August 18, 2017 by jmar198013
Manuscript of my sermon for August 20, 2017. From an ongoing series: The water and the table: telling our story.
Text is Romans 6.1-11.
This sermon wouldn’t be possible without the following resources.
Fleming Rutledge’s 1999 Easter sermon, “A Way Out of No Way: An Easter Sermon.” In And God Spoke to Abraham: Preaching from the Old Testament, 77-82 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011. Rutledge was where I picked up the thematic connection between the Exodus and the saying, God makes a way out of no way, from the African American church tradition.
John Mark Hicks and Greg Taylor. Down in the River to Pray: Revisioning Baptism as God’s Transforming Work. rev. ed. (Abilene: Leafwood, 2004, 2010). Esp. for this sermon, 62-80. Hands down the best study of Believers Baptism I have ever read.
N. T. Wright. “The New Inheritance According to Paul.” NTWrightPage. June 1998. Accessed August 18, 2017. http://ntwrightpage.com/2016/04/05/the-new-inheritance-according-to-paul/.
An audio link is embedded below for those who’d like to listen.
This sermon series is called: The water and the table: telling our story.
I want the church to know that first and foremost, we’re people with a story to tell. Baptism—the water—and the Lord’s Supper—the table—are ways we tell and retell this wondrous story. They are how we learn and remember our story. God plunges us into this old, old story through baptism. That’s how we enter the story. And we feast on the story each time we eat the bread and drink from the cup of the Lord’s Supper. That’s a way the story enters us.
I’ve found that the African-American church tradition does a very good job of telling our good story in a simple turn of phrase. God makes a way out of no way. If you got nothing, God makes it something. When it seems impossible, God opens up new possibilities. When you can’t see any future, God shocks you with a future you never could have imagined. God makes a way out of no way.
In the Big Story of the Bible, there are two central stories that show us how God makes a way out of no way. The first is the Exodus—how God rescued a bunch of escaped slaves when they were caught between their pursuers and the Sea. And then there’s the story of Jesus—how God rescued his Son from death itself through resurrection. It didn’t look like there could be any good news coming out of these stories. But in both, God dramatically rescued them. God made a way out of no way.
In our reading from Romans 6 today, Paul combined the Exodus story with the death and resurrection of Christ. And he applied them directly to baptism. He said, Baptism makes those stories our story. Makes us a part of them. Plunges us into things God did in the past to give us a future.
The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, Paul says; tells the same kind of story the Exodus tells. And it brings us into that story. We were slaves, but God said us free. We were headed for death, and God gave us new life. God makes a way out of no way.
The Old Testament is built around the story of the Exodus. The Genesis story—the first book of the Bible—is its headwater. And the rest of the Bible flows forth from it. You might remember back in Genesis, God invited a man named Abraham on a life-long adventure. God promised to make a great nation from his offspring, to make the earth his inheritance, and bless all the nations of the world through him. Sin had had wounded God’s world and torn humanity apart. What God was actually doing was asking Abraham and his children to join with God in healing a broken world. When God called Abraham, God was working to open up a future for the world. Because sin and death seemed to have foreclosed on any hope for a future. God was making a way out of no way.
Abraham’s children, the Israelites, ended up in Egypt. There was four hundred years of radio silence from God. And in the meantime, Israel was brutally enslaved. The Pharaoh—Egypt’s emperor—tried his best to work them to death. And when he couldn’t quite do that, he started having their baby boys drowned in the Nile River. It sure looked like whatever future God had promised them had been foreclosed. There was no way out. No escape.
But then, God raised up a liberator in Moses. Through Moses, God met the Pharaoh in cosmic battle—sending judgment after judgment on the stubborn Pharaoh’s kingdom. With Egypt decimated and in a national day of mourning, the Pharaoh finally relented and let the people go. But a few days later it dawned on him that good help is hard to find. So he sent his army out as slave catchers, to trap the Israelites and bring them back to Egypt.
