Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"Let's Give Them Something to Talk About"

Romans 5: 15-17

Psalm 67

      When you read this morning’s sermon title, a certain song may have come to mind.  Those of

you who know me well understand that this city boy is not a big fan of country music.  That’s not

to say that from time-to-time, a song from that genre doesn’t come along which I really dig; like

“John Deer Green,” “Can I have This Dance for the Rest of My Life,” “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” “I Hope You’ll Dance.” 

One of my favorite country songs comes from Bonnie Raitt.  The final refrain of her love song goes like this: 

“Let’s give them something to talk about, a little mystery to figure out; Let’s give them something to talk about.

  How about love, love, love…..”  You may think, “Well, that’s neat pastor.  But what does this have to do with the Bible,

or church, or the holy sacrament of baptism?”  I hope that will become clear over the next fifteen minutes or so.

Let’s now turn to this morning’s primary text from Paul’s letter to the Romans.

           (Read Romans 5:15-17)

      What words stand out in this love song of God recorded by the apostle Paul some twenty years

after the resurrection of Jesus?  “Free gift.”  “Free gift.”  “Free gift.”  Well, what other kind of gift

is there?  After all, if a gift is not free, it’s not really a gift.  If there is any cost to the recipient in order to receive

or accept a so-called “gift,” that gift is in reality a purchase, or a loan, or a debt.  Yet Paul says again and again that

God’s grace, God’s justification [which means being right with God], God’s righteousness – these are all gifts, freely given to us;

not deserved; nor earned; nor achieved; nor attained; nor requiring reciprocation.  Now what part of free might we not understand?

      My dear mother was a woman indwelt by a spirit of great generosity.  She loved to give gifts,

even to people she hardly knew.  When I would visit her in the weeks leading up to Christmas, she

invariably had a list in process of those for whom she had to buy a gift.  I would scan her list: Aunt

Janet and Uncle Jim, check.  Aunt Eleanor and Uncle Tony, check.  Sister Doris, check.  Niece Kathy

and children Vinny and Emily, check.  All the grandkids, check.  Son Larry, double check.  But wait a

minute.  Who’s this John B.?  The guy who drives the senior citizen’s shuttle?  And who’s JoAnn? 

The school crossing guard at State and Broadway?  And who’s Paula?  The cute dental assistant at

Dr. Iurlano’s office?  Mom, you hardly know these folks.” 

      My mother’s reply was typically the same.  “John is always so nice to the ladies when they get

on and off his bus.  JoAnn never fails to give me a smile when I drive by her crossing.  Paula is such

a good, little dental assistant.  I have to get them something.”  Over time, I came to realize that my

mother’s liberal gift-giving was to some degree a reflection of her sense of duty and obligation. 

When she received a gift, however small and inconsequential – a smile, a wave, a kind gesture, a

token – she could not rest unless she reciprocated.  So at Christmas, her list might contain the

names of virtually everyone with whom she had positively interacted over the previous year.  This

quality of Lois was one of the things that endeared her to so many.  At her calling hours, one visitor

after another commented:  “You’re mom was so generous!”  Yet I don’t know if she really ever

grasped the concept of a gift being free; truly and totally free. I don’t believe she was alone in

thinking this way.

      When we celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, especially in the case of infant or child baptism,

we are making a huge theological statement.  We know and agree with Paul when he writes earlier in his letter

to Rome that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  We likewise assent to the words of John

when he writes in his first letter:  “If we say that we have not sinned, we make (the Lord) a liar, and

his word is not in us.”  The Bible makes clear, and the reality of life, confirms that all of us have fallen or will fall short.

  The Bible makes it equally clear that when we confess our sin before God, God is faithful and just, and will forgive us all of it.

  Even so, the grace of God which is God’s gift to humankind through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ remains

in its essence free; not deserved, not earned, not achieved, not attained; not requiring reciprocation in its receipt or acceptance. 

