Affirming our baptism

On this Pentecost Day in the congregation I serve, a young man formally and for the first time publicly affirmed the vows of Christian faith that were made for him at his baptism. It was also a day when all of those gathered affirmed their faith in the words of one of the historic confessions of the Church. And it was a time to hear again one of the Church’s earliest baptismal sermons, one St. Peter probably preached many times on occasions like this, that was adapted for inclusion in what we’ve come to know as the first letter of Peter (1 Pet. 1:3–4:11). I’ve abridged and altered it from Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase, The Message. It’s a sermon all Christians would do well to hear regularly and take to heart anew.

What a God we have, and how fortunate we are! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven – and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all – life healed and whole.

There’s reason to feel great about this, even though you have to put up with every kind of trial and aggravation in the meantime. Pure gold put in the fire is proven pure, and genuine faith put through suffering is proven genuine. In the end, what will be on display as evidence of God’s victory won’t be what you possess, it will be the faith that possesses you. Because you believe, you’ll get what you’re looking forward to: a whole and life-giving relationship with God, with others, and with all creation.

So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, and be ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Christ is born again in you. Don’t be lazy and slip back into those old broken ways of living, doing just what you feel like doing. You didn’t know any better then, but you do now. Let yourselves be drawn into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. Like God said, “I am holy; you be holy.”

You call out to God for help, and God helps you, like a good parent. But don’t forget, God is also a responsible parent and won’t let you get by with sloppy living. God freed you from the dead-end, empty-headed life the world teaches. God always knew this new life would be yours. It’s because of our Messiah Jesus, whom God raised from the dead and glorified, that you know you have a future in God.

Now that you’ve reshaped your lives by following the truth, love one another as if your lives depend on it. Your new life is not like your old life. Your old birth came from flesh that passes away; your new birth comes from the Word of God that lives forever. That’s why the prophet said, “The old life is like grass, its beauty as short-lived as wildflowers. Grass dries up, flowers fade, but God’s Word goes on and on forever.” This is the Word that created new life in you.

So clean house! Rid your lives of malice and pretense, envy and hurtful talk. Like infants at the breast, drink deeply of God’s pure kindness. Then you’ll grow up mature and whole in God. You’ve tasted God and know God is good. Now embrace Christ, the living Stone, the source of life, on which God builds a new temple. The workers took one look and threw out that living Stone, but God set it in the place of honor. Offer yourselves as stones for the construction of a new sanctuary vibrant with life, in which you’ll serve as holy priests.

You’ve been chosen by God, chosen to be a holy people, instruments to do God’s work and speak out for God, spokespersons to tell others of the night-and-day difference God made for you. Once you were nothing, now you’re something; once you were rejected, now you’re accepted.

Friends, the world you see is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul. Be an example among your neighbors so they see there’s another way to live, a way that is truly life giving. Then they’ll be won over and be there to join in the celebration when Christ arrives in the fullness of glory.

Make God proud of you by being good citizens. Respect the authorities, whatever their level; they are God’s instruments for keeping order. Exercise your freedom by serving God, not by breaking the rules. Treat everyone you meet with dignity. Love your spiritual family. Revere God. Respect the government.

If you have a job that’s lowest in the order of things, do that job the best you can. Be good workers, not just to good employers, but also to bad ones. What counts is that, when you’re treated badly for no good reason, you put up with it for God’s sake. There’s no virtue in accepting punishment that you deserve. But if you’re treated badly for good behavior and continue in spite of it to be a good servant, that is what counts with God.

This is the kind of life you’ve been invited into, the kind of life Christ lived. He suffered everything that came his way so you’d know it could be done, and also know how to do it. He never did one thing wrong, not once said anything disrespectful. They called him every name in the book and he said nothing back. He suffered in silence, content to let God set things right.

Whoever wants to embrace life and see the day fill up with good, here’s what you do: Say nothing evil or hurtful; turn away from evil and cultivate good; run after peace for all you’re worth. God looks on all this with approval. If you’re doing good with heart and soul, do you think you can be stopped? Even if you suffer for it, you’re still better off. So don’t give the opposition a second thought.

Through thick and thin, keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ. Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy. Keep a clear conscience before God so that when people throw mud at you, none of it will stick. It’s better to suffer for doing good, if that’s what God wants, than to be punished for doing bad.

That’s what Christ did definitively: suffered because others’ lives were broken, the Righteous One for the unrighteous ones. He went through it all – was put to death and then made alive – to bring us to God. The waters of baptism do that for you, not by washing away dirt from your skin but by presenting you before God with a clear conscience.

Since Jesus went through everything you’re going through and more, learn to think like him. Think of your sufferings as a liberation from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. Then you’ll be free to pursue what God wants instead of being held captive by what you want.

You’ve already put in your time in your old way of life. Now it’s time to be done with it for good. Of course, your old friends won’t understand why you don’t join in with the old gang anymore. But you don’t have to give an account to them. They’re the ones who will have to give an account to God.

Listen to the Message. Everything in the world is about to be wrapped up, so take nothing for granted. Stay wide-awake in prayer. Most of all, love each other as if your life depends on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless – and do it cheerfully. Be generous with whatever God gave you, sharing your gifts freely with everyone: if words, let them be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be known in everything through Jesus, and he’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything – from now to the end of time. Amen!

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