• Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

Waters of Baptism - Grace is not our doing

Vacation Bible Worship, week 1 of 1 Two-week series for the children on Baptism and Communion

Preached June 21, 2020 for the 9:30am Virtual Worship


Context

Later in the Bible, after all the stories of Jesus, there’s a letter written from someone, a pastor maybe, to some people in a church. It talks about some of the same things we’ve been learning about today.


I’m using my own paraphrase and some lines from another paraphrase called “The Message” this morning, to help us hear it better. Let’s listen for the word of the Lord from…


Scripture Ephesians 2:1-10

2:1-6 It wasn’t so long ago that yall were stuck in that old stagnant life of sin. Yall let the (corrupted) world, which doesn’t know the first thing about really living, tell you how to live. You breathed in polluted dis-beliefs, and then exhaled dis-obedience. We all did it, all of us, doing whatever we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us drowning in the same flood waters. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose God’s temper and wash us all away, the whole lot of us.


Instead, this God, who is so forgiving and so abounding in love for us, this God came to us, reached out and grabbed us. God took our sin-drenched lives and gave us CPR, brought us back to new life in Christ. And God did all this because of what God believes about us, not because of what we believe about God. God lifted us from those chaotic waters and placed us on solid brown, in a holy community right beside Jesus of Nazareth, our Messiah.


7-10 And finally God has us where God always wanted us to be, with all the time in this world and the next to reveal God’s grace and grow kindness among us because of Christ Jesus. This saving is all God’s idea, and all God’s work. All we can do is trust God will do it, and then follow along as God keeps on doing it for others. It’s always been and always will be a gift from God. We don’t even get a speaking part in this play. If we did, we’d try to steal the show from God, and brag about what a essential part we played. No, we don’t save ourselves with our words, actions, or beliefs any more than we create ourselves. God does both the creating and the saving. And God created each of us in Christ Jesus, so God will save us in Jesus and join us to Jesus in the work of building holy community, the good work he’s been doing and been getting ready for us to do. So we should probably get to work doing it with him.


(This is the word of the Lord… Thanks be to God!)


Sermon

I want to try to teach you something that is very hard to understand. Its hard for everyone. As I get older, I’m finding it both easier and harder to understand. I find older people sometimes have a harder time understanding it than younger people. And this scripture we just read today, is a part of it. So let me do my best to give it to you as a gift. Perhaps over the rest of your life, you might remember it and hold onto it if you ever need it.


There are two parts to what I want you know. They are both true, but they don’t sound like they can both be true at the same time. I want to tell you, they are always both true.


Here’s the first one. It matters very much what you believe, and then what you do and say from that belief. In church, when we talk about Jesus, we might says things like we have to believe, or trust, or have faith in God. In scripture, it will say things like our words and actions matter, and they come from what we believe, our faith, and God knows our true faith, our beliefs, by listening to our words, and watching our actions. Yes, all of that is true. It matters very much what we believe, and then what we say and do from those beliefs.


Now, here’s the second part. Its also completely fully true, even if it sounds like it can’t be because of the first part. It doesn’t matter at all what we believe, or what we say or do. We were created by God and called very good by God, and given by God the ability to make some choices and decisions. We, human beings, don’t use that power to choose, to believe and act and speak, in a way that looks like God. Sometimes we make a terrible choice, a terrible decision. Sometimes, the people who came before us taught us terrible things, and we still believe them. Sometimes, others around us will do terrible things, and we will do nothing or say nothing to stop them. God knows this about us, our weakness to be all the good we were created to be. But God loves us anyway.


In the story of Noah, God got so mad and frustrated with us, God washed us all away. When God looked back on that, God said never again, and put the rainbow in the sky as a promised to never wipe us away because of our beliefs, words, or actions.


God knew our faith, our belief wasn’t enough. God knew our words and actions would never bring about God’s holy community on earth. We would be stuck making the same mistakes over and over again.


So God did something amazingly unimaginable. God sent God’s own self into our world, and believed for us, in us, where we couldn’t. God spoke the words and did the deeds we are too afraid or broken to say or do. We couldn’t bring God’s kingdom to earth like it is in heaven. So God in Jesus brought God’s heaven to earth.


With this God, its not about our faith, our words, our works. Its all about God’s words in Jesus the Christ, God’s works in Jesus the Messiah, God’s faithfulness in Jesus of Nazareth. We are no longer judged by God against our own faith, our words or works. We are now judged by God through Jesus’ faith, Jesus’ faithfulness which was so pure and perfect, it was enough to pay in advance for all the mistakes of all humankind for all eternity.


Does this mean we can believe whatever we want, do or say whatever we want? No. It means, we don’t have to worry, and we don’t get to brag about God’s love. We get to enjoy it and share it, because it came to us as a gift, and there’s enough of it to give away to everyone forever without losing any of it for ourselves.


So see, it matters very much what we believe, say, and do… and it doesn’t matter at all what we believe, say or do… but it matters very much what we believe say or do. And if anyone ever tries to tell you only one of those without also remembering and telling you the other… well, don’t believe em. With the God we know in Jesus Christ, both are always true.


To God be all glory and honor, now and forever. Amen.

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In 2002, I left my corporate career, and went to seminary. Since 2005, I've been serving churches, and trying to follow Jesus, and lead others in doing the same...

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