“But pastor, how about duty, obligation, obedience to the requirements of God’s Law?  I’m not suggesting that duty, obligation

and obedience to God’s Law are unimportant.  They are very important.  But if these things stand front, center and absolutely

primary in our relationship to God through the gift of Christ, the question remains: what part of free might we not understand?

      Especially in the sacrament of infant baptism, again we make the powerful theological statement that at its fundamental core,

God’s grace is truly and totally free.  As I’ve said at other times, many are critical of the liberal Presbyterian position on baptism

which permits us – even encourages us – to apply the waters of baptism to those who are yet unable to confess with their

lips, or to respond or reciprocate in any way.  They cannot understand or say, “Jesus Christ is my

Lord and Savior.”  But even so, the witness we bear this morning as we baptize Audrey Marie is that

the gift of God’s love, God’s acceptance, God’s inclusion is truly and totally free.  Audrey becomes a

part of the covenant community of faith – the church – only upon the divine initiative of God

claiming her as God’s precious and beloved own.  It’s not her parents’ promises which invite the
Lord to lavish His love and grace upon the child.  It’s not the church’s action, or its vows of support,

which compel the Lord to lavish His love and grace upon the child.  It’s not the pastor’s position or

credentials which prompt the Lord to lavish His love and grace upon the child.  It’s all about God’s

initiative in extending the free gift of God’s love and grace.  How difficult this is for those who, for

whatever reason, cannot grasp the concept  of a gift – particularly God’s gift – being truly free.

      Of folks who oppose, even sometimes bitterly, our practice of baptizing those who are yet unable to believe

in their hearts and confess with their lips that Jesus is Lord, I say this:  “Let’s give

them something to talk about, a little mystery to figure out.”  The mystery is the vastness of

God’s love and the liberality of God’s grace.  The mystery is that, as Paul teaches in the 3rd chapter

of Romans, we don’t have to die (and for that matter, live) in our trespasses because of the sins of

our forebears, whom Paul hearkens back to as the one man Adam.  For through the one man Jesus,

God’s gift abounds which releases us from living and dying in our transgressions.  The mystery is

that the judgment brought by sin, and all our efforts to make things right by our own doing,

earning, achieving, reciprocating are entirely overwhelmed by, as Paul writes, “the abundance of

grace and the free gift of righteousness (which) exercise dominion in life through the one man,

Jesus Christ.”  The mystery is that the death sentence for all humankind has been assumed by

God’s very self; that sentence being exchanged for the eternally-liberating gift of life.  That certainly

gives all of us something to at least think about, if not talk about.

      Another element of the mystery is that the gift is not simply given, unwrapped, and left to sit.  It

is a gift which is perpetual and continues to be given.  This morning, we make a huge statement

about what God has initiated, and about what God will continue to do in Audrey’s life, and in the

lives of all of us who are of the covenant community of Christ.  The parents make vows, and the

church makes vows, all with the full belief and expectation that God will work throughout the

entire life of this precious child.  Audrey will grow and mature in the faith under the guidance of

her parents, her family and her church.  She will struggle with difficult questions with which all who

have come to a deep and genuine relationship with Christ have struggled.  All will lead her to the

 

day when she will stand before this congregation, and with her lips, and from her heart, confess

Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior.  She will then be reminded of the gift of this day, and hopefully

not see her relationship with God purely and primarily in terms of duty, obligation, reciprocation,

obedience to the requirements of God’s Law.  Rather may she see front and center her relationship

with God in terms of gratitude, sharing, serving, responding in faith to the very Spirit of God’s Law.

And that very Spirit is refrained both by Bonnie Raitt in the lyrics of that country song you may

know, and by the church in its sacramental testimony: “love, love, love.”

      Now let’s proceed in sharing this gift of God as we witness together this living testimony to the

love and grace of Christ.  Let’s gather our hearts around this child and her family, confident that

what God initiates this day, God will continue to work out in Audrey’s life journey.  By what we say

and what we do, “Let’s give them something to talk about, a little mystery to figure out.  How

about love.”   Amen.