Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. You may be seated.
There was a beautiful phrase in this hymn where it says, “Christ, the herald of salvation, preaching mercy from the cross.” The reason I find that so profound is that in the midst of death there is mercy being bestowed to those who don’t deserve mercy. In the midst of His death for us who don’t deserve mercy does He bestow mercy and preach. It’s amazing.
The phrase, “How much longer, Doctor?” is about the march of death, and in this case the doctor said, “Two or three days.” I can’t even remember what kind of cancer this young 23-year-old had, but he was going to face his Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier in less than three days. He’d graduated from Seward up in Nebraska, the Concordia there, and was working not in church work but in art and graphic design in Kansas City. His daddy was a pastor and his momma was there and his brother and friends and also a lady who had an engagement ring on her finger who never would have the wedding band placed on at a wedding ceremony because he was going to die in two or three days.
With beady eyes does the march of death approach this young man’s life. Death is a very, very ugly thing. If you’ve ever seen death, it is a grotesque color that is painted upon our loved ones’ skin. Not pink and fleshly beautiful, but a gray and a blue. When your body cannot metabolize chemicals that your body naturally produces as waste product, it begins to come out in the breath and skin of someone who is dying, and it’s a horrible smell. The sound of death before it finally comes is typically the death rattle, the mucus and fluids that fill the lungs that can’t be expectorated.
I’ve held it in my hand as I’ve baptized a child. I’ve carried it in a coffin from the hearse to the graveside, this big. The reason I bring this up is because death is not pretty, and we’re able to by our own living in this world, in this country especially, to keep it at arm’s length, but we’re helpless toward it, and its march onward will come to us someday. That brings us to our liturgy of life. Not the liturgy we’re a part of here, but the liturgy of life because the liturgy of life leads to death not to life. But the liturgy of life, three words: Lord, have mercy.
If you scan the hymnal, you will find that word over and over and over again. You sang it when we began. You will sing it again at other parts of the liturgy, the Agnus Dei. “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us.” That is the liturgy that leads to life.
Now what does all this have to do with baptism because today is about Christ’s baptism in the River Jordan? Because it is here where Christ makes it explicitly clear that we are the objects of His mercy in our baptism. We have been set aside. We’ve been pulled out from the masses. We have been set apart and made His child. We have become the recipient of His mercy and adoption, and that is what has shaped you and me and what shapes our every day, which is why we have to continually be reminded about it, preach about it, and have it preached to us because there we become the object of His mercy.
But in our baptism which we love to think of as individualistic (which it is; it is your baptism), you were not just baptized for you and set apart, you were baptized and set into a family … a family. Not just flesh-and-blood family, but family as in who you are a part of right now, the visible body of Christ gathered around this bread and wine, His flesh and blood.
In fact, if you look at the Romans passage that pastor read, when he says about baptism, Paul does not say, “Do you not know that when you were baptized, you alone, you (singular), were baptized into Christ’s death?” It’s plural. Y’all, as we say in Texas. This plural means we’re not alone. We’ve been brought into a family, baptized with and into one another. Now that’s something we in this individualistic society of which we are a part fail to comprehend most of the time.
Unless you or I grew up in a large family, unless we have been shoulder to shoulder in a tent in the middle of the desert where you don’t have anybody else but the person next to you, or any other kind of group activity where your individuality is wiped clean and you become part of a body and it’s pounded into your head each day, you and I can quickly forget about being a part of a body and think only individualistically.
Being baptized into Christ means you’ve been baptized into the body of Christ. We share the same Daddy, the Father in heaven. He is our Father. He baptized you; He baptized me. Just as He said when He baptized His Son, “With My Son I am well pleased,” so He said about you, His son and His daughters, “With you My son, with you My daughter, I am well pleased,” and He knit us into a family.
We also share the same mother, the holy mother church, the one holy Christian and apostolic church. Now we quickly confess that that is invisible for we cannot see all who are a part of that one holy Christian and apostolic church, but you look beside one another because here’s where the visible revelation of the church is at. Though we cannot look into one another’s hearts, we are claiming by communing up here we are one together. We are part of the same body though we are markedly different on many levels. We share the same flesh and blood that was redeemed, that was baptized, that was nursed at the mother’s breasts as everyone else who gathers here.
But the march of death goes on, doesn’t it? As baptized children we still have to face that ugly, horrific thing known as death, but you and I have been given something, haven’t we? The march of mercy of which we’ve been a part since we were baptized. Being baptized into the body of Christ, the church, existed before we were ever born or created in our mother’s womb, and it will exist and go beyond our life in this world if God so wills it, if He doesn’t return to judge the living and the dead.
Because of that phenomenon, that mystery, of being a part of something that preceded us and will probably follow after us, we come to terms with this march of mercy that has been always along the same path as the march of death. The difference in this world is that many die only knowing the liturgy of death, but you and I know the liturgy of life. Lord, have mercy.
