A Fresh, New Start
A sermon based on Titus 3:4-7
Sunday, January 13, 2013 – Epiphany 2C
I know we're already two weeks in to 2013, but Happy New Year! How's it going so far? Did you make resolutions this year? Did you already break your resolutions this year? A new year is a great time for a fresh new start, to do some cleaning up, in your home, in your schedule, in your life and to have a fresh new start... and I hope you didn't forget to make some resolutions to clean up your soul and have a fresh new start there.
But how have those resolutions gone? We're two weeks in. Is the fresh, new start of the year already muddied and dirtied with resolutions spoken then broken? Did you resolve to do better only to find yourself back on the couch, back in the fridge, back in the old routine, and back in the filth of sin?
Well, friends, let's not wait for 2014 to make some new resolutions. And let's get a fresh, new start all over again today… and every day. As we remember our baptisms each day, connected to Jesus and to his forgiving grace, we get a fresh, new start. We get a clean slate, we get a new life, and we resolve all over again to live fresh, new lives for Jesus and in Jesus.
Our text for this Second Sunday in Epiphany which celebrates the Baptism of our Lord and reminds of our own Baptisms, gives us this fresh, new start today and every day. Listen now to Titus 3:4-7…
4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
I. A Clean Slate
Did you make some resolutions this year? I know that after resolutions are made and then quickly broken year after year, we can grow pretty cynical. It won't work anyway, so why bother even saying that I'll change. "You know and I know that I won't lose 30 lbs. in 2013. You know and I know that I won't get organized the way I want to. You know and I know that I won't stop sinning. So what's the use?"
And we've become so accustomed to failure that we're afraid to try again. So we don't even bother making resolutions. It's like every kid's argument against mom: "My bed's just going to get messed up again when I sleep in it tonight, so why bother making it in the morning?" But based on that logic, why bother brushing your teeth? They'll just get dirty again. But if you don't brush, they'll rot away and fall out. Or why bother showering? You'll just get sweaty and dirty another day? But if you don't bathe, you're likely to lose some of your health and probably some of your friends too.
And when it comes to our souls, too often we're content with "good enough." I'm not an axe murderer or a drug dealer, and Jesus will forgive my minor imperfections, so why even bother resolving to do better? Why not just wallow in my guilt, in my filth, and in my sin? But friends, that's no repentance at all. It's hypocricy.
Jesus once said of those who were content with "good enough," "You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain…'" (Matthew 15:7-9)
Let's face it, we're dirty. And it's not just our bodies or our teeth, but our souls that are covered in the muck of sin. And all too often we're half-hearted in any attempts to change our sinful ways, or worse, complacent, or apathetic, and love to wallow in it.
God calls us to "get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent…" (James 1:21) and to "Put to death… whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry… [to] rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips." (Colossians 3:5-7)
But too often we don't even try. Like a little boy told to wash his hands before dinner just runs them under the water for a few seconds without even bothering to use any soap, we go through the motions and pretend. But like mom, God says "Go back! Do it again! And get clean!"
But we can't. Not on our own. We can try to improve, try to clean up our act, try to make up for what we've done, but when we rely on our own strength or effort, it's like wiping our dirty hands on an even dirtier rag. Like Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare's play, trying to wash the blood of her murder from her hand, we can wash our hands again and again wringing them together to try to remove the bloody stains of our guilt. But we can't do it. We never be rid of our guilt by our resolve. We can never cover it up or hide it. We must confess our gnawing guilt with Lady Macbeth, "Here's the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand."
But that's when God steps in.
"But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy."
He saves us. Notice here that God gets all the credit. While sincere repentance is certainly needed to find forgiveness, that repentance doesn't earn or merit any forgiveness. God saves us because of his kindness, because of his inexplicable love for us sinners, not because of any righteous thing we've done or could ever do, but because of his mercy. "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)
At his Baptism, God revealed clearly who Jesus is. He is the Son of God, true God himself, perfect and sinless, perfectly pleasing to God in every way. But he took that perfection and gave it away to mankind. He took the sins and failures, even the apathy and cynicism, all the dirt and filth of sin on himself. He is the soap that makes mankind clean of soul.
