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Sunday, November 14, 2021

The Sacraments: Baptism and Holy Communion

Today, we will receive the Ewton family as new members of our church and we have the privilege today of celebrating two sacraments—baptism and holy communion.  Chris Ewton will be baptized along with his infant son Ben.  Ashley will be transfering her membership to Pleasant Grove from another church.  Then we will celebrate Holy Communion.  So I thought it appropriate to teach about these sacraments today.

A sacrament is a sacred ceremony officially decreed by Christ that imparts God’s divine grace.

Grace is God’s unearned and undeserved divine help (or favor). In many ways, Grace is a mystery.  We don’t deserve it.  We don’t fully understand it. But we know we desperately need it.  And God’s grace (His divine favor) helps us in a variety of ways—always drawing us into a closer relationship with God.

One form of grace is God’s forgiveness and salvation.  When we were lost in our sin and unable to save ourselves, God graciously sent Jesus to atone for our sin on the cross. God graciously saves us when we put our faith in Jesus. We call this salvation by various names: conversion, getting saved, saying the sinners prayer, or making a profession of faith.  This is one form of God’s grace.

However, God graciously helps us in many other ways besides salvation.  Salvation is only the beginning.  Then we have to grow, mature, and endure.  Birth, growth, salvation, nurturing, healing, help, wisdom, and many others blessings are imparted by God's grace.

Before we are even able to think about God, God is already thinking about us and helping us.  Jeremiah 1:5 tells us God knows us before we are even formed in our mother’s womb.  And God helps us throughout our childhood, pulling us closer and closer to Him, in hopes that one day we will become aware of His gracious love and choose to love Him.  God also helps our parents to love and nurture us.  And God places others in our live—grandparents, teachers, friends—who can be instruments of God’s grace in our lives as well.  Of course, people are independent and make their own choices and sometimes make the wrong choices.  Parents and people who seek God’s help are better equipped to love and nurture than those who try to do it on their own. 

We can experience God’s grace in many, many ways.  People often tell me (apologetically) the music at church is more meaningful to them than the sermon.  There’s no need to apologize.  I understand.  I really didn't like attending church as a child.  It was boring and it was over my head.  But one day, when I was only in the second grade, a lady got up to sing and for the very first time I enjoyed being at church.  Her music gave me chills and warmed my heart.  And every Sunday after that day, I always had the thought and the hope that the music might stir me and inspire me (even if the sermon was still out of my reach).  

Music sometimes stirs our hearts in ways words cannot.  For me, it was the music in worship that helped me fall in love with God and then later it was the sermons and teachings and reading the Bible that helped me understand the God music helped me love and to make a deliberate choice to follow Jesus and stick it with it in good times and bad times.

We can experience God’s gracious help through music, art, preaching, teaching, the beauty of nature, reading a good book and many other ways.  These can be ways we receive God's grace.  There are even special and sacred ceremonies God uses to impart grace--like a wedding or a funeral.

However, there are two special ceremonies where we experience God’s grace that Jesus specifically taught us to practice in the Scriptures. We call these two special ceremonies the sacraments.  They are Baptism and Holy Communion.

The first of these two biblical sacraments is Baptism.

In Matthew 28:19, Jesus said,
19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 

Jesus commanded his disciples to baptize people.  Christians today are Jesus' disciples and we are to baptize people.  Baptism marks the beginning of a person’s journey of Christians faith.  Jesus himself is an example.  Jesus was baptized by His cousin, John, in the Jordan River.  

Baptism recalls the saving work of God—going all the way back to the Old Testament.  In the story of Noah, God began His salvation of the world through the waters of a flood.  A wicked world was destroyed, but God saved Noah and his family and the animals in the ark.

In the Exodus, God saved the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  When the Egyptian army pursued them,
God saved the Israelites by parting the waters of the Red Sea.  The Israelites crossed over on dry ground, but the evil Egyptians were swallowed up & drowned.

Water was again an important part of the story when the Israelites entered the Promised Land.  God caused the water of the Jordan River to stop flowing so the Israelites could again cross over into the Promised land on dry ground.  (See Joshua chapter 3)

Then, in the New Testament when Jesus official began his ministry, He was baptized in the same Jordan River.  Jesus symbolically re-enacted the Israelite's entering into the Promised Land as God's chosen people.  The Israelites failed to fulfill God's plan to represent Him to the nations.  Jesus would not fail. Jesus would perfectly represent God so that all the world can know God.  Baptism marked the beginning of Jesus' public ministry.

Baptism marks the beginning.  A person begins their journey faith with Jesus with baptism.
They don’t walk this journey alone.  Jesus walks with them.  As Matthew 28:20 says, “Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Baptism can be done in three primary ways.  It can be full emersion where a person is dunked completely below the surface of the water.  Emersion recalls dying and being buried and rising to new life.  We can also baptize people through pouring, where a ladle or pitcher is used to pour water over the initiate.  Pouring reminds us of the out pouring of the Holy Spirit on the church in Acts 2.  A third method (and the method we usually use at my church) is sprinkling, where water is sprinkled on the initiate.  Sprinkling recalls the purification rituals of the Old Testament when priest would sprinkle blood or water on the congregation as a purification ritual.

