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Archive for the ‘Baptism’ Category

Baptized into the Army

Baptized into the Army

Preached on October 18, 2009
By the Rev. Dr. S. Randall Toms
At St. Paul’s Reformed Episcopal Church, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.   For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.  For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?   For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father’s, and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:23-26)

We live in a time when many people do not approve of any kind of militaristic images to be associated with the Christian faith.  Thus, we have some Christian groups who take out from their hymnals songs such as Onward Christian Soldiers, because they don’t like to think of the Christian faith in terms of a warfare.  But militaristic imagery is part of Holy Scripture in both Old and New Testaments.    The Apostle Paul tells us that the Christian life is a struggle against all kinds of spiritual wickedness, and we must wrestle with them, and  put on the whole armor of God.   He told Timothy “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses” (I Tim. 6:12).    In his second epistle to Timothy he said, “Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.  No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier” (II Tim. 2:3-4).  When we become Christians, we become soldiers in the army of the Lord.   We enter the battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil.

When does this battle begin?  For this child, the battle begins today.  There is a wonderful part of our baptismal ceremony in which we make the sign of the cross on the forehead of the child.  Sometimes, when we make the sign of the cross on someone or over someone, it is a symbol of pleading for a blessing or asking for some kind of protection.  But when we make the sign of the cross on the child at the time of baptism, the significance is different.  Our baptismal order of service says that we “sign him with the sign of the Cross, in token that hereafter he shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under his banner, against sin, the world, and to devil; and to continue Christ’s faithful soldier and servant unto his life’s end.”  From this moment, the shadow of the cross will loom over this child, and it will be inescapable.    From this day forward, he will always be associated with Jesus Christ, and that means an association with the cross of Christ.

At the center of the Christian faith is the cross, and because of that, there is always a certain amount of shame connected with being a Christian.    First of all, people do not like the idea that Jesus Christ had to come into this world and die on the cross for our sins in order that we might be redeemed.  Oh, the world likes the idea of Jesus being an example of love and kindness to others.  The world likes the idea of Jesus being a great moral teacher, someone who taught us the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  The world doesn’t mind that kind of Jesus, and there would be no shame attached to following Christ, teacher of the Golden Rule.  But we do not dedicate this child to Christ, teacher of the golden rule.  We dedicate him to Christ crucified.  Today, this child becomes, not the follower of Christ the great moral teacher, but Christ the crucified Savior.   People will ask him throughout his life, “You don’t really believe that Christ had to die in our place do you?  I mean, people aren’t that bad, aren’t that hopeless.  As long as we live a pretty good life,  that will be sufficient to get us into heaven.”  So, throughout his life, he will always have to defend the doctrine that the only way we could be saved is for Christ to have died in our place.  And there will always be a certain amount of shame connected with believing such a truth.   But what we will tell this child as soon as he is able to understand, “You were signed with sign of the cross so that you would never be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified.”  We want this child to always have the courage of the Apostle Paul and say, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).    We want him to be able to say with the Apostle Paul, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14).  Far from being ashamed of the cross of Christ, we want him to go through his life saying, “The thing that I glory in the most, the thing I boast about the most, is that I follow a Savior who was crucified for me.”

In our culture, as we drift further and further away from the Christian faith, those who believe that it was absolutely necessary for Christ to be crucified for us will be ridiculed more and more.  But this has always been the case.  St. Paul said in I Cor. 1:23-24:  “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;  But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.”  Christ crucified has never been a popular doctrine.  The Jews hated the idea of a crucified Messiah.  The Jews didn’t believe that the Messiah was going to be crucified.  He was going to be a political leader who would deliver the Jews.  The Greeks believed we could be delivered from our evil actions and come to know God through reason.  The idea that it was necessary for a man to die on a cross in our place was absolute foolishness to these Greek intellectuals.  It is no different today.  So, we want this child to go through his life saying, “No matter how much this world hates this truth that it was necessary for Christ to die on the cross, I am always going to say that Christ crucified is both the wisdom and the power of God.”  The cross is the only way mankind could have been redeemed, and it is this great power that draws men to God.

Nevertheless, it will always be a great temptation to be ashamed of Christ and his cross.  For those who would follow Christ must not only believe in a Christ who was crucified on a cross, but, as our text for today brings out, they must also take up the cross themselves and follow him.  When we become followers of Jesus Christ, we take his cross upon ourselves.  Today as we make the sign of the cross upon this child, he takes up the cross today and begins to follow his Savior.  That not only indicates that he will be called upon to suffer for the cause of Christ, but again, it means that he will endure the shame connected with living the Christian life:  the shame of believing things that most people don’t believe; the shame of living a life in obedience to the commandments of God when most people are determined to disobey God.

In our day, we cannot imagine the horror that people must have felt when Jesus said, “If you are going to follow me, you are going to have to take up your cross.”  The cross was not only a painful form of death–it was a shameful form of death.   It was reserved for common criminals.  It was considered such an ignoble form of death, that under Roman law, no Roman citizen could be crucified.  Whenever we think of the shameful way in which our Lord was treated–stripped naked, mocked, ridiculed for the whole world to see–no wonder many people would draw back and say, “There is too much shame connected with being a Christian.”

