By Sam Gutierrez
38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Two weeks ago, I shared this story. It’s so good, I wanted to share it again:
Some folks who attend Alger and watch our online worship services said that when they ask their two year-old, “Who is on the screen?” he responds – “Pastor Sam!” Then they ask – “what does Pastor Sam do?” The child responds – “Pours water!” They followed up by saying that during bath time, he practices pouring water just like Pastor Sam does on the video.
Over the next few weeks, I want to explore the sacrament of Baptism. Today, I’m going to highlight one major theme: the forgiveness of sins.
When we talk about baptism, we use the term “sacrament.” The word sacrament comes from a Greek word in the new testament, “mysterion” – meaning “mystery” or “a thing hidden.” When some hear the word “mystery” they throw up their arms in frustration as if to say, “I can’t know, so why even try?” A better definition of mystery is "endlessly knowable". This puts us in the posture of humble seeker – continually pressing in to uncover and discover layers and layers of God’s Trinitarian love and life.
A sacrament is a means of grace. In Baptism we experience grace in an audio/visual way – we hear and see grace being poured out and splashing around. When we baptize someone, we see grace saturate the forehead, run down cheeks and soak clothing. Baptism is powerful and moving, but baptism does not save us. It never could. Water just isn’t strong enough.
To put it plainly – water can wash dirt from the body, but it can’t wash sin from the heart.
The Bible is clear that only Jesus can save us. Only his blood is powerful enough to cleanse our hearts stained by sin. Baptism is an arrow pointing to the cross. As we get older and the depth of our sin becomes more obvious, we can find it hard to truly believe that God forgives us fully and completely. So God finds another way of communicating his grace – giving us water to point us to his work on the cross. Just like water washes the body, Jesus’ blood washes our hearts and makes us clean.
The sacrament of Baptism is not only a sign pointing us to Jesus’ death on a cross 2000 years ago, it’s also a seal. That means that that the saving work of Jesus applies to you. Yes, you are the recipient of God’s amazing grace.
For this week, I’d like to encourage you to touch your forehead and say the words “I’m baptized.” Then, touch your forehead and say “I’m forgiven.” When we do this, we acknowledge that we can do nothing to purge our heart from sin. We are completely dependent upon the grace of God. It’s important to remember that the sacraments are primarily about God. The pouring of water shows us that God’s love and generosity is something that God is freely pouring down upon us.
By Sam Gutierrez
A couple weeks ago, some folks who attend Alger and watch our online worship services said that when they ask their two-year old, “Who is on the screen?” he responds “Pastor Sam!” Then they ask, “What does Pastor Sam do?” The child responds, “Pours water!” They followed up by saying that during bath time, he practices pouring water just like Pastor Sam does on the video.
I loved hearing this story!
It doesn’t surprise me that children gravitate towards this powerful practice. It’s visual. It’s auditory. It’s dramatic. It’s memorable. I think that’s what Jesus had in mind when he gave us the sacrament of baptism. Jesus wanted to communicate his grace to us in a way that we could comprehend beyond words. Words are good and helpful… but we often need more than words. We need to see grace being poured out. We need to see and hear the water splashing. We need to see the abundance! We can talk about grace all we want in church, but when we see the waters of baptism, we understand and believe grace in a different and hopefully deeper way.
Jesus gave us two sacraments: The Lord’s Supper and Baptism. The most basic definition of a sacrament is a means of grace. This is why the sacraments are really about God and who God is. Sometimes, especially with baptism, we can believe that baptism is something we do – when we’re ready, when we’re old enough or when we’re finally serious about our faith. We think that baptism is a commitment that we are making. And it is…baptism includes our promises, but baptism starts and ends with God's big promises…and we simply get caught up in the middle. Another way to say it is: Our small “yes” is surrounded by God’s big and never ending YES to us in Christ. (2 Cor. 1:20)
I don’t intend to make a case for infant baptism here…although the Reformed tradition does emphasis infant baptism. But you can see how in infant baptism, the emphasis is clearly placed on God’s goodness and promises. This “grace point” is magnified in infant baptism – we do nothing to earn God’s love or favor. It is a pure gift.
In our worship service every week, we remember our baptism and sometimes even participate in a baptism. These next few weeks, I plan to do a 4-part series on baptism. I want to pull on some major threads and explore the following: Forgiveness, Adoption, Death and Resurrection, and Mission.
But for this week, I’d like to encourage you to touch your forehead and say the words “I’m baptized.” When we do that, we are claiming our deepest identity – as dearly loved children of God and recipients of God’s amazing grace.
By Sam Gutierrez
Over the years, I've collected numerous books on spiritual formation. Although each book tends to emphasize something unique, I've come to discover that most touch on similar themes. Spiritual disciplines or "practices" have to do with sanctification – allowing God to shape us into the image of his Son. I've taken four authors - Don Postma, Henri Nouwen, Adele Calhoun, and Richard Rohr, and I’ve arranged their work thematically as Space, Place, and Face.
