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1 Peter 2:1-12

So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation - if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: "Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame." So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone," and "A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense." They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (ESV)
Baptism Exceedingly Great
Martin of Tours, Pastor
11 November 2015
Baptism gives illumination to the soul of the baptized. It has long been associated with the time of the Epiphany of our Lord. Already at the time of Gregory of Nazianzus (c. 381) the commemoration of baptism was celebrated on Epiphany day. The deep appreciation of the ancient church for baptism is evident in the sermon delivered by Gregory late on Epiphany Day in 381 A.D. He strains to express the best descriptors for this great sacrament. The most important name for baptism in Gregory's estimation is "illumination." This kind of language is hardly ever used by the church today, even though we celebrate the baptism of our Lord, and therefore our own baptisms, on the Sunday after the Epiphany. Who thinks of baptism as illumination now? We are hardly as effusive in praise of baptism as was Gregory, and to our shame.
Several years ago, a new student came to our school at the start of seventh grade. When the associate pastor began to teach the sacrament of baptism in February, this new student asked, "Lutherans think a great deal of baptism, according to what you're teaching me. If that's the case, then where is the baptismal font in your church?" The child had sat through six months of chapel services and was unable to see the font in our church, because it was so tiny and insignificant. It has since been enlarged and made more significant. The font itself is now a glass bowl which is lighted from below. Gregory of Nazianzus would hardly consider it right to have a font that is invisible to those who are looking for it. In what way would it be a sign of illumination if it can't be seen? What praise of baptism would be implied by a font that hides from the faithful? Then how could baptism be an illumination of illuminations?
Baptism is a gift of grace. Gregory calls it both a gift and a grace. He is perfectly clear that those who are baptized do not merit any part of it and they gain innumerable blessings from it. It takes us from darkness to light, from death to life, and from earth to heaven. It is the conveyance taking us to heaven. It clothes us with the righteousness of Jesus Christ Himself (Gal 3:27). It is an anointment from our heavenly Father making us kings and priests in His kingdom forever. How can we sufficiently extol the gift of baptism? Like Gregory we shall find ourselves, tongue-tied, unable to form the right words to speak of its exceedingly great benefits.


Gregory Nazianzus

"Let us discourse upon the second birth in baptism, which is necessary for us, and which gives its name to the Feast of the Lights (Epiphany). Illumination is the splendor of souls, the conversion of the life, the questions put to the good conscience toward God (1Pt 3:21). It is the aid to our weakness, the renunciation of the flesh, the following of the Spirit, the fellowship of the Word, the improvement of the creature, the overwhelming of sin, the participation in light, the dissolution of darkness. It is conveyance to God, dying with Christ, the perfecting of the mind, the rampart of faith, the key of the kingdom of heaven, the change of life, the manumission of slavery, the loosing of chains, the remodeling of the whole man. Why should I go into further detail? Illumination is the greatest and most magnificent of the gifts of God. For just as we speak of the Holy of Holies, and the Song of Songs, as more comprehensive and more excellent than others, so is this called illumination because it is more holy than any other illumination which we possess.
"As Christ the giver of it is called by many various names, so too is this gift, whether it is from the exceeding joy of its nature (as those who are very fond of a thing take pleasure in using its name), or that the great variety of its benefits has reacted for us upon its names. We call it, the gift, the grace, baptism, anointment, illumination and, the clothing of immortality, the font of regeneration, the seal, and everything that is honorable. We call it the gift, because it is given to us in return for nothing on our part; grace, because it is conferred even on debtors; baptism, because sin is buried with it in the water; anointment, because it is priestly and royal. It is called illumination, because of its splendor; Clothing, because it hides our shame; the font, because it washes us; the seal because it preserves us, and is moreover the indication of the Lord's dominion. In it the heavens rejoice. It is glorified by angels, because of its related splendor. It is the image of the heavenly bliss. We long indeed to sing out its praises, but we cannot worthily do so."

Gregory Nazianzus, Theological Oration, 40.3-4  
Almighty and most merciful God and Father, we thank and praise You that You graciously preserve and enlarge Your family and have granted us the new birth in Holy Baptism and made us members of Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and heirs of Your heavenly kingdom. We humbly implore You that, since we have become Your children, You would keep us in our baptismal grace, that according to Your good pleasure we may faithfully lead a godly life to the praise and honor of Your holy name and finally, with all Your saints, obtain the promised inheritance in heaven; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
For combat veterans, who have borne the trial of arms, that the Lord Jesus would bless them with strength and divinely given peace
For Joanna Karner, that the Lord would keep her in the palm of His hands
For the Luther Academy, that the Lord would prosper its work to support confessional Lutheran teaching in the United States and throughout the world
Art: Dürer, Albrecht  The Adoration of the Trinity (1515) 

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Memorial Lutheran Church | 5800 Westheimer Rd. | Houston | TX | 77057