Satan, Baptism, Death, Oh my: June 25, 2023

June 27, 2023

 Year A, Pentecost 4                             Romans 6:1-11                                                                                

we are not fortunate enough to have a reading coincide with baptismal
themes.  For instance, if you were
listening when I read the Gospel, you probably found that language about setting
a man against his father and a daughter against her mother less than appealing
for a baptism. I read that and thought, well that’s a horrible text for a
baptism.  I mean, I could probably find
some connections if I tried really hard, but it would have been a stretch. I
was relieved when I saw that Romans actually talked about baptism because that
meant I had a legitimate reason to choose Romans rather than the Gospel.  Then I read Romans carefully and I was sad
again…because it’s a complicated reading. 
It was a real roller coaster of emotions for me.   Our readings rotate on a three year cycle
and coincide with whatever is going on in the church year. It’s called the
lectionary.  It’s inconvenient at times
to have such limited flexibility in terms of what we hear on Sunday.  At the same time, it means that our Bible
reading is uncensored in some respects.  The
preacher can’t just choose the safe readings.           

always like to go through the baptismal liturgy line by line when I meet with
the parents and godparents of the child about to be baptized.  We have a saying in the Episcopal Church—that
praying shapes believing.  In others
words, what and how we pray shapes and in some ways shows what we believe.   If you
read our whole baptismal liturgy, you will get a really wonderful overview of
what we believe in the Episcopal Church. That said, there are a few places when
it’s obvious to me that Iose the parents and godparents.  The first is when we talk about renouncing
Satan. Obviously, no one is interested in approving of Satan, but people are
confused as to why we are talking about Satan during a baptism when we don’t
talk about it in any other worship service. 
I will come back to that.

2nd place in the liturgy where I see people squirm a little is in
the section called “Thanksgiving over the water,” specifically when we talk
about what the water symbolizes and the role water has played in critical
moments in the Judeo-Christian story.  We
say, “In it we are buried with Christ in his death.”  Now you see why I was so excited that we had
this reading from Romans today.  #1—this
is proof that the Book of Common Prayer is based on the Bible.  #2. We get to see that some of what we
believe about baptism comes directly from the Apostle Paul.  In our reading from today, he wrote,
“Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death…” I know what you
are thinking, well now it all makes perfect sense. Obviously, this is why we
talk about death when we are baptizing an adorable baby. No?  Not yet clear?  Well that’s ok, because that’s what I want to
talk about. I am going to tell you why death in this context…is good news.

Paul, the death he was talking about was a figurative death.  It was and is dying to sin.  It’s the idea that sin no longer has control
over us because Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice when he died for us.  When he died for us, he was wiping the slate
clean for all God’s people.  This is a
major tenant of our faith but one that I think a lot of modern Christians struggle
with.  Why did Jesus have to die in order
that we might live? I am not sure.  Tomes
of theology books are written on the topic, but I am not yet convinced as to why
it had to be that way.  What I know is
that Jesus died because it was the only way for him to be the person God called
him to be. His goodness, his divinity, offended the people in power. He wasn’t
willing to back down.  He wasn’t willing
to be someone else.  So they killed him.

sacrifice, that determination to be his authentic self, allowed Jesus to show
his love to people who were hell bent on rejecting him.  It’s what separated him from the false
messiahs, of which there were many.  It
was a demonstration of such immense love, that it broke the chains that
enslaved God’s people.  It allowed God’s
people to be free from sin.  It’s what I
talked about last week—it’s grace. It’s the free gift that we didn’t deserve
or know we needed. 

that mean that now we are all sin free? 
Clearly not. We all know that we sin. 
However, what makes us free is not that we never sin, but that sin
doesn’t define us.  It’s part of who we
are, but it’s not all of who we are.  One
of the last things we do in the baptismal service is anoint the individual with
oil and proclaim, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as
Christ’s own forever.”  Baptism is about
a new identity, it’s an identity where you can truly be yourself because you
are created to be good and loving. You are created to love others and to love
God and you can do that because you have gone through this figurative death.

Edie is young.  While she certainly has
character and her own unique identity, no one would label her as a sinner in
need of redemption.  At the same time,
sin is inevitable and this baptism gives her freedom to always be defined not
by her faults or sins, but by the grace that God has given her.  It’s the job of the parents, godparents,
family and all the people in the church to remind her that her identity as a
baptized child of God is steeped in goodness, and that is a goodness that can
never be taken away.

Photo by Jon Tyson 

back to the devil thing.  Why do we
renounce the devil in baptism? I think it’s to remind us that while we have
been freed from sin, sin is still a relentless foe.  Evil is around us.  We can’t ignore it.  But we also can’t internalize it.  We can’t let it fester in our souls.  We must remember that evil is the enemy and
it has to be renounced because our identity as children of God is goodness and
light. Again, that doesn’t mean we are perfect. It means that we not defined by
our imperfections.  We are
defined—no—we are loved—by a God who refused to let the evil of this world
change his identity. No matter what God’s people did, God’s reaction was to
forgive and to love.  That was true when
Jesus died and rose again.  It’s still
true today.  God is a God of love and
forgiveness and we who worship that God, we are people of love and forgiveness
as well.