly and beyond their child-bearing years. But, his testimony did not stop there as we now find him a grown man who is dedicated to and preaching baptism and repentance. This lifestyle of the holy prophet and forerunner is the deeper meaning to his miraculous birth and blessed protection. Had he not been devoted to a changed life and changing lives, John’s testimony would have been shortchanged. But, because of his commitment to the washing away of sins and living holy, John the Baptist fulfilled his purpose in life.
I offer to you this morning, brothers and sisters, that we strive to have the same commitment as John the Baptist. We can all praise God for bringing us out of accidents, illnesses, and other life threatening situations. But these praises aren’t enough. We must not short change our testimonies. Our calling is to live cleansed from our sins and in the path of holiness. To fulfill our purpose in life, we must be committed to baptism and repentance.
Only baptism and repentance prepares the way for the Lord to enter our hearts. It is popular (and correct) to say, “we need more love in this world.” Non-believers and nominal Christians will easily agree with this. But, as it is written in John’s Gospel, “Greater love have no man than this, that He laid down His life for His friends.” The greatest love there is the love of Jesus Christ. And what did he do three years prior to his crucifixion and resurrection? He heard the holy instruction of and was baptized by John. There can be no great love in us, much less the world, unless we are committed to the washing away of and living opposite of our sins. How do we know this? Jesus did this and He didn’t sin. We who have been baptized must keep in mind the cleansing power of what was done, “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins. When sinners plunge beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains.” Baptism is not just an empty ritualistic symbol where we go in as dry sinners and come out as wet ones. Baptism is a cleansing and we are called to live clean lives. We keep the cleansing by living opposite the things that tempt us into evil. This is what makes the love of Jesus real in our lives and allows us to grow in his grace and mercy. When we don’t take baptism and repentance seriously, the presence of Jesus in our praise is reduced to a punchline of a joke. When we commit ourselves to baptism and repentance, we have the fullness of Christ and can walk in His way.
Only in baptism and repentance can we find the cure for what is wrong with us. “Every valley will be exalted. Every mountain made low. The crooked places straight and the rough places smooth.” All of us have some places in our lives, where if the devil had his way, he would sink us into a pit of wickedness., make us arrogant beyond correction. We all have a weakness to go any way the world says is right and will act as if things are supposed to go our way all the time. Baptism is done with water. Elementary school science teaches us that water erodes mountains and fills valleys during floods. Over time, water wears out rough edges and seeks to flow in a straight line. This is what the spiritual waters of baptism does in our souls as we nourish this life-giving flood in our prayers and walk of repentance. Some immediately, others over time; all of our bad habits and worst traits are corrected by our commitment to holy living. Praise and thanksgiving (good things that they are) cannot correct our souls. They may stir up and excite. But, a faith based on being stirred up and excited only hides our flaws like a dust storm. Sooner or later; the wind dies down, the dust settles, and the flaws are still there. Let us keep the cleansing and correcting waters of baptism flowing in our souls by living in repentance.
Only in baptism and repentance can we see the salvation of God with other believers. John is not alone in this faith. Multitudes came to hear him. Many came to be baptized by him and Jesus was among them. The Holy Trinity was revealed to all who were committed to cleansing and living as new men and women. We modern Protestants believe firmly that each individual must make a decision to follow Jesus and have a personal relationship with Him. But, we must avoid the mistake of thinking that “I” am the only one that matters. No one person is better or worse than the other, all must be washed in the blood of Christ. No one person is more righteous or wicked, all must repent and live in repentance. Sitting in your living room with your Bible, your TV set, watching your favorite preacher, listening to your favorite Gospel music, and praying your prayers is a selfish faith. Over 40,000 denominations and non-denominations each claiming to teach the right doctrine is selfishness. And selfishness is a separation and an offence to a Savior who selflessly took on our corruptible flesh, laid down his life, and overcame death for us all. If Jesus so freely gave to all, who are we to think of ourselves separate from all? Cleansing and holiness are for every man, woman, boy, and girl. All be invited to and share in God’s mercy and love. Thus, as often as possible, we should and must come together to worship the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in spirit and truth.