Rev. Cooper's Sermon for May 30, 2021
Anyone who is in Christ is indeed a new creation- the old life has gone away
and a new life has begun! Our famous refrain, most commonly used in our
assurance of pardon during worship, reminds us that we are born anew in Christ.
We also know that this new life comes sealed in the waters of baptism and today
our Gospel text calls our attention to the promises held in that sweet sacrament.
Baptized in Water…Sealed in the Spirit…Born anew as children of God,
each of us wash away original sin in the sacrament of baptism. The fount of every
blessing bestows new life upon us, adopting us into the family of Christ, full of
promise. Promise of new life, promises of safekeeping, and promises of
Our central character in today’s text, Nicodemus, raises this question…
“How can we be reborn in old age,” he asks? Jesus responds: “No one can enter
the kingdom of God without being born of Water and Spirit.” So we have it.
Baptism is the way to new life, to rebirth. Washed in water, cleansed in Spirit, we
receive new birth into the family of Christ.
Being cleansed in water can be a powerful experience. Taking a nice bubble
bath as a stressed mama, or a hot shower after you’ve really earned it… that can
make you feel brand new. There are also special waters the world over that have
healing powers- the Dead Sea for example. The salt therein can heal wounds and
people visit it for that very purpose! God’s good earth has hot springs and natural
baths with similar calming powers too. Folks pay top dollar to enjoy these fruits
of creation in Palm Springs and the like. In a simple sense, these kinds of aquatic
experiences make you feel rejuvenated, refreshed, one might even say, born again.
That concept of being born again comes packed with meaning that we don’t
freely associate with water. The spa like zen we get from a good dip in whatever
waters doesn’t make us new in Christ. Water alone can’t give new life…but the
waters of baptism sure can. For here, in this beautifully powerful rite of passage,
the water and THE SPIRIT combine to pour out power from on high. So here in
this place, and in all baptisms by the water and the Spirit in the name of Christ
Jesus, the waters of baptism acts as an outward sign of the inward Spirit’s work.
Being cleansed from the font we take on the Spirit as our new nature… we
wash away the sin of the flesh and adorn ourselves anew with the purity of the
Holy Spirit. We wear white on this day to symbolize the new life, the fresh start,
the pure nature we receive when we are sealed in the Spirit of God. Washed clean,
the new life of the Spirit takes root in us as we begin our new life and join our new
It is the case in the Presbyterian Church that when you are baptized you
receive a certificate, marking the day when you entered the fold. It’s a birthday of
sorts- the day you were born in Christ. In some Christian traditions, new names
are even given to the newest minted member of the congregation. This birthday
for new life in Christ is celebrated in different ways across the Christian traditions.
As Grandpa Elvet, my husband’s very Baptist Missourian Grandpa, likes to
say… “You sprinkle, we dunk.” Some baptize in the river, others prefer adult
baptism, some like Godparents to be named.
There are many ways to observe the sacrament, but the visual sign remains
consistent across the board. You are washing away sin and adorning yourself in
the Spirit of Christ, joining the family of God.
Life in this family, in the Spirit is a new life. It’s a different life. It’s a calling we
follow- with the help of our Advocate, the Spirit- for the rest of our lives.
It doesn’t mean we’ve inherited a perfect new life, it doesn’t mean we’ve
become new persons free of sin forever! It means we’ve inherited this Spirit that
reigns above the flesh, and we are duty bound to listen to and follow that rule in
There are powers that work to led us astray and there are powers that work
to lead us forward in the faith. When we cleanse ourselves from original sin and
inherit that powerful Spirit of God, we choose to accept the faith, giving power to
hope. We make a sign, symbolizing our choice to work against the powers of sin
and hate. And so, we acknowledge that the only true power in this world is of
God. We affirm the power of our Triune Lord to combat all the powers and
principalities that be, all that which works against the kingdom of God.
The promises of this kingdom are for those claimed in baptism. There is
safekeeping here… but that safekeeping as a child of God doesn’t mean we’ve
purchased an insurance plan. We aren’t hedging our bets that we’ll make it
through life safer by staying within the guarded walls of God’s kingdom, so to
speak. Pascal’s wager famously prescribed faith as an insurance policy to
safeguard against hell, claiming that it was a safe bet on God because at least you
would be protected if you lost…
While that line of thinking has it’s merit… this is so far off base. We don’t
come to Christ because we want and seek an Allsafe plan or a Progressive policy.
We come to God because we believe that this safekeeping holds us forever safe.
We know that there will be many dangers, toils, and snares along life’s way. We
choose to trust, however, that in the face of whatever befalls us, we have someone
on our side.
We have a God who will walk with us through each and every journey,
holding our hands to help guide us towards the path intended from above. That
handholding, that is what helps us stay safe. We will face the dangers, but we
won’t do it alone. We will do it with our Savior’s Spirit leading, with our
Heavenly Father holding our hands.
And so we enter into covenant with God, becoming his children, beloved children
who are held in the palm of his hand. Our acceptance of Christ ushers us into the
fold, and we join the ranks of many who’ve gone before us. We get a group of
folks from all walks of life who become our family. Our brothers, sisters, mothers,
fathers, GiGi’s and Grampa’s…for the church is the family of Christ.
We belong to a new family of kingdom citizens the world over. Our kindred
spirits unite us in faith. Our collective belief in Jesus draws us together, and as our
Lord taught us in Matt. 12:48-50: “anyone who does the will of the Father is his
brother and sister and mother.” The family model is Scriptural, and churches
function like family too.
The blessing of family, of new life, of safekeeping flows from on high today.
We recognize all these gifts given us in the waters of baptism, but we also have
Nicodemus to thank for helping us find our way here. His honest questions mirror
our honest questions, if we are willing to ask them.
We too want to know, why is this rebirth rite so important? Jesus tries to
answer him, giving an explanation we’ve worked our way through this morning.
Nicodemus still doesn’t follow. So Jesus tries to put it to him differently,
suggesting that maybe an explanation isn’t what he needs at all. Maybe he just
needs to allow his faith to guide him.
Whether you need an explanation, or a connection with your faith to
understand the power of water and the Spirit… trust that the power is there. It is
power for us, given us by our loving God, who seeks to prosper us as his children.
Today we rejoice, for our Lord loved us enough to welcome us into the fold, to be