Each time we pray, “Let Thy kingdom come,” we’re praying for God’s march of mercy to be extended through His bride, the church, you and me. Now something you here at St. Paul have been supporting long before you were ever born was a school, and that school has proclaimed mercy to thousands of children who have lived and died long before you and I ever came onto the scene.
Faithful men and women have taught children in that school about the mercy they have received and showed it forth in their lives not just with words but with deeds. That is our number one mission opportunity of mercy, and we are a part of that, and we will continue to do that because of the blessings it provides and because it is a march of mercy to people’s lives in this life of liturgy of death.
But that’s not the only mission thing we’re a part of here where we extend God’s mercy. We’ve extended it to Christian brothers and sisters in Siberia, the Siberian Lutheran Church of which we have blessed and benefited with our offerings, prayers, and otherwise. By the way, they just were joined into fellowship with the Missouri Synod last month. Very exciting.
Our brothers and sisters in the poorest nation of the Western Hemisphere have received our goodness, the people of Haiti, the Lutheran Church of Haiti. A year after that decimating earthquake, and they’re still proclaiming that gospel in the midst of death. God be praised. That is a part of our extension of His mercy.
We did it to our brothers and sisters along the Gulf coast when the hurricane came through more than once. We’ve not forgotten the university that stood behind us, that came after St. Paul was started. We go out there every Sunday afternoon, pastor or I, to preach to those students who gather there and some adults who too because we want to extend the mercy you provide. Every time you bring someone into this place that has brought you mercy, they receive mercy. This building, this campus, and everything about it, that’s the march of mercy of which you’re a part of.
Now I cannot tell you about the things that you are involved as an individual. Those are beautiful things as well, but I can tell you this is what your body, your family is about. This is what we are all about in this family. Sadly, we’re tempted. Remember the story of the man whose sin affected himself, his beloved wife and children? This man’s sin in the Scriptures didn’t just become his little peccadillo, it was a sin that affected him and his wife and his children. He was brought before the king, and he could not pay the tremendous debt he owed the king, and because he got that debt, his wife would suffer and be thrown into jail, and his children would suffer and be thrown into jail because of his sin.
He begged for mercy from the king, and the king who had mercy to give because he was the king heard the cry for mercy and gave it to the man who did not deserve it. In giving it to the man gave it to his wife and to his children who by virtue of their being joined to him did not deserve it either. He left the king’s presence rejoicing.
But he was confronted with another one of his family members in the village, a fellow slave who also owed him money, and he forgot about the mercy that was given to him and his wife and children, and he withheld it from this man. That act of withholding mercy to that man affected the body. It affected the other servants. Those servants who knew this man’s debt, those same servants who knew this man’s forgiveness of that debt, and those same servants who saw this man not give mercy to someone who didn’t deserve it either, it upset the body of slaves in that village. No different than when you and I don’t show mercy. It affects the body of Christ here among us. Yes, we must repent.
As we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” we pray, “Lord, forgive us for not showing mercy, especially to those who have not shown us mercy.” It is the same.
It is we who have been washed by our mother in the waters of baptism and have been the object of God’s mercy. It is we who have been dawdled on our mother’s lap, having cooed into our ears the great gift, “You’re My son, you’re My daughter. With you I am well pleased.” We have nursed and drank and ate deeply at the family table where we proclaim, “We’re brothers! We’re sisters! We’re joined together as part of this body, sinful though we may be, lacking any desire or need for mercy at times, and desiring and needing it at other times.”
Because of that, we then care for and support and show mercy to each other in the pew, especially to those we don’t think deserve it because we need it from them even though they may think we don’t deserve it. Part of our giving has extended that to children who never became members here because they didn’t deserve it, because it was to be given to them. Same with the people in Siberia, in Haiti, along the Gulf coast, and out at Concordia, and everything else we do. We give that march of mercy and we continue on not because anyone deserves it, but because we have it to give, especially for those who are not a part of the family who need to be invited to the table.
Take for a moment to consider this. It is a daring thing for you and me to believe that because of the mercy received we can actually state to God, “We are wholly pleasing and wholly acceptable to You, God, because we’ve received Your mercy.” That’s a daring thing to believe and to proclaim, and yet we do. It is also a daring thing to live outside of ourselves with mercy and give it to other people not just with words, but with actions and deeds. Indeed a daring thing.
Our calling as God’s baptized children who are a part of our family? Our Father has said very clearly our calling is to serve the lowly and to be dispensers of God’s mercy as we have been recipients and have nursed deeply and long from our mother, the church. In the name of the King who heard our cry for mercy and answered and who has given us all we need to extend the merciful gift of forgiveness, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and your minds on Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen.