Summary: Sixth in the "Back to the Basics" series, exploring the foundational beliefs of Christians. This sermon addresses the question, "What do Christians believe about the baptism and holy communion?"
Last week, while flipping through the channels on tv, I came across the movie Gladiator with Russell Crowe, just as it was getting started. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll remember that it is set in ancient Rome at about the same time as Jesus lived. The main character, Maximus, played by Russell Crowe, remembers his time as a wheat farmer when he lived with his wife and their son. But now, Rome is at war, and he has left his normal life behind to lead his men into battle as a general in the Roman army. Rome is unique among empires in that it had no standing army – as long as the nation was at peace, they had no actual soldiers, only guards to keep watch at the edge of the empire. But when war was declared, healthy men were expected to fulfill their duty to the Roman Empire by reporting for military service.
When a man volunteered for military service, it wasn’t simply a matter of strapping on some armor and grabbing a weapon. They took a sacramentum, a Latin word for oath. The sacramentum involved a vow that a man would give his complete and total allegiance to Caesar and the general under which he served. When they took the sacramentum, soldiers pledged that they would serve the empire by following every instruction their general gave them. When Maximus took the sacramentum, he was utterly subjected to the authority of his military commander.
It is from this principle of the military sacramentum, the oath to reorient one’s entire life to submit to the authority of the leader, that Christians took the word sacrament. The Christian sacrament involved the same idea of pledging to submit our lives completely to the authority of Jesus Christ. But instead of vowing to support the emperor, Christians offered commitment and loyalty to the King of Kings, Jesus himself through the sacrament.
Today, we are exploring the sacraments in the fifth sermon in our "Back to the Basics" series on the basic, foundational principles of the Christian faith. Let us pray…
From the earliest days of the faith, Christians have known that there are things that help us to know and experience God’s presence, God’s healing and love in our lives. We have known that there are things we can intentionally do to help us be open and ready to receive God’s gifts. When we come to worship, we join together in song and in prayer, someone reads a portion of the Bible, and someone speaks about the Bible’s meaning for us today. All these things help us connect with God and experience God’s presence. Often, during prayer, people will talk about feeling the presence of God or experiencing a peace in their souls that wasn’t present before.
There are things that we can do that God uses to make God’s love and presence was made known to us.
Over time, two special actions have became known as specially powerful ways that God uses to reach us and get through to us. They were both actions that were initiated by Jesus himself, and although the actions themselves don’t really seem remarkable in and of themselves, Christians have always known that God makes use of these actions to make His love known to us in very real and profound ways. They became known as the sacraments, baptism and holy communion. Through the very basic elements of baptism and communion, water, bread, and wine, God’s presence can be experienced in a mysterious and powerful way.
Baptism forms the starting point for the Christian life, and it is fitting that all four gospels reveal that baptism was the starting point for Jesus Christ’s ministry. Matthew, Luke, and John tell the story of the baptism of Jesus as the first thing he does as an adult, and the Gospel of Mark makes the baptism of Jesus the very first thing we hear. Let’s read from Mark’s account:
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit dscending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased.” Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
In this short account, three very powerful things happen. They are not too different than what happened to a Roman man who joined the military and gave a sacramentum. A new identity is given. The power of the the Holy Spirit is given, for a Roman soldier that power would have been the power given by Caesar, for Christians, it is the very power of God. And, finally, a new vocation is given, a ministry to accomplish. And, through the sacrament of baptism, Christians today experience the same things when they come to the waters as Jesus did at the beginning of his ministry.