Israel was at the Sea of Reeds—your Bible probably calls it the Red Sea—when they heard the sound of war horses and chariots advancing from behind. They were trapped, with Pharaoh’s army on one side and the Sea on the other. Nowhere to go. No way out. Once again, it seemed like their future had been foreclosed on. It would be slavery and death for them. But God told Moses to lift his staff. And when he did, God split the Sea. God sheltered them under his glory cloud. And the people walked through the Sea, surrounded on all sides by water. (Clouds are, after all, made of water.) As they went in, Moses promised them: The Egyptians you see today you will never ever see again. The Lord will fight for you (Exod. 14.13-14).
And so it was. As soon as the Israelites had safely crossed, Moses lowered his staff, and the waters of the Sea crashed down on the Egyptians. And like the old spiritual says, Pharaoh’s army got drownded. The Lord rescued Israel from the Egyptians that day. Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore (Exod. 14.30). God had made them a way out of no way.
In 1 Cor. 10.1-2, Paul called the Exodus a baptism. Our ancestors were all … baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. God brought Israel out of bondage and into freedom; out of death and into life; by leading them on a journey through water. He claimed them as his own people and gave them a new future. He set them free from brutal slavery so they could serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness in God’s eyes, for as long as [they] live (Luke 1.74-75).
And according to Paul in our reading from Romans 6 today, that’s also what God does for us when we’re baptized into Christ. We’re rescued from slavery and death to serve God. We join with God through Christ in healing the wounded world. We are given a future when it seems our possibility for a future had been foreclosed on. Through baptism, God makes a way for us out of no way.
God raised up Moses to liberate Israel by an escape through the Red Sea. Likewise, God raised up Jesus to set us free as we cross through the Red Sea of his blood through baptism. Egypt represents our life in slavery, without hope, without a future, without any way out. Pharaoh represents the forces of sin and death which keep us enslaved. Jesus breaks their power by dying for us and rising again. Jesus defeated sin and death by his life, death, and resurrection; just as God defeated the Pharaoh and his army at the Sea.
I’ve been painting with broad strokes, so you can see how the story fits together. Baptism retells the story of the Exodus—God rescues us from slavery and death by a journey through the waters. And it retells the story of Christ’s death and resurrection—we are plunged into his death, and we come up with a new life. But we need to know what difference that makes. We need to learn how to tell the good news of what God has done for us in baptism. We need to know how to live out the story that baptism tells.
So I want to suggest three big things God does for us through baptism, using our reading from Romans 6 today. I didn’t come up with them. They’re from a wonderful study of baptism by John Mark Hicks and Greg Taylor called, Down in the River to Pray. I may develop these three ideas a bit differently than they have, but I agree that they’re essential to understanding our story, so we can tell it well and live it out faithfully.
First, in baptism, God gives us a new identity. I don’t just mean that baptism gives us a new life—though it does do that. I mean that baptism tells us who we are in terms of what God has done for us. Here’s what God told the Israelites he was doing for them through the Exodus: I’ll take you as my people, and I’ll be your God. You will know that I, the Lord, am your God, who has freed you from Egyptian forced labor (Exod. 6.7). And from the time they crossed the Sea, that was their identity. If you asked an Israelite who they were, they might say: I’m one of God’s people, because he rescued us from slavery in Egypt. They expressed their identity by telling the story of what God had done for them.
According to our readings today, who are we? What did God do for us in baptism? Well, we’re the ones who’ve been baptized into Christ. We were baptized into his death, and buried together with him through baptism. And just as God raised Jesus from the dead, we now have been raised to walk in newness of life. Baptism is our Exodus. Just as Israel was enslaved by Pharaoh, we were slaves to sin. And just like God freed them from Pharaoh’s power as they crossed through the Sea, we’ve been freed from sin’s power in the waters of baptism. Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the seashore, because God drowned them. God drowns our sin in the water of baptism. Your sins and your shame and your fears are now dead on the shore. God has freed you from your past.
But baptism doesn’t just give us a new identity that redeems our past. Baptism promises us that through Christ, God also redeems our future. We have hope in this life, and for an eternal life to come. Because our reading today says:
If we were united together in a death like his, we will also be united together in a resurrection like his … if we died with Christ, we have faith that we will also live with him.
Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of the end for death. God will put death in its grave. Death has no power over Jesus; and if you’re in Christ it has no power over you. Notice Paul said our resurrection will be like Jesus’. The risen Jesus has a body, and enjoyed fellowship with his friends until he went back to God. If our resurrection is like Jesus’ that means we can hope for a new body, and an eternity of fellowship and friendship with God and one another.
