(Isaiah 56:1, 6-8, Psalm 67, Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/GjB97nbq0zE)
10Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, ‘Listen and understand: 11it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.’ 12Then the disciples approached and said to him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees took offence when they heard what you said?’ 13He answered, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind.* And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.’ 15But Peter said to him, ‘Explain this parable to us.’ 16Then he said, ‘Are you also still without understanding? 17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.’
The Canaanite Woman’s Faith
21Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ 24He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ 26He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ 27She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ 28Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.
Over the last few months, we’ve gotten away from the assigned lectionary for one Sunday each month to explore Martin Luther’s thoughts on the basic teachings of the church. As many of you are aware, the church is celebrating its 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation this year. Recall Luther was upset at the gap in understanding that had formed between the church’s clergy and the rest of the people. He sought to bridge that gap by both translating the Bible into the common language and explaining the mysteries of scripture and church liturgy. Ironically, in bridging that gap, the church was then divided into the protestant and catholic churches we know today, certainly not what Luther had intended. But the church was reformed and only strengthened by Luther’s work. We’ve dedicated these “catechism” Sundays to reflecting on Luther’s work as a way of celebrating this 500th anniversary. So far we’ve delved into how we are to understand such teachings as the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. This morning we will hear Luther’s thoughts on the two sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
For Luther, a firm understanding of the mystery of baptism rests on the wisdom of 2 verses: Matthew 28:19 and Mark 16:16. In the Matthew text we hear Jesus give us the great commission: “Go into all the world, teach all the heathen, and baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” We are commanded, not asked, to go out into the world to teach and baptize. If we are faithful disciples of Christ, we must go out and bring others to the waters of baptism so that they, too, might be claimed as a child of God and receive God’s grace and mercy. This isn’t a suggestion…this isn’t a recommendation…this is a command. Is baptism a ritual made up by people? No, it is of divine origin meaning that its power and efficacy is of divine origin too. Baptism, because it is of divine origin, has power beyond human abilities. We’ll later hear why this is important to keep in mind.
The Mark text further helps our understanding of baptism because it clearly explains what happens in baptism: “The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned.” Baptism is included with faith and belief as necessary for salvation. We need baptism, along with belief, to be saved. Salvation adds some heft to the ritual. Not only is it commanded by God but it is a necessary ritual for a person to be right with God. God wants to claim us as one of his beloved children! God wants to look at us beyond our sinfulness. God wants to protect us from the sin of the world. He’s able to do all these things and more through baptism. There is great power in baptism…there is God’s power of salvation in baptism! Not only is baptism of divine origin but it has divine power and Luther stresses these two components as essential for understanding baptism.
At its surface level, baptism involves using water on another person through either pouring or submersing. In its physical makeup of hydrogen and oxygen, the water is no different than any other water. Water is water is water is water. What distinguishes the waters of baptism from all other waters are the words that accompany it. As Luther notes, the water of baptism “is not simply plain water, but water placed in the setting of God’s Word and commandment and made holy by them. It is nothing else than God’s water, not that the water itself is nobler than other water but that God’s Word and commandment are added to it…for the real significance of the water lies in God’s Word or commandment and God’s name, and this treasure is greater and nobler than heaven and earth.” You see, the water of baptism IS different than other precisely because of the words that accompany it. The words that are spoken transform the water into a medium for God’s grace and mercy. The water becomes God’s tool and carrier. Luther explains, “Baptism is a very different thing from all other water, not by virtue of the natural substance but because here something nobler is added, for God himself stakes his honor, his power, and his might on it. Therefore it is not simply a natural water, but a divine, heavenly, holy, and blessed water—praise it in any other terms you can—all by virtue of the Word, which is a heavenly, Holy Word that no one can sufficiently extol, for it contains and conveys all that is God’s.” God comes to us and gives to us through the waters of baptism. On the surface, water is poured or enveloped around a person. But underneath the surface there is a great exchange of power between God and the person. The person most efficiently receives God’s grace and mercy through the waters of baptism and is saved. “This is the simplest way to put it: the power, effect, benefit, fruit, and purpose of baptism is that it saves.”
