Today’s sermon is a hymn study, based on the Hymn of the Day—“Baptized into Your Name Most Holy” (#590) on the occasion of the baptism of Amelia Grace Werner.
A few years ago in Europe, a man in his nineties took the Church to court. When he was born, he had been baptized, but now he was an atheist and he was demanding that the Church un-baptize him. The Church had offered to strike his name from the church records, but that did not satisfy the man. He wanted his baptism to be undone, as if it had never happened. And so, he asked the court to force the Church to un-baptized him. But this was impossible. You see, the Church has no power to un-baptize anyone, for baptism is a gift from God and God never takes back that gift.
There are two things that must be said here. First, “once baptized, always baptized”. Once you are baptized, it cannot be undone. You are baptized forever. Baptism is God’s gift to you, and God does not revoke His gift, nor does His gift expire if you neglect to use it. The other day, I tried to check out some DVDs from the library and I was told that my library card was no good; it had expired because I had not used it for two years. But God will never say that about your baptism. No matter how many years you have lived as if you were not baptized, God will not say to you: “sorry, your baptism has expired!”.
And so, first, we must affirm that God never takes back His gift of Baptism, nor does it ever expire. But then, second, we must heed God’s warning that it is possible for Christians to reject the gift of Baptism, and that they can even die rejecting that gift. Sadly, some of the residents of hell had been baptized here on earth. But they rejected their baptism by refusing to repent of their sins and receive God’s forgiveness. God’s forgiveness is always greater than our sins. And God’s forgiveness is given out through His Holy Word and His Holy Supper. But it is possible for us to become so preoccupied with the cares and pleasures of this world that we forsake God’s gifts of Baptism and forgiveness. It is not that our Baptism can ever stop working; rather, it is that we can reject our Baptism. And so, beware of rejecting God’s gift!
Now, here is how Baptism is meant to work. Baptism has been likened to a ship, the ship of salvation. You are baptized, and so you are safe aboard the ship of salvation bearing you to your heavenly home. But, then the storm of sin arises and sweeps you overboard. What are you to do? Is your situation hopeless? Are you lost? Not at all! For you see, God has given you the means to safely return to the ship. He has given you the gift of repentance.
Repentance is turning away from your sins and turning to God; this is something you do daily by the power of the Holy Spirit. Think of it. Every time you pray the Lord’s Prayer, which you should do everyday of your life, you are confessing that you are a sinner and you are asking God to forgive you your trespasses. That’s repentance—confessing your sins and trusting God to forgive you for the sake of Christ Jesus, who died on the cross in your place. And God’s gift of repentance lifts you out of your sins back aboard the ship of salvation, which is Holy Baptism, the ship that bears you to heaven.
Now, what if you have neglected your baptism? What if it has been years since you have turned to God? What if you have been wallowing in your sins for a long, long time? Is it too late for you? Are there too many storm-tossed sins separating you from your baptism? No, not at all! For God is calling you even now to repent of your sins so that, in an instant, He may forgive you and place you back safely aboard the firm and solid ship of salvation.
You and and I are weak and unstable. We are daily stumbling into sin. And if we willfully persist in unbelief and sinful vices, then we will die in our sin, even though we have been baptized. But God loves us in Christ Jesus our Saviour. And God does not desire that we die in our sins. Rather, He gives us His gift of repentance. Do not reject it. Instead, confess that you are a sinner; confess your sins of thought, word, and deed; confess the evil you have committed and the good you have failed to do. And trust that God loves you in spite of who you are and what you have done; yes, trust that God forgives you all your sins. And in receiving God’s forgiveness, trust that God the Holy Spirit will empower you to amend your life so that you win the victory over your former sins.
You and I are weak. But God is strong and almighty. God is strong to save. And His gift of Baptism is firm and certain. Once baptized, always baptized. Your baptism can never be undone. No matter how filthy your sins are, in Holy Baptism, God has made you clean and pure. No matter how long it has been since you have asked God to forgive you and to restore you in the true faith in Christ Jesus, God is ever ready to lift you back aboard His ship headed for heaven. Oh, your whole life long, you will be attacked by the devil, the world, and your own sinful nature. But God is ever working to keep you in your baptism, so that you may finally overcome unbelief, despair, and sin and win the victory in Christ.
