This is a copy of the manuscript Pastor KJ Norris spoke from as she preached on Sunday, January 13, 2019.
Today is the day that attenders of the churches everywhere go out singing Stevie Wonder in their heads. I love his famous song: “I’m singed, sealed, delivered, I’m yours!”
Yes, it is time to get out our old records and dust them off for today is the day that we celebrate we too are signed, sealed, delivered, and belong to another. Once a year, churches across the world are called to remember one of the most powerful and important moments of our lives: our baptisms. And many churches take it a step further and ask the congregation to stand and reaffirm their baptisms, which we will do here today.
We will have a moment in just a little bit where you will be invited to come and place your hands in the water and be reminded of God’s gracious act at your baptism.
But, before we do that, we want to spend a little time remembering what it is that God has done for us. Looking at our Scriptures and at what on earth these words of “Sign and Seal” actually mean. They are kind of old-fashioned words which make a very catchy tune, but they also have deep meaning for us today.
If you still have your Bible’s open, we are going to first take a look at the promises made to us in Isaiah 43. We are going to look at four promises in Isaiah and sum them up, understanding how baptism represents for us God’s work in our lives.
(Read V 1)…
So, the first thing we are reminded of in our Scripture this morning is that we are created by God. You are created by God. And yes, you all know that I am a scientist. I love science; it helps us to solve some of the greatest mysteries of the world. Science, like all fields of learning, is a gift from God to help us to understand ourselves and our world better and to make the world a better place for all to live.
The Bible of course is not a science textbook so it never attempts to tell us in what way or through what mechanism God created us. Perhaps God used evolution to create us, it’s a good theory of the hows. But the Bible is not usually concerned with the hows, with the mechanisms, it is concerned with a deeper kind of truth—the truth of who and why. These are the kinds of answers the Scriptures can give us that no other writing can provide.
And our Scripture assures us of the who. Who created us? God. The very God the ancient writings call “I AM.” The one who has always been, who will always be. The one who stands outside of time and outside of all creation.
And this knowledge tells us something very important about us. It tells us why. Why are we here? Why were we born?
There comes a time for many of us when we ask ourselves if our lives have meaning and purpose. When we ask ourselves if we really matter. Suicide rates are high right now. People sometimes come to the answer that their lives do not have meaning. Or that the pain is too great to bear. Or they they will not be missed. I know there are some in this room who have lost loved ones to suicide and know the very real pain of that loss.
First, know that God is with us especially in the most difficult moments of our lives. The Scriptures tell us that we cannot go anywhere that God has not gone. We are reminded in Psalm 139 that even if we choose to make our beds in Sheol—in the depths—in the place where it appears God is not and cannot reach—still God is there. So, we don’t need to fear for our loved ones who have passed, even by tragic means, even at their own hands. We can trust God. God’s love is so much bigger than our minds can imagine.
But for those who might be feeling like this life holds nothing for you, know that that is a lie straight from the very depths of hell. The Scriptures say, you were created by God. Therefore, you were created on purpose! You were created for a reason and God has a beautiful plan for you. Yes, sometimes it is hard to see and know this plan, but there is one. You are loved more than you can imagine.
So, if you are depressed. If you have contemplated seeing your life come to an end at your own hand, come and talk to me. Talk to a friend. See a counselor. Get some help. Sometimes the chemicals in our brains are not quite balanced and we begin to believe things about ourselves that are just not true. God has given us medicine so that we can become more stable and live as God intended. Seek out help. You are too precious to God to not get help.
Our first verse reminds us: We are created by God and therefore have purpose.
The second half of verse 1 says:
Redemption. That’s a really big, deep, Bible word, but it basically means that God knows we have messed up badly. We all do. Sure, we are created by God in God’s image so you would think we would do good things. But we really don’t. We are also born into sin. We also choose to reject God. We choose pride and lust and material goods over love—love for God and love for one another. We all do it. And God knows it.
But our mistakes are not the end of our story. Our sins do not bind us. We have been redeemed. In other-words, the Lord Jesus Christ, in choosing to go to the cross, nailed our sins, our mistakes, our lack of love to the cross. And through his death and resurrection, we are forgiven. We have been bought with a price; through his death we have new life.
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine. We belong to God. God has not just created you, God has also chosen you, named you, paid for you. You are forgiven. If you are holding on to something you did, thinking to yourself: God could never forgive me for this, know that that is not true.