It does not matter which method you use for baptism.  The amount of water in not important. Remember, the grace we receive in baptism is a free gift of God.  It is not something we earn or achieve by doing the ritual the right way or even a certain way.  God can and does impart grace freely regardless of the methods we use and he works in all three of the common methods of baptism when we baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Baptism is an outward sign of an inward and spiritual grace.  It symbolizes the cleansing power of God, cleansing us from sin and creating us anew.  Baptism does not save us.  Only God’s grace when we have faith in Jesus can save us. It is not that baptism actually cleans us.  Christ’s blood shed on the cross cleanses our sin.  Baptism is only a sign to the person being baptized and to everyone who sees it that this person is a child of God when they put their faith in Jesus and profess Jesus as Lord.  And in baptism, God grants His helping grace.

Baptism marks a person as a child of God.  God treats His children with special favor.  He teaches them, guides them, blesses them, and also disciplines them from time to time to help them become better people.  I have heard it said (and it is a wise saying):  “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.”  Knowing the right people who will help you or put in a good word for you goes a long way.
Knowing the God of the universe who is all powerful, all knowing, and loves you unconditionally and is pulling for you in life is a very powerful thing.

Baptism also marks a person as a member of the Family of God—the Church.  And so, not only is God pulling for you, so are all the members of the Christian church.  The members of your Church congregation are your brothers and sisters.  Their help is also a powerful means of God’s grace in your life.

Methodist—along with the majority of other Christian traditions—practice baptism in two ways.  One is believer’s baptism—where a person old enough to understand their decision makes a conscious choice to follow Jesus Christ as their Lord. The other form of baptism is infant baptism—which marks a person who is not yet old enough to understand as a child of God in preparation.  Infant baptism begins before the child is old enough to understand and is not complete until the child grows up and understands and chooses to confirm that Christ is indeed their Lord.  In the meantime, their parents promise—with the help of the church—to raise the child in the Christian faith so that they might accept Christ for themselves when they are ready and able.

The second sacrament Jesus taught us to practice in the Bible is Holy Communion

Luke 22:19-20
He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

20 After supper he took another cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you.

Holy Communion
Holy Communion, also known as the Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist, is the a sacred ceremony that recalls the last meal Jesus shared with His disciples before He was arrested and crucified.

At a traditional Jewish Passover meal—which was itself a sacred religious rite for Jews that recalled God saving the Israelites from slavery in Egypt—Jesus changed things up to show His disciples and the world that Jesus was the divine Passover Lamb of God whose sacrifice would atone for the sins of the whole world.

In the meal, Jesus took two ordinary elements, bread and wine—things that were part of everyday life for people—and He used them in an extraordinary way.  He said, “This bread is my body given for you.”  And “This cup of wine is my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you to confirm a new covenant between God and His people.”  In the Old Covenant, people followed rules and laws to stay in a relationship with God, but they always fell short.  In this New Covenant, God’s grace and forgiveness maintain our relationship when we have faith in Jesus Christ.  Despite out sins, God's forgiveness and grace keep us holy.

But what happens in Holy Communion? 
Are we actually eating Jesus body and drinking His blood. No! The bread and the wine are symbols that remind us of what Jesus has done.  Jesus gave his life for us completely.  The bread and the wine are also symbols of Jesus presence with us now.  Just as the bread and wine are here (and the wine is actually not wine, but grape juice, but just as the bread and wine are here), Jesus is also here with us right now as we take Holy Communion.  Jesus is not dead.  He is not in the grave.  Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus is at this table with us as we take communion just as He was at the table with His Disciples at the last supper.

Our awareness of Jesus’ loving sacrifice and presence with us right now nourishes and strengthens our soul.  How this works is a mystery of God’s grace, but Jesus commanded His followers to celebrate this sacrament in remembrance of Him and generations of Christians have cherished this nourishment for 2,000 years as an essential practice of the Christians faith.  And so we celebrate Holy communion in obedience and anticipation of God’s grace to nourish and help us today.

Who can take holy communion?  
In the Methodist church, anyone can take holy communion as long as you sincerely repent of you r sins and want to receive the gift of God’s grace to you.  It doesn’t matter how old or young you are.  It doesn’t matter if you a member of the church or not.  Anyone can come and receive so long as you do it with a sincere heart.  Jesus welcomes everyone to His table.  Remember, Jesus was known for something special that caused people to either love him or hate him.  Jesus was very fond of eating with sinners.

Baptism and Holy Communion do not save us. However, they are a special means to receive God’s grace that Jesus told us to practice that nourish and help us live the Christian life of faith.

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