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Gifts of Baptism
May 5, 2019, 12:00 AM

Grace and peace to you from the triune God. May the words on my lips and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to God.

If you appreciate sitting here this morning, I want you to take a moment to thank Paul but remember to also thank Peter. What we did not read this morning is what led to the revelation that the gentile, or non Jew, could become a member of the body of Christ. Peter had a vision about not calling anything that God had made profane or unclean. This then references back to Genesis 1 & 2 in my mind that everything and in this case, more importantly, all human beings are made in the image of God. While Peter is having this vision Cornelius, a centurion of the Roman Guard, from the Italian Cohort we are told, is sent to Peter to have a conversation and to become part of the body of Christ. The Vision, The Centurion coming to Peter and the conversation these two had led pretty directly to the understanding that the gospel message about Jesus was for all of humanity, not just for the chosen people or the Jewish people if you prefer.

Between the moment before today's reading with Peter and Paul's Damascus road experience the church found itself in a moment of change, expanding its inclusiveness for the first time from Jewish people only to Gentile people as well. I will note that even at that time it did lead to a debate among the church elders, which ultimately led to Paul evangelizing the Gentile and Peter working to maintain the church in Jerusalem, but I digress. We are here at this moment in today's reading when Peter says, “ ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all.” and so we see the church change its trajectory to become far more inclusive.

Peter continues the above commentary with a witness to the basics of our belief. That Jesus came to live among us with truth and power, empowered by the Holy Spirit and his deeds of power, healings, suppression of the devil, and generally being a do good person all pointed to God being with him. This being true did not stop the powers of the time and especially the religious powers of the time from “hanging him on a tree” or as we know it better hanging him on a cross. However Jesus did not remain dead but was raised on the third day from the dead, only to appear to those he had discipled to give them instruction that they might go out and share the message with others. At the core of this message was one important truth, that belief in Jesus led to forgiveness of sins or if you prefer forgiveness of those things which separate you from God.

An amazing thing happened that day. Those in the hearing of Peter had their hearts opened to the message. In fact what we read is that those in his hearing, the Holy Spirit fell upon them. Other believers who were with Peter, people of circumcision, another way to say Jewish people, were amazed that God would give the Holy Spirit to a gentile. Yet here it was and the evidence was incontrovertible that these people had heard the message of salvation through Christ and received the Holy Spirit and thus we know that God was calling them as well. We see Peter then saying, “‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’” to which the obvious answer is, of course not.

Now I want to stop for just a second and point out how God works in the ways that God wants. We teach in the Lutheran church, as the church has for most of history that like Jesus we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit in our baptism. The gift of the Holy Spirit is one of the gifts we get in baptism and yet God does as God sees fit and sometimes works things out of order and this is one of those moments. Here we are and these people have heard the Good News, believed the Good News and received the gift of the Holy Spirit and thus, we will not withhold baptism. And so we understand they were baptized that day.

This is not the only immediate baptism that we see in the bible. Jesus came to the river and after a short discussion with John was baptized. The Ethiopian Eunuch had a discussion and after it was clear he was a believer asked to be baptized and was immediately. Then there was that group of Jews who heard the message on Pentecost and among them were baptized 3000 just that day. There was not catechism class, there was not a time of preparation, there was no solid litmus test just the question of do you believe and then baptism. And while this is not our usual way and quickly became not the usual way in the early church, we do still have provision in our rites for baptism in emergency situations which creates the opportunity to baptize people and then bring them to the church to introduce them to the body. I will also note that while we retain baptism to clergy ordinarily for the “sake of good order” it is still valid if a lay person performs the baptism. But I digress.

The people in the hearing of Peter received the message and then received the Holy Spirit and then received Baptism and were thus joined to the body of Christ, also known at the church. These were the first Gentiles to join the church and paved the way so that we, non Jewish people, might receive the message of salvation, baptism and the gifts of forgiveness of that which separated us from God, the promise of eternal life, and the Holy Spirit to accompany us in our daily living. And what an awesome gift we have received in our baptism, for most of us many years ago.

Today is a special day for me. We are going to baptize Zane this morning. While most of our baptisms are of infants not everybody on earth is baptized as an infant and in fairness more recently it has been infants and children but this mornings baptism will be of an adult. Adult baptism is the same baptism except the person has had the opportunity to declare their faith themselves and to acknowledge its significance to them in a way that infants are not capable of verbalizing and so we continue the work started nearly 2000 years ago. We continue the work of preaching the word and message we first received about salvation and forgiveness of sin through belief in Jesus Christ and then baptizing the believers. We continue the work of spreading the Gospel message of love to a world in need.