Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
July 29, 2018
A Sign for the Times
On the west side of Gorham village there is a traffic circle where the bypass joins route 25. As one heads west on 25, there are two lanes that join the circle and the circle, which has only one lane for half of the way around becomes two lanes as 25 joins it. While there is a yield sign for those joining the circle, the lines on the road and the flow of traffic should keep the traffic in the circle to the inside allowing the traffic on route 25 to easily join the circle in the outside lane. But the lines haven’t been repainted the last couple of years and the local traffic has learned that those in the circle tend to take the curve a bit fast and drift across the lanes, making it risky to enter the circle with a car approaching around the curve.
If the traffic circle’s roadway were lined regularly and signed more clearly like the circle at the intersection of routes 4 and 109 in Sanford, traffic would likely flow a little more easily through the circle here in Gorham. And if there were a patrolman stationed in the circle often, then the drivers could rely on enforcement and those that drift across lanes would learn to stay in their own lane as they make their way around the circle. Now this is not a sermon on traffic and roadways, but the principal of clear signage and enforcement of that signage applies to today’s reading from Genesis.
“This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” God sets the rainbow in the heavens as a sign for all the earth to see and for Himself to see. It is not an empty sign but it bears the word and promise of God that the earth will not be consumed again by a flood and that He would not destroy all flesh in this way again.
Certainly the flood was devastating as it consumed all life but those saved in the ark. It is St. Peter that instructs us as to the saving nature of the flood in his first epistle and then draws the parallel to Holy Baptism as the flood that saves us by its drowning of the old Adam within each of us and the lifting up to new life of the person in us now joined to Christ.
Last week, little Peter Bunce was baptized. His parents brought him and we followed through because the signage that tells us to do so is clear and because the power to enforce the promise that follows is almighty. The sign tells us that Holy Baptism is a new birth (John 3), a washing of regeneration and a renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3), it is our appeal to God for a clear conscience (1 Peter 3), for it unites us to Christ in His death and so too unites us to Him in resurrection (Romans 6). These are not idle words but the promise of the God that has the power to flood the earth and destroy all evil but refrains according to His promise or covenant.
There are some Christians that tend to use the covenant language more than we. In some ways it seems a stronger word than promise. But it is too easily neutered when the focus of the action is placed on us humans, as if we are the ones enacting the covenant. We are not recognizing the sign for what it represents if we ignore its explanation from Scripture and attach to it our own understanding. After all, it is not our covenant with God that is being enacted. It is our inclusion in the covenant that God has made with man; a covenant that He has sealed with the blood of His Son. To make Holy baptism the action of man giving himself over to God and the sign of the new Christian’s commitment to God, is to put in doubt the veracity of such a commitment the first that Christian again sins. For in that sin, the covenant has been broken, the promise of the Christian to live a new life undone. What then is a Christian to do? Be baptized again only to fail once more? To remove God’s promise and covenant in Baptism and to make it man’s promise to God is to fall into the ancient sin of wanting to be like God in determining what is best for man.
When we behold the sign and comprehend the power that is behind it, we then include even the infant that cannot speak his own desire to be baptized. We recognize that the need is universal and the promise is universal; it is for all (Acts 2:39). For all have sinned and all are in need of the gift of new life promised in Holy Baptism (Romans 3, 5). The promise is for the infant as much as for the octogenarian; it is for all who believe and trust what is promised by the sign (Luke 18:15-17).
There is no one that can stand outside what is promised in Holy Baptism and hope to be saved from the evil in this world or the evil within themselves. Nor is there any one that can modify the covenant by adding their own appendix that gives them the right to enact it on their own terms.
The cross is the sign under which we live that reminds God of His promise of life and salvation for all who believe. The cross is the sign made upon the one who is baptized and all the benefits of the cross are applied to the sinner as God’s covenant is mingled with that water. If it were just our sign; something that we invented or use because we think it cute, it would have no power to save. But, because it is God’s sign and He has attached His Word of promise to that sign, it is much more than cute. It has the power to save. Not as a magic trick that uses slight of hand to deceive but as the judgment made by the Almighty God.
It is there in that little act of baptizing that God makes judgment as His promise of forgiveness is fulfilled. The Spirit is bestowed and the righteous judgment of God is applied to the sinner as condemnation was applied to the sinless Son who was crucified for all sin.
As God would look upon the earth and be reminded of His covenant in the rainbow, so too does He look upon humanity and is reminded of the His covenant in Holy baptism. It is not an empty sign. It is a sign, like the rainbow, that bears the fulness of God’s power to save even you.
There is another way in which we may see this promise of God contained in His appointed sign. Take our currency, for instance. Our paper money is said to be backed by the full faith and credit of the United States. In essence, they have no value, nor are they backed by anything of concrete value. They are promissory notes backed by the covenant of the United States. The dollar bill in my wallet is only a sign, but it is a sign that is recognized by most all as possessing what it promises – the purchasing power of one US dollar. It is backed by the reputation and stability of the United States.
In similar fashion, that is what both the rainbow and Holy baptism are for us. They represent and contain the fullness of the God that created the heavens and the earth and has recreated them in the sending of His Son. Sure, they are signs to God that remind Him of His covenant. They are also signs to us that we might be assured of God’s grace; that is, that He will not destroy us as our sins deserve, but will have mercy on us, on account of Jesus. And, as such, they actually bestow upon us what is promised, the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. This promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.