Beginning to End
Rev. Kurt Lantz Trinity 22 Philippians 1:3-11
November 04, 2023 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
Dear “saints in Christ Jesus... with the bishops and deacons,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:1-2)
You were not there to see it, but do you think baby Kyo got himself out of bed this morning and washed himself and made himself a nice breakfast, before dressing himself and driving himself to church this morning? Did you see baby Kyo crawl up to the baptismal font this morning and climb up to the top? Did you see him scoop up some water and pour it on his own head? Did you hear him say the words of Jesus: I baptize you “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19)?
There was more going on that baby Kyo could not do for himself. He could not forgive his own sins, and yet they have been forgiven. He could not save himself from death, and yet he has been saved. He could not rescue himself from the devil, and yet he has been redeemed. He could not grant himself eternal salvation and yet it has been granted to him.
Kyo is dependent upon those who love him to wash him and feed him and dress him and do all of the things that he cannot do for himself. He has loving parents and a big brother and sister to help him. Kyo, and all of us, are dependent upon someone who loves us to do for us the things we cannot do for ourselves, and that includes those things that were done for us at the baptismal font.
God who is full of love and mercy for us has washed away our sins, rescued us from death and the devil and given eternal salvation to us in Holy Baptism. He instituted this Sacrament for the salvation of all without specifying age or ability. He attached His promise of forgiveness, life, and salvation, rebirth, renewal, and resurrection to this means of grace. And if you are baptized, you can be sure that the God of love and mercy has done these things for you.
No matter how old you are or how developed your body and mind have become, these are things that you cannot do for yourself. You may be able to feed and dress yourself now, but you cannot free yourself from sin, you cannot save yourself from death, you cannot rescue yourself from the devil. You may be able to drive yourself to church and to work, but you cannot work off your sins or drive the devil out of you. Like the servants in the Gospel reading, your only hope is for the master to forgive the insurmountable debt and keep you out of prison (Matthew 18:21-35).
We all face sin, death, and the devil like little Kyo. We are incapable of conquering these things. We are weak and helpless in the face of these things. We can only wail and cry and wave our arms and kick our legs. But none of that does anything toward our salvation. Yet what God has done for Kyo in the baptism you just witnessed He has done or wants to do for you. He “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
The truth is that your sins are repaid only by death and the shedding of your blood. If you were to pay for just one of them you would be dead, forever, that’s it. And there are many more than just one. By this time in your life the number of sins far surpasses the amount of any servant’s debt to his master. And that only takes care of the problem of actual sins that have been expressed in your thoughts, words, and actions. You have another problem. Sin infects your whole being. Sin rages like a virus through your very nature. Ever since Adam and Eve first turned away from the Word of God to heed the words of Satan (Genesis 3), that infection has corrupted all of their descendants, including you, before you could ever feed or dress yourself, and it continues in you now.
But in our Epistle Reading today, we have a great and wonderful statement of encouragement, strength, and joy. St. Paul, at the very beginning of his letter to the Christians in Ephesus, wrote: “I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion in the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). He began a good work in you at your baptism. He has begun a good work in Kyo today at his baptism. And He is not satisfied to just have one little injection of His grace and mercy and love. He will continue to pour out His grace upon Kyo and you for the rest of your lives.
This should inspire us to join with St. Paul in giving thanks to God for what He has done for Kyo today and for us on the day of our Baptism, just as He did for the Christians in Philippi in the first century. And as All Saints Day has just passed in the Church Calendar, we are remembering to thank God for the grace He has poured out upon all of His people throughout history, whom He made holy in this precious Sacrament.
None of us could have done it for ourselves. St. Paul could not have done it for Himself. He was blinded and headed off in an entirely different direction. We remind ourselves of our inability to play a part in our salvation, by quoting the words of Jesus at every Baptism: “Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it” (Mark 10:15).
Still we always want to take the credit for ourselves, so it is a great temptation for us to think that we played a part in some way, that we made some decision, some commitment, some act of will in order to choose God or to seal the deal in some fashion. The Scriptures are always telling us that before God has mercy on us we are blind, deaf, and even dead in our trespasses and sins. We are more helpless than tiny infants. God’s grace poured out in Holy Baptism illustrates that for us. No matter how old we are when we are baptized, God is at work as if on a helpless infant, or a lost blind man, or a dead corpse. He speaks a word of promise and salvation over us as He spoke over the dark, deep, chaos when He created the world (Genesis 1:3).
St. Paul’s prayer rightly expressed his thanks to God for His monergistic work upon the Christians in Philippi, and he also prayed that the same God would continue His work in them so that their love would abound more and more in knowledge and discernment. And indeed the apostle could pray with confidence that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion in the day of Jesus Christ.”
God’s grace to us in Holy Baptism is not a one day event. Part of our celebration of this day for Kyo is to rejoice that this is only a beginning, and not a beginning that he will have to finish off. It is a beginning of the work of his loving heavenly Father in his life. God will continue to be at work through His Word every time Kyo hears it in church and at home, every time he hears you read him a Bible story and every time he hears you sing a psalm. The God who gave Him new birth by water and the Spirit will increase His gift of love with knowledge and discernment as you reference God’s Word in your prayers and as you quote the Scriptures in the hymns and liturgy that you sing.
That is what your loving heavenly Father has been doing in your life all along. Every time you have heard His Word He has been at work increasing your love for Him and for your neighbour, with all knowledge and discernment. He has been teaching you to discern your sins and to know that you can ask Him for forgiveness and mercy. He has been enabling you to forgive those who have sinned against you by revealing His mercy extended toward you in Jesus Christ. He has been teaching to pray “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” and to believe that that is the way it is happening all of the time in our lives as His baptized saints.
We cannot take credit for any of this, not for how much we pray, or for how much we read the Bible, or for how strong our faith is, or for how much we love our neighbour. All of it is the work of God alone, constantly working the new life that He has given to us in our Baptism. “Do you not know that all of us who have baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by Baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).
All the glory and praise are due to God “who began a good work in us and will bring it to completion in the day of Jesus Christ.” Thank God for that. It does not depend on our abilities, strengths, or skills. It depends on the continuing work of the one who Baptized us into His name. As long as we are not cut off from His Word, He continues to work in us. We put up an awful great fuss about it at times. We even kick and scream because we would rather do things for ourselves.
But thank God He doesn’t leave our eternal salvation in our own hands. It is too important, precious, and fragile for that. Instead, He continues to hold us in His hand, until Jesus Christ comes again with all of His saints and we stand together before Him, beholding the loving face of the One who gave Himself so that we could be His own.
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your Spirit” (Philippians 4:22).