Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost: July 9, 2017

Rev’d Mark B. Stirdivant, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Yucaipa, California
✝ sdg ✝

15th Anniversary

15th Anniversary of Pr. Stirdivant’s ordination

Infant Baptism is pretty difficult to grasp for some Christians. You’ve maybe heard something like, “Young children don’t know what’s going on. There’s no way they can understand the Christian faith. They can’t be expected to make a ‘personal commitment’ to Jesus.” They may go on to say, “No one should be Baptized until they’ve ‘grown up’ enough to ‘decide for themselves’ whether or not they want to believe in Christ and belong to a church.” When you first hear it, all this sounds logical. I need to know what and why I believe, right?

What does Jesus say? Does He say, “Let the grownups come to Me, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these?” Does He say, “Unless you mature and become like an adult, you’ll never enter into the Kingdom of God?” Of course not! Rather, at every opportunity your Lord shows that little children are the model and example, not of action, certainly they’re not the example of pure innocence, but an example of faith – and that anyone who doesn’t receive His Kingdom like a little child will by no means enter into it. In our Gospel today, Jesus praises the Father for revealing His blessed Gospel to little children – even to infants – and not to wise and learned people. What this means is that in regard to your faith you must become like a helpless little child if you’re to have any hope of entering into God’s Kingdom!

In no time, babies grow up into strong, energetic kids, but at the very first they are utterly helpless on their own. Twenty-four hours a day someone has to do absolutely everything for them – feeding, clothing, cleaning, holding, rocking, or soothing them. And if these things aren’t done correctly, soon the baby would die! Even the infants themselves seem to sense their own helplessness. Consider how a newborn baby automatically searches for his or her mother’s nourishment and soon after birth clings for dear life to the parents whom God has provided for him or her.

You see, that’s where you and I stand in relation to our heavenly Father every day of our life. And that’s true for everyone – whether they will acknowledge God as Creator or not. God makes the rain to fall and the sun to shine on all people – even as He gives them each day their daily bread. As Christians, of course, we recognize God’s gracious hand in all of this. We realize that He has done absolutely everything for us – or else we would die. We look to Him for all we need to support this body and life.

Unfortunately, our sinful human pride often rejects this work of God. That’s why we frequently insist on trying to make it on our own – as we stubbornly make our personal declaration of independence from God and everyone else. All of us are well-aware of how notorious the macho men are for not wanting to ask directions – or for not wanting to go to a doctor when they should. And I’m sure you can find examples of how women can be just as fiercely independent and stubborn in their own way, though I won’t mention any now. All of us take a certain pride in going it alone – in standing our ground against all odds – in being our “own person.” Eventually, however, we reach a point where we realize we aren’t going to make it on our own, no matter how hard we try. Actually, the more you try, the worse it gets! We’re again reduced at that moment to “infancy” in the face of something we simply can’t handle or control. Have you reached that point recently?

It’s the point when God – as He uses the trials of this life – drives you back to Himself and reduces you once again to a child-like, helpless state, it’s then that He reveals Himself to you in Christ and brings you into His Kingdom. Then, “like newborn babies” you hunger and thirst for the precious Word, Body and Blood of Christ your Lord as if they were your mother’s milk. That’s what faith is – a simple trust in Christ – like the trust an infant has in his or her parents. Seek all things from your heavenly Father, in and through Christ your Lord, and rely solely on Him for all you need – for this life, and for the life to come.

Remember the story of Jesus and Nicodemus in the Gospel of John? Nicodemus was actually much closer to the truth than he could ever have known. He was being either sarcastic or was utterly dumbfounded when he asked Jesus: “Can a full-grown man enter again into his mother’s womb, in order to be born again?” Well, yes, in a sense. Jesus told him, “You must be born again and become like a newborn child.” But the womb Jesus spoke of isn’t the physical womb of an earthly mother. Rather, you know it as the womb of the Church and the font of Holy Baptism. For just as the Church is described in the Bible as the Holy Bride of Christ, so also is She described as the Mother of all Christians, like in Galatians 4:26. And in the baptismal font, is where She gives new birth to the children of God. The font you pass as you leave today, that’s where you have received this Kingdom like little children – for that’s precisely what you become here, over and over again in absolution.

Regrettably, though, there’s a negative side to childishness, one that’s not so good to model – that innate mischievous disobedience which causes you to try and crawl out from under the care and supervision of your heavenly Father. Much like restless toddlers or teenagers you rebel from time to time, looking again for “freedom” and “independence” from God. And so you push the boundaries of His authority over you. You find yourself testing the limits to see what and how much you can get away with. You keep striving for that feeling of independence – always wanting to “grow up” and make it on your own – to feel as if you’re actually able to stand by yourself on your own two feet.

And when that happens – that is, when you fail to recognize and seek God’s gracious preservation – when you stop looking to Him for all things necessary to body and soul – when you think you’ve made it – that you’re finally “wise” and “learned” – that’s precisely when the Gospel becomes hidden to you. That’s when Jesus has to invite you once again to come to Him for rest and safety. And He does it gladly, because He knows that if you continue in the false belief that everything, including matters of
the heart, depends on the sweat and labor of your own two hands, you will one day wear yourself down and burn out – both physically and spiritually!

You may feel that you run carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders, but Christ isn’t going to let you go unnoticed. He isn’t going to just write you off. He’s always going to come after you to rescue you from fatal disaster. He’s always going to seek you out and bring you back to the Father. And of course, your loving heavenly Father will always welcome you back home with love and forgiveness. He’ll remind you that you’re His child, and urge you to receive His Fatherly, divine care and mercy. When you recognize the Fatherly hand of God in this way, then you can live your life and go about your work with joy and confidence, knowing that He’s taking care of you, and that come what may, He’s always going to be with you.

That’s why living the Christian life isn’t a heavy burden for those who understand that Christ’s already given us Himself and all good things – including forgiveness, life, and salvation – freely, and with no strings attached. His yoke isn’t just some other burden you have to bear, but it’s a joyful privilege and you share in His life. For the Lord is no cruel Taskmaster, but a gentle Savior. He didn’t make you His child so He could then enslave you and put you to work, but so you might live freely as a member of His household and family. It’s true that the yoke of Christ might at times seem heavy and burdensome, that is, until one of those moments when you find yourself thinking about the possibility of facing life without your faith – without the presence and power of our Lord and Savior. It’s true that there are some who manage to drag themselves through life without Jesus – and at times it seems they’re doing OK without Him – but most of you realize you couldn’t even drag yourself out of bed in the morning, if it weren’t for the hope and confidence that Christ was going with you every step of the way.

That’s why the Gospel we heard today is such great joy and comfort – for it not only reminds you of God’s desire to govern all things according to His gracious will, but it also speaks to you of God’s great gentleness and tenderness toward you in Christ. And on this day you see Christ, the obedient Son of the Father, who humbled Himself unto death, like a sheep being led to the slaughter, as He tenderly invites you to lay all your cares upon Him. He is a gentle Savior caring for His children – inviting you who are weary and burdened to come to Him for rest – so that He can once again make you like little infants, helpless, but fully cared for, as He cradles you gently in His arms, safe and sound forever.

In the Name of the Father and of the ✝ Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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