This new identity tells us what God has done, is doing, and will do for us. God has rescued us from sin, and the fear and shame that go with it; and God will rescue us from death forever. Our new identity is people who can say: God has already made us a way out of no way. Which is mighty helpful when feel trapped by the stuff of this life. When the Israelites faced hard times in the wilderness, they were often tempted to go back to Egypt. The circumstances of our lives might also tempt us to doubt God and turn back. When we lose our jobs. When a spouse abandons us. When our babies die in our wombs. When the doctor tells us it’s terminal. Baptism doesn’t wash away all the sorrows and terrors of life. But it does tell us that death doesn’t get the final word. And if death doesn’t get the final word, none of those other things do, either.
Second, God gives us a new ethic through baptism. An ethic is the basis of how you live your life. We can see this with Israel after the Exodus. For instance, God told the Israelites they could only keep a slave for six years, and had to release them on the seventh year. And they couldn’t send them away empty-handed, either. They had to provide them with whatever they needed to begin a new life. What was the basis for that? Remember how each of you were slaves in Egypt and how the Lord your God saved you (Deut. 15.15). They were supposed to free their slaves because God freed them from slavery, and didn’t send them out of Egypt empty-handed.
What is the basis for our new life according to our readings today? Paul said baptism puts us into Christ. We’re in Christ, united to Christ, walking with Christ. So it’s Jesus’ life that’s going to be the basis for our life. Baptism sets us free from sin and the fear of death so we can follow Jesus. Later on in Romans, Paul will call on baptized believers to do some difficult things. Like present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God (Rom. 12.1). Why? Because Jesus offered his life to God. And we live on the basis of his life. Paul’s going to say: Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions (Rom. 12.17) because that’s how Jesus lived.
But baptism promises we don’t have to live like this in our own power. Paul goes on to say God raised Jesus from the dead by the Holy Spirit. And he says the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you (Rom. 8.11). In baptism, we also receive the Holy Spirit who empowers us to live in ways that reflect Jesus’ life.
Third and finally, through baptism God gives us a new worldview. In baptism, God begins a new work in us, and we live with the hope and expectation that God is working to complete what he began. It’s easy to make this a self-centered way of looking at the world—thinking primarily about your own salvation. Notice Paul connects our baptism to Jesus, and then through the Exodus to Moses; and that connects the story all the way back to Abraham. The Exodus and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are all part of the story of God fulfilling his promises to Abraham. Baptism makes us part of Abraham’s family, heirs to those promises. Baptism puts us into the story of how God is working with Abraham’s children to deal with the sin that has torn humanity and wounded all of God’s good creation.
So it’s not just about you, or me, or us, and God completing the work in each of us as individuals he began in baptism. No, this is about God completing the good work he began in Abraham. Baptism plunges us into that Big Story. God is working to heal and restore all of creation, to bless all peoples, and to make the whole earth our inheritance. That’s the worldview we need to be working from. Paul will go on to say that just as we’ve been delivered from slavery to sin and death, so will all creation be delivered. God has planned an Exodus for all creation. Listen to what Paul says in Rom. 8.19-22:
The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens. All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. (MSG)
The baptized worldview says: Just like God has set me free through baptism, and I walk in newness of life; just like God rescued Jesus from death so that I can live in hope of resurrection; just like God rescued Israel from slavery to a death-dealing tyrant; all creation will be rescued, set free, and made new. That means, no matter how dark things get in this world, we always know that’s not the end of the story. God is working to set everything free, to renew all of his very good creation.
Between now and whenever God sets all creation free, we “still live in a world of bondage to sin, evil and death … The ways of Pharaoh still rule this age.”  But baptized people know; we tell the story; we live by the story; and we live out the story: God makes a way out of no way. That’s the good news we live by. That’s the good news we have for this world still living under the ways of Pharaoh. God makes a way out of no way is the hope we live by. God has set us free, given us a new life, and is renewing us. That shows us God’s future has already broken into our world now. We are the living proof.
 Rutledge, “A Way Out of No Way,” 82.