Baptism is more than just water. Baptism is more than just words. Baptism is the combination of both words and water. Without one or the other, baptism would cease to be baptism. The water needs the words and the words need the water. Why? Luther explains, “This is the reason why these two things are done in baptism; the body has water poured over it, because all it can receive is the water, and in addition the Word is spoken so that the soul may receive it. Because the water and the Word together constitute one baptism, both body and soul shall be saved and live forever: the soul through the Word in which it believes, the body because it is united with the soul and apprehends baptism in the only way it can.” You see, the water is for the body while the words are for the soul. Just as we can’t separate the body from the soul, so, too, we cannot separate the water from the words. This is a good thing because if the body is saved and lives forever then the soul is saved and lives forever and vice versa. Our bodies, as weak and fragile as they are, live forever through baptism. For good or bad, our souls are forever united with our bodies through baptism.
The inseparability of water and Word, body and soul, and the efficacy in transmitting grace and mercy is only possible if we acknowledge the divine origin and power of baptism. We can’t form such bonds or channels, only God can. Only God operates in the realm of the eternal. We can only visit that realm from time to time which is why we need the Lord’s Supper along with baptism. While baptism only happens once, we can come back to the table to receive God’s grace and mercy over and over and over again. There is no limit to the times we can receive the bread and wine. And like baptism, there is some difficulty to understanding what exactly is happening in the ritual. Lucky for us, we have Luther’s wisdom and insights to help…
In his catecheses, Luther notes that baptism involves dying to our old selves of selfishness and pride and rising to new creations of love and service. He washes away our sinful natures to reveal his beloved creation yet again. But that doesn’t mean we are thereafter sinless, nor does it mean we must no longer live in a sinful world. No, our sinfulness still resides within us as we continue to reside in the sinful world following our baptisms. Thus, we need the Lord’s Supper to help us cope with these realities. Luther explains, “…[the Lord’s Supper] is appropriately called food of the soul, for it nourishes and strengthens the new creature…the Lord’s Supper is given as daily food and sustenance so that our faith may be refreshed and strengthened and that it may not succumb in the struggle but become stronger and stronger.” We need the Lord’s Supper to provide the nourishment for our souls as we walk through this world. It reassures us of God’s love and encourages us to live as God wants us to live.
Again, on the surface it is no more than eating bread and drinking wine. But beneath the surface the sacrament involves a direct transference of God’s grace and mercy. God comes to us and blesses us. God comes to us and forgives us. God comes to us and loves us. And like baptism, God combines the physical objects of bread and wine with his words to create something entirely different. Bread and wine and God’s Word are forever inseparable just as the water and God’s Word are inseparable. You can’t have the bread and wine without God’s Word for the sacrament to work. They need each other to be effective in sharing God’s grace and mercy. Luther also notes that the Lord’s supper relies entirely on faith just as much as baptism. We need to believe that Jesus comes to us through bread and wine if we are to receive His grace. “But those who do not believe have nothing, for they let this gracious blessing be offered to them in vain and refuse to enjoy it. The treasure is opened and placed at everyone’s door, yes, upon the table, but it is also your responsibility to take it and confidently believe that it is just as the words tell you.” The efficacy of the sacrament demands faith on our parts. If we don’t believe, then we don’t receive, plain and simple.
Luther unlocked several mysteries to these two sacraments. Indeed, they are difficult to understand. God wants to share his love and grace and mercy with each one of us. He created these sacraments to do just that. He pairs the physical objects of water, bread, and wine with his holy words to create perfect channels for love and grace and mercy. They are true gifts of a loving God. Let us go forth celebrating our generous God. One last thought from Luther: these sacraments do “not depend upon our worthiness. For we are not baptized because we are worthy and holy, nor do we come to communion as if we were pure and without sin; on the contrary, we come as poor, miserable people, precisely because we are unworthy.”
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.