And he took that salvation won on the cross and applied it to each one of us personally in our baptism. "He saved us through the washing of rebirth…" Now the word through is important to understand this verse. In this phrase, God isn't talking about the spiritual washing of forgiveness. He's talking about the means through which that forgiveness is made our own. It too is all God's doing. He still gets all the credit. He washed us clean by the cross through our Baptisms. As Peter put it in his first epistle, "Baptism… saves you… not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ..." (1 Peter 3:21)
Through your Baptism, God washed you clean of your sin. He poured his Holy Spirit out on you. And through Baptism God delivered forgiveness and salvation to you personally. You have a clean soul. It's spotless, fresh, and new!
Remember that each time you shower. As you get clean on the outside and wash off the decay and filth and stink from your body, remember the water of Baptism where God washed off the decay and filth and stink of sin. Say a silent prayer in the shower and confess your sins to God, and trust in his promise in Baptism. Then as you dry off, rejoice that you are clean in body and in soul. Your sins are forgiven and you have a clean slate, and a fresh start to your day…
II. A New Life
One of the wonderful results of your Baptism is that your sins were forgiven and you were made clean. But more than that, you were made a new person altogether. You were born again. And that means you get a fresh start each day and an entirely new life.
In one book I've been reading the author asks "What does it mean to be a father?" He writes:
"When my son, Colin, was conceived, I became a father. If I had left for good the minute after I learned the results of the pregnancy test, I'd still be a father. No matter how far I'd run or how hard I'd try to forget, it's a fact that would be obvious to anyone with a genetic scanner. And yet to be a good father means to get up every day and tell myself that that's what I'm going to be. I change diapers and attend tea parties and build LEGO towns and play catch and save for college and talk and scold and praise and worry and love." (God in the Streets of Gotham, Chapter 4)
It's similar with our Baptism. When you were Baptized, you became a Christian. In fact, Baptism is sometimes called a christening. And you received a new life. That was true regardless of your decision or understanding. Through faith in God's promises given to you at Baptism, you were born again, "born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God." (John 1:13) But that wasn't the end of it.
Baptism isn't like a vaccination against sin, like you get a vaccination against rubella and small pox. It was the start of your fresh, new life. "He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior…" And with a clean slate given to you each day, that fresh, new life starts over each day. We confess that in the Liturgy of Baptism in our hymnal (It's on page 12 if you want to follow along while I read it.):
"We recall what baptism means for our daily lives as we speak these words:
"Baptism means that the sinful nature in us should be drowned by daily sorrow and repentance, and that all its evil deeds and desires be put to death. It also means that a new person should daily arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forver."
Because of your Baptism, every day is a fresh, new start. Paul says in Romans: "Where sin increased, grace increased all the more… What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life." (Romans 5:20; 6:1-4)
You are forgiven for your failures to live a fresh, clean life. You've been given a clean slate with every sin wiped away. You've been given a new life. Now be renewed in your zeal to live for Jesus in thanks and resolve to be rid of all moral filth as you live for him.
You may goof up again and break that resolution today. But then go back to the cross. Go back to the font. Take a look at your baptismal certificate. And get a fresh, new start all over again. And in the end, you'll find heaven.
"He saved us… so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life."
Around 200 AD the church father, Tertullian of Carthage said, "Happy is our sacrament of water, in that, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free and admitted into eternal life! …We [are] little fishes… born in water, nor have we safety in any other way than by permanently abiding in water…"
Don't be like a fish out of water, but live each day in the waters of your Baptism, permanently abiding in safety there. And rejoice, that in spite of your broken resolutions to live for Jesus, you have a clean slate, you get a fresh, new start to live for Jesus each day. And resolve again to live for him by the power of your Baptism. In his name, dear friends, amen.