First, space. In Space For God, author Don Postma highlights the importance of “creating space.” In the first chapter he explores this idea, saying, “This book is for busy people who also want to be deep people. It is a book that explores spirituality: a way of living in depth. Spirituality has to do with being in touch with our spirit and with the Spirit of God. It is a way of being awake to the world around us and in us, of making space for God.”
Henri Nouwen, in his forward to Marjorie Thompson’s book Soul Feast, names the importance and difficulty of making space by saying, “Our busy lives make it hard for us to create free time or space for God.” He then goes on to say that, “spiritual disciplines are nothing more and nothing less than ways to create a room where Christ can invite us to feast with him at the table of abundance.” Nouwen expands on the idea of making space by giving us the image of a room – a place where we have fellowship with God around a table of grace.
Second, place. In her book Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, author Adele Calhoun expands on the notion of feasting with Jesus at a table by writing that the spiritual disciplines are mainly about “keeping company” with Jesus, and that, “spiritual practices don’t give us ‘spiritual brownie points’ or help us ‘work the system’ for a passing grade from God. They simply put us in a place where we can begin to notice God and respond to his word to us.”
And finally, face. Richard Rohr writes in his book Things Hidden that sanctification is a process in which God is creating people “who have faces… that Yahweh who is uncovering and showing himself in the Bible desires not just images or ideas, but persons with whom God can be in very concrete and intimate relationship.” Rohr goes on to say that “one way of reading the entire Bible is to note the gradual unveiling of our faces, the gradual creating of personhood, from infants, to teenage love, to infatuation, to adult communion. Biblical spirituality has the potential of creating ‘persons’ who can both receive and give out of love, and love that is perfectly free.”
Taking into account these four authors, I would venture to define spiritual formation as “creating intentional space so that God can expand our capacity to receive God.” When God sanctifies us, God is deepening us and getting us ready to receive the lavish abundance of his love and grace. Because God is love, God is truly getting us ready to join hands with the Trinity, fully participating in their endless dance of love. This is good news.
By Sam Gutierrez
I find it curious that despite his many faults, David is given a generous title: a [person] after God’s own heart. (1 Samuel 13:14). Those familiar with David’s story have often referenced 2 Samuel 12:1-13 as the reason. In that particular story, the prophet Nathan confronts David with the murder of Uriah and adultery with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. When confronted, David admits his wrong rather than denying, projecting, or minimizing his actions.
Today, politicians and authority figures apologize to ease media scrutiny and to bolster bruised public opinion. But in Psalm 51 we see David’s sincere remorse as he pleads for God’s mercy and pledges to change. Many believe that it was David’s truthful admission and repentance in this particular situation that earned him the title “a [person] after God’s own heart.” This is a compelling argument.
I have sometimes wondered if there is another angle that could be taken to help us understand why David might have received such a description. Perhaps the phrase is referring to a defining characteristic in David’s life that reminds people of God: Passion. In worship, in battle, and in friendship, David shows remarkable passion. We see David’s passion for God demonstrated most clearly when David dances before the Ark in a public celebration of worship. (2 Samuel 6:14-22) In this way, David resembles God. When it comes to passion, David is a “chip off the ‘ol block” as the saying goes. Even after thousands of years, David’s passion jumps off the pages of scripture. You can almost feel it.
We may not know exactly why David is given such a generous title, but when we hear that David is a “[person after God’s own heart]” we can begin to think that David is someone that we should emulate. In fact, we want to see David as an example of a leader who can admit his wrong and vow to change – an authority figure we can all admire. But the story of David is not an example of a fallen’s leader’s comeback. Rather, throughout the narrative we discover that the true point of this story is God’s grace. David is the recipient of God’s grace.
We may miss the point, but David does not. In fact, David prays a beautiful prayer of response after receiving the news that his house (lineage) will last forever. David is overwhelmed and knows that he has done nothing to deserve this (2 Samuel 7:18-21). This unmerited favor is what the Bible calls grace.
Grace is heaven shining down on you. Grace is the smile of God. Grace has nothing to do with being a good person, being perfect, trying hard or even trying at all. David wasn’t perfect and his flaws remind us that the blessings poured out on David are not because of David’s virtue, but rather because of God’s overflowing goodness.
We want to see David as a passionate hero - an underdog who defeats Goliath, rises through the ranks, eludes his enemies and eventually becomes King. We think it’s a rags-to-riches story that we can get behind and cheer for. But the story of David is not a rags-to-riches story. The story of David is God’s story of grace working in and through someone who is not perfect nor deserving. That’s good news for David, and that’s good news for us, too.