But today, we sign this child with the sign of the cross, so that from this day forward, he will never be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, so that he might manfully fight under his banner.  Christianity has always needed people who lead the heroic life.  In the days and years to come, as our culture turns more and more away from Christ, we will need a generation of heroes as never before.  But what kind of heroes will we need?  There are many kinds of heroes, such as those who fight on the battlefield as soldiers for their country.  But every Christian, whether or not he ever is enlisted in the armed forces, must be a soldier for the cause of Christ.  And this kind of soldier is different from all others.  The soldier of Christ is a soldier of purity.  The manful fight that is described in our baptismal service is the fight against sin, the world, and the devil, the most difficult battle of all.  You may remember that in the legends of King Arthur and the knights of the round table, the knight must not only be a skilled warrior, but also morally pure.  Lancelot, started out with that purity of heart, but he succumbed to the lusts of the flesh in his relationship with Guinevere.  Galahad, on the other hand, retained his purity of heart and went on in his search for the Holy Grail.  In Tennyson’s poem “Sir Galahad,” Galahad says,

My knees are bow’d in crypt and shrine,
I never felt the kiss of love,
Nor maiden’s hand in mine.
More bounteous aspects on me beam,
Me mightier transports move and thrill,
So keep I fair thro’ faith and prayer
A virgin heart in work and will.

This is the kind of purity that is demanded of the soldier of Christ—a heart that is kept pure by a single-minded devotion to Christ.  In a few moments we will present this child with a pure white cloth and admonish him to bring it with him unspotted to the judgment seat of Christ.  If he is able to do, what greater act of heroism could there be than to live a life of pure devotion in the sight of God.

John Milton, who wrote the great epic, Paradise Lost, thought he might write a great poem on King Arthur and the knights of the round table.  But he discarded that idea in favor of writing what he considered to be a greater epic.  Milton said that too many great poems had been written about soldiers and their exploits in battle.  Instead, he would write about what he called “the better fortitude of patience and heroic martyrdom.”  When we are on the shores of heaven, recounting the great victories and heroic deeds of the past, what will be remembered are the battles that the people of God won when faced with great temptations and overcame them.

The heroic soldier of Jesus Christ is the one who lives  not only a pure life, but one who lives his life motivated by love, the love of Christ for others.  This is what it means to fight manfully under his banner.  His banner over us is love.  The battle we fight is the battle of love, bringing love into a world where everyone else is motivated by anger, hatred, and prejudice.  To love in such a world, strangely, brings the wrath of the world, just as the world unleashed its anger on our Lord.  Did anyone ever show love the way he did, and yet, that love resulted in his being put on a cross.   The most heroic thing the soldier Christ does is to love, love so much that he is willing to sacrifice himself for others.  This is what it means to take up the cross of Christ.  This is what it means to fight manfully under his banner.  He bore the cross out of love for others, and the soldiers enlisted in his army do the same.  The soldier of Christ is the one who loves those that no one else will love.  He is the one who gives his life in sacrifice to others, refusing to living for himself and his own pleasures.  It is this kind of soldier that in the end, will bring peace to the world.  As we sing in our great hymn, “Lead On, O King Eternal:”

Lead on, O King Eternal,
Till sin’s fierce war shall cease,
And holiness shall whisper
The sweet amen of peace;
For not with swords’ loud clashing,
Or roll of stirring drums;
With deeds of love and mercy
The heav’nly kingdom comes.

This is how the Christian conquers the world.  He conquers it in the way his Lord conquered it.  Not in organizing an army and killing all those who disagreed with him.  No, the Christian triumphs through holiness, love, meekness, mercy, and forgiveness.  Though the rest of the world may look upon those characteristics as weakness, it is through these means that we conquer the world.

It is very difficult to continue Christ’s faithful soldier to the end.  It is very challenging to live a sacrificial life of holy obedience.    And that is why we bring this child today to be baptized.    Today he is given new life.  Today, the Holy Spirit is given to him.    We will pray for him, that all sinful affections may die in him and that all things belonging to the Spirit may live and grow in him, and that he would endued with heavenly virtues.    What a wonderful thing that at the beginning of his life, all these things will be implanted within in him and will have the opportunity to grow and flourish in his life!

Of course, one of the most important things that happens to him today is that he becomes a member of Christ’s Church.  He will have Godparents, those who take vows for him and take vows to do certain things for him.   The Church is God’s armory through which they are equipped, through the word, sacraments, prayer, and discipline, to fight the Lord’s battle.   All this is done so that he might continue Christ’s faithful soldier unto his life’s end.

What a privilege we have today of seeing a new soldier enrolled in the army of the Lord.  And as we look upon this baptism today, let us think back upon our own baptisms, and recall that when we were baptized we also became soldiers of Christ.  Have we been ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified?  Have we failed to soldiers of purity and love?  If so, let us use this occasion today to renew our baptismal covenant and ask for grace that from this day forward, we would fight manfully under his banner.

Amen.

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Baptismal Sermon

This sermon was preached on August 29, 2009 by Father Toms at St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Baton Rouge.

The audio of sermon is here available.

Soon we will have the text uploaded here.

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