The Bible shows us that God forgives murderers and adulterers and people who just plan messed up their lives. And God, through the love to Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit, will forgive you to. Don’t hold on to the guilt. Confess it. And be at peace with God. God has redeemed you.
Isa 43:2 says…
It’s not: If you walk through the waters or If you walk through the fire, but WHEN you…
We will go through hard times. I hate to say it. I wish I could promise you flowers and kitty cats all day every day. But the world isn’t like that. We will go through hard times. We will. And rest assured: you will not be overwhelmed by the waters. You will not be consumed by the flames. Why? Because God is with you.
Let’s look at one more promise here in Isa 43. Verse 4 says…
“You are precious in my sight, and I love you.” “You are precious in my sight, and I love you.”
There is nothing I can add to that. God says, “You are precious in my sight, and I love you.” Know that you are loved, and be at peace.
At Jesus’ baptism, a word of love come from heaven. In one of the view times in the Bible, we see all three person’s of the Trinity appearing to us at one single moment. Jesus comes up out of the water and the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove and God the Father’s voice is heard as God, “You are my Son. You are loved. With you I am well pleased.”
And with this word of love, Jesus begins his earthly ministry.
We follow in the footsteps of Jesus and get baptized, too.
As Presbyterians, we have come to understand the act of baptism to be a sign and a seal.
Baptism is a sign. We have lots of signs in our world: Driving signs like: Slippery when wet or Speed limit 45. We have signs on our everyday items. Coffee cups warn us that our coffee is hot. Mattress tags warn us that we are never allowed to remove the tag—I haven’t figure that one out yet. Signs point to something. They show us something that we want o pay attention to. Something that will help us to live our best lives.
Baptism, too is a sign. It points to all the things we have been talking about. It reminds us that we are created, redeemed, brought through the waters, and loved. Specifically, baptism reminds us of God hovering over the waters at creation and of God saving humankind in the great flood, and of God bringing the people through the sea to free them from slavery. God, who never changes, did these things before and still does them in us.
God is continuously recreating us to be the people God has created us to be. You are not who you were yesterday. All the hurtful words you said. All that stuff you did that you regret. Confess it. Give it up to God. God is doing a new thing in you. You are not who you were yesterday.
Baptism is a sign of God’s cleansing power and symbolically when we are covered by water—either by being sprinkled as children or as adults or as being immersed fully in the water—we symbolically die to our old self. And we are recreated in Christ.
In the Presbyterian church, we say that the amount of water doesn’t matter so anyway you would like to be baptized is beautiful. Also, we understand that baptism is not about us. We do not work for God’s forgiveness. We cannot earn God’s forgiveness. It is a gift. So we do baptize infants. It’s a sign that God is working in their lives before they can even speak God’s name. It’s a beautiful reminder that our hope is in God alone and not in any work we might try to do for God. It is a sign of our complete trust in God.
And finally, baptism is a seal. We don’t really have seals in our culture but you have to imagine in your mind the ancient form of letter writing. Back in the day, people would write things down in their own handwriting—I know crazy, right? (Lana showed me this amazing letter the other day that her husband wrote to her with this perfect penmanship). This was a thing. And then afterward, if it was something very important, they would role it or fold it and then take wax and seal it shut, often with a stamp to mark who sent it.
We still have seals in some instances—for instance, presidential seals—the mark of the president.
When you are baptized, you are sealed. You are marked with the stamp of the Lord Jesus Christ. A mark is placed on you saying that you are no longer your own, but you are now part of the family of God. We are all family. Regardless of the barriers our world tries to put between us: Barriers of gender or race or economic status or nation, we are all sealed together as one. There is no longer earthly division between us because we have been made citizens of God’s kingdom.
So, today, we want to affirm that we have been baptized. We want to remember that God has put a sign and a seal in our lives. God has delivered us and we belong to God. We say, “We are signed, sealed, delivered and yours, O Lord.”
In a minute I am going to ask you the three questions that are written on the back of your bulletin. Let’s look at those together:
“Trusting in the gracious mercy of God, do you turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and its power in the world?
Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Lord and Savior, trusting in his grace and love?
Will you be Christ’s faithful disciple, obeying his Word and showing his love?
I will, with God’s help.”
–Taken from the Book of Common Worship (1993) p 466.