That is why we never say “I was baptized” but rather “I am baptized”. For Baptism is a daily reality in our lives. Everyday, we are swept overboard by sin. And everyday, God is seeking to draw us back safely aboard through repentance, so that we may remain faithful in Christ. Of course, it is not by our strength or willpower but only by God’s grace that we return daily to the safekeeping of our Baptism, until the day we enter the safe harbour of heaven.
This morning, in Amelia’s baptism, I quoted the apostle Peter, who wrote: Baptism now saves you. Do you understand? Baptism is not a human work; Baptism is God’s work, God’s gifting of salvation to sinners. And in a few minutes, we will sing a hymn that proclaims just how wonderful is the salvation which is ours in Holy Baptism.
Baptized into Your name most holy—Anyone who is baptized into the Name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is made holy in God’s sight in spite of his or her sins. And although we are weak in faith, nonetheless we claim a place among God’s saints. And we are joined to Christ, so that as He died on the cross, we now die to sin and live to righteousness. Sin does not win the victory; we do, because the Holy Spirit lives within us.
My loving Father, here You take me / To be henceforth Your child and heir. At birth, you became someone’s son or daughter. But your parents either have died or will die, and so will you. But Holy Baptism is the second birth, the birth from above. And here, God makes you His own dear child and an heir of heaven. Which means that even though you die a physical death, you will not die eternally in hell, but rather will be raised to eternal life in the presence of Jesus, your Saviour. Jesus makes you share the fruit of His suffering and death on the cross. And the fruit of Good Friday is forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus’ Name. And the Holy Spirit comforts you when you see the threatening storm clouds of affliction and troubles. Filled with the Spirit, you rejoice in knowing that God’s love in Christ is always far greater than your problems.
My faithful God, You fail me never; / Your promise surely will endure.
O cast me not away forever / If words and deeds become impure.
Have mercy when I come defiled; / Forgive, lift up, restore Your child.
You have God’s promise that once baptized, always baptized. In Holy Baptism, God has made you His own dear child, and He will never reject you. His promise of forgiveness in Christ Jesus endures forever. And so, come each Lord’s Day to the Lord’s House, to confess your impure words and deeds and to receive forgiveness through the Lord’s Word of Absolution and the Holy Supper of the Lord’s true Body and Blood.
Having been made God’s holy child in Holy Baptism and having been forgiven, lifted up, and restored to the ship of salvation, you cannot willfully continue indulging in your favourite sins. The proper response to being forgiven is not to go on sinning, but to turn from your sins and to serve God in love. The fourth stanza describe how we now are to live as we live each day in our Baptism:
All that I am and love most dearly— / Receive it all, O Lord, from me.
Let me confess my faith sincerely; / Help me Your faithful child to be!
Let nothing that I am or own / Serve any will but Yours alone.
Of course, only One of God’s children ever served God’s will perfectly. That was Jesus. In His Baptism, the Holy Jesus identified with sinners, who needed their sins washed away. Throughout His life, He was a faithful Son who honoured His Father. And on the night He was betrayed, He made it clear that He would serve no other will save the will of His Father, praying: not my will, but yours be done! And then Jesus laid down His life willingly, dying for you, taking your place on the cross, bearing all your sins, and suffering your damnation, all so that you could become God’s dear child, pure and holy in the waters of Holy Baptism. And now, the risen Christ, Lord of heaven and earth, is ever seeking to draw you back to your baptism. No matter how deep your sins and how great your unbelief, your baptism has not expired and it cannot be undone. Once baptized, always. For you are always loved by your Father in heaven who sent His only-begotten Son to save sinners from hell for the glories of heaven. Amen.
1 Baptized into Your name most holy,
O Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
I claim a place, though weak and lowly,
Among Your saints, Your chosen host.
Buried with Christ and dead to sin,
Your Spirit now shall live within.
2 My loving Father, here You take me
To be henceforth Your child and heir.
My faithful Savior, here You make me
The fruit of all Your sorrows share.
O Holy Spirit, comfort me
When threat’ning clouds around I see.
3 My faithful God, You fail me never;
Your promise surely will endure.
O cast me not away forever
If words and deeds become impure.
Have mercy when I come defiled;
Forgive, lift up, restore Your child.
4 All that I am and love most dearly—
Receive it all, O Lord, from me.
Let me confess my faith sincerely;
Help me Your faithful child to be!
Let nothing that I am or own
Serve any will but Yours alone.