Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | August 14, 2011

Some difficult doctrines — Baptism and Holy Communion

“You buy, you buy!”  That call hounded us throughout Greece and Turkey.  Strangers, young and old, hassled us American tourists, trying to get us to buy guidebooks and postcards and Kenneth Cool jackets and Rulex watches and Chanel #6 perfumes.

I got so sick of it, that when one of the street vendors came up to me, I offered him a stick in exchange for the postcards he was selling.  For a second – a second – he looked at me, as if to say, “Does this American know something about that stick that I don’t?”  But very quickly he realized it was worthless and I wasn’t buying the postcards.

My word didn’t give that stick any value.  But what if it was God saying it?  What if God came to you, held out a stick, and said, “This is a most precious and valuable thing.  Keep hold of this stick, and you are richer than Croesus.  Midas can keep his golden touch, because you’ve got this stick.”

As Luther says, “What God institutes and commands cannot be an empty thing” (Large Catechism, IV:8).  His Word does not return to Him empty.  It accomplishes what He desires and achieves the purpose for which He sent it (Isaiah 55:11).

He holds before us water, bread, and wine.  And then He says, “They are precious and valuable.  They are more than they seem.  Baptism now saves you.  This is the body of my Son.  This is the blood of my Son.  They are given to you for the forgiveness of sins.  Do these things.”  Now these things, these simple, seemingly common, seemingly not too valuable, things, are more than valuable.  They are forgiveness and they are life.  To quote Augustine, “When the Word is joined to the element…it becomes a sacrament” (Large Catechism, IV:18).

Baptism and Holy Communion are what they are not because of who receives them or who distributes them.  But because of Who institutes them, Who commands them, Who gives them to His Church.  Luther, one last time:  “But the Scriptures teach this: Even though we collect in one pile the works of all the monks, however splendidly they may shine, they would not be as noble and good as if God should pick up a single straw. Why? Because the person is nobler and better. Here, then, we must not judge the person according to the works, but the works according to the person, from whom they must get their nobility” (Large Catechism, IV:12).  Baptism and Communion are what they are (sacraments) and give what they give (forgiveness and life) because God is who He is and said what He said.


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