Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
There was once a boat that sank in a storm in the ocean. Another boat saw the accident and went to help. Only one man was in the boat that sank. Luckily, he got out in time and was swimming pretty well, but he definitely needed help getting out of the water. The rescue boat pulled up about twenty feet from the man. Someone quickly grabbed a blue life preserver and threw it out to him.
The man in the water caught it, but then he did something odd: he threw it back. The person in the rescue boat was confused, so he hurried up and threw the blue life preserver back out to the man. This time it landed right around his head—it was a perfect throw! The man in the ocean grabbed the blue life preserver with both hands, picked it up off his head, and threw it back again!
The person on the rescue boat couldn’t believe what was happening. He called out, “Hey, we’re trying to save you! Why do you keep throwing the life preserver back?”
The man in the ocean said, “Don’t get me wrong, I do want to be saved, but I would prefer you save me with the white life preserver instead of the blue one.”
It’s just a story. It wouldn’t ever really happen. Or would it? There salvation is. It comes right at you. But maybe, you don’t like the way it looks, so you throw it back. You don’t like the form in which it comes, so you refuse it.
Naaman was a powerful, influential man, the commander of an army. He was highly respected, with a great future ahead of him. But all this came crashing to a halt when he was diagnosed with a disease that would surely kill him.
How good to hear that there was a cure for his disease! “Go and wash in the
How sad for Naaman. He had the cure right before him, but he pushed it away. It wasn’t fancy enough. But who says salvation has to be flashy?
Every Sunday, you come to church and are offered salvation. Did you realize it? Have you seen the salvation God has been offering you? Maybe not. Sometimes dramatic salvations happen in such simple ways it is easy to miss.
A child has a few drops of water placed on his head, and with the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” salvation comes to that child. It seems silly that salvation comes that way, doesn’t it? I’ll be the first to admit it does not appear very dramatic or fantastic or dazzling for the God who is the Creator of the heavens and the earth.
But the question is, is that good enough for you? Or would you walk away from your Baptism, forget what Jesus has done for you through that water, and maybe look for something more dramatic like an altar call or repeated baptisms. Will you try to create some kind of “spiritual” atmosphere where you can “feel” more saved? Or will you cling to the simple means that God has given you? The fact is, God hasn’t promised to cleanse you from your sins or make you His own through the exciting and dramatic, but in the humble simplicity of water and Word.
And don’t forget the bread and wine. In these humble elements Christ comes to you to feed you with His very and blood that not only brings you the forgiveness of sins, but strengthens you in body and soul unto eternal life.
“But I feel awkward talking to my pastor about these things,” you say. Won’t I be embarrassed?” Yes, you might be embarrassed. It’s proper to be ashamed of our sins. But remember, this isn’t about your pastor or what he thinks about you; this is about your relationship to God. God is there waiting to forgive you. Be ashamed, but confess your shame to God! He will cover up your sins forever. Amazing isn’t it? God’s salvation comes to us in such simple ways.
One day, a young Lutheran woman was at a college youth group meeting. She was pleased to be around other Christians. The group began talking about their salvation and how that salvation came about. Each student had a dramatic story—one heard a voice from God while on a bus one day; another young woman spoke about a fantastic dream; one young man had a stirring testimony of how God had delivered him from addictions to drugs, alcohol, and sex; still another young man talked about how he felt God take his hand and walk him up to an altar call.
When it came time for the young Lutheran woman to speak about how she’d been saved, she said it happened when she was seven days old. A few of the students gave her a puzzled look, two of them even laughed at her. “That’s the day I was baptized,” she explained.
“You mean that you believe you’re saved just because some pastor sprinkled some water on you and said a few words? That’s silly. It doesn’t make sense.”
The young woman thought for a moment, and then she said, “You’re right. It is silly. It doesn’t make sense. But that’s exactly how God saved me.”
Then she shared words she had memorized in catechism class: “How can water do such great things? Certainly not just the water, but the Word of God in and with the water does these things, along with faith which trusts this Word of God in the water. For without the Word of God, the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the Word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus, chapter 3: ‘He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life’ (Titus 3:5-8).”
Amazing, isn’t it—God’s gift of salvation comes to us in such simple ways. And that, right there, is often the problem, the objection, and the offense. Ever since the fall into sin, the devil has been tricking us into not accepting what God has given and instead has us looking for other, more dramatic and enticing ways that we think will bring us salvation. But Christ, that simple Christ who dumbfounded the world by coming into it as a baby and not as a great and mighty king, has shown the way for us. He comes to us in simple ways, quiet ways, sometimes ways that can be completely overlooked. But these are ways of salvation that the greatest of kings can touch or the smallest infant can receive.
Thankfully for Naaman, he had servants who were levelheaded enough to bring him to his senses. “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘
What a wonderful, inviting way of telling your boss, “Look, Naaman, you fool. That prophet sent His messenger with the Word of God’s promise to you. If you had been commanded to give 10,000 pieces of silver to be cured, you would have done it, wouldn’t you? If you were ordered to conquer a nation in order to be healed, you would have done it and been glad… right? But now, since God’s Word has been given you, and you find you need only wash seven times in the Jordan River, you are offended, angry, and having a temper tantrum? Are you really willing to pass up your only opportunity to be cleansed from such an awful disease? Repent of this great sin against God and His Word!”
Oh, how the unbelievers in the world and the doubters in the Church regard the invitation to repent and be baptized, to come and hear the Word of the forgiveness of all your sins—to take and eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar.
Though it is an invitation and not a command, the foolish reply: “Don’t tell me what to do! I’d rather have the pastor come out and wave his hands and entertain me. I’d prefer to hear practical advice on child rearing or how to spice up the marriage bed. Instead, he talks a lot about my sins and my need for a Savior. He invites me to a ‘feast’ of unleavened bread and wine, where’s there’s not even enough there to curb my appetite or wet my whistle. Why should I bother?”
And what happens to people such as this? We don’t know. What we do know is what happened to Naaman. Had he not been given the gift of repentance through the mouth of others, he would have died a leper. But by God’s grace, he did see his sin and acknowledged it. He did listen to those simple words and look what happened: he was saved! His skin was restored. He was healed!
Leprosy is a terrible painful disease. It eats away at skin and flesh, causing paralysis and muscle atrophy. It is so contagious, that those who are afflicted must be isolated from the rest of the population, until it brings a horrible death.
But there is something like that disease that eats human beings, one permeating the soul. It is called sin—a condition that is ours by nature even prior to birth. David declares the truth for each of Adam’s descendants: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). Many people think of sin as only something you do or fail to do; but sin is a deep and horrible corruption of your human nature. Sin isolates you from God and one another. Sin leads to eternal death and the torments of hell.
But God, in His grace, has given you a cure in His Son. Jesus lived the perfect life that you could not live. He died on the cross to pay for your sins. His death reconciles you to God. His shed blood cleanses you from all sins, and gives you new life. And He bestows that salvation through His Word and Sacraments.
God’s gift of salvation comes in such simple ways.
Christ says to you, “Come to My Table. Eat My body and drink My blood. I gave it into death for you, and now I want to give it to you so you can be certain you are really free from the devil and hell.
“Come, here is water for you in Baptism. I gave you this miraculous water so that all can be washed and clean. It is simple, so all of you are able to receive it. I don’t ask anything from you. I ask only ask you to come and be clean. Let Me wash you of your sins and make you clean.
“Come, hear My words of love spoken in the Absolution. Though voiced through My called and ordained servant, they are just as valid as if you heard them from My lips. Hear this Good News: ‘I forgive you for all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.