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02.07.10 Baptismal Faith, Luke 5:1-11; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 Sermon Summary

by on February 25, 2010

How is it possible to “believe in vain” as Paul suggests in this passage? We may get a clue from its opposite. What does Paul say characterizes productive or successful faith (verses 1-2)? Such faith includes:

  • Proclamation, which includes both the traditions of Scripture and those of the Church (Paul is the example of non-scriptural ecclesial proclamation); today this called the gospel
  • Reception of the proclamation, which is what today we would call belief
  • Standing in the proclamation, which we would call trust
  • Salvation as process, which we would call faithfulness
  • Holding firm: this is the key to understanding what “believing in vain” might mean

What does it mean to “hold firm”? To what are we to “hold firm” we are not to believe in vain? In the following verses, Paul outlines the early Christian creed he received and which he proclaimed, that:

  • Christ died
  • He was buried
  • He was raised
  • He appeared, and more, he appeared to me,
  • Christ’s appearance causes Paul to work through grace

This last point, a life transformed by the individual appearance of Christ such that one works through grace, is the key to understanding what it means to “hold firm” and what it means to “believe in vain.”

In its most basic sense, grace is simply the recognition that God moves first. With regards to Paul’s “work”, it is God that gave him the desire to do it, and God who gives him the power to do it. Grace as God’s prior and providential move is evident also in the circumstances of our lives. Our very lives themselves are gifts from God. But so are the particular circumstances of our lives. They too testify to God’s prevenient grace. Our sex, birth order, genetic makeup, abilities—all reside outside our control, all are given, all are part of God’s grace.

Grace means God moves first. Our response to grace is called our vocation. Grace comes to us, calls to us, and our faithful response is our vocation. Grace “saves” us, that is true, but for what? That “what” is the “work” Paul refers to as motivated by grace. It is his “holding firm” such that his belief is not “in vain.”

The concepts of grace and vocation are sacramentalized in baptism. Baptism symbolizes that:

  • Jesus has died our death to free us to new life
  • Jesus was resurrected and walks with us now in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit
  • Salvation is a gift of grace, and our response is working out that gift

Such faith is baptismal faith. Baptismal faith is the opposite of vain faith. Faith that fulfills the promises of baptism is faith in saving grace, a faith that results in salvation with a purpose. It is productive, successful faith; faith that is not in vain.

As a model of baptismal faith, consider Jesus’ calling of Peter and his associates as disciples. Peter and his fishing partners were washing their nets after working all night. Jesus commandeers Peter’s boat in order to teach a large crowd. Then he directs Peter to drop his nets once again.

Imagine Peter’s frustration. Following Jesus would mean making the nets dirty again. It means more work. It means a professional fisherman taking advice from an itinerant preaching carpenter.

But nonetheless, Peter hears Jesus’ word, believes it, acts upon it, and God is revealed in his midst. Then Peter responds as did Moses, Gideon, and Isaiah—he is filled with awe. Jesus offers him such assurance that Peter abandons his profession and becomes a “fisher of men and women.” And in his first sermon following the resurrection, Peter superintended the baptism of over 3000 people. Peter’s faith was not belief in vain, and he proclaimed a baptismal faith just as Paul did.

What could happen in your life, and in our world, if we “held firm” in the faith as Peter and Paul did? What would happen if we were found not to have believed in vain? What would happen if our salvation found a purpose? What would happen if we had baptismal faith?

Questions for Further Reflection

Assuming you know the gospel, believe it, trust God, and seek to live faithfully, do you realize it is still possible to believe in vain? In what ways is your faith in vain? Are you holding firm, allowing grace to work through your life as a result of Christ’s appearance to you?

Paul’s proclamation wasn’t just the “gospel” of “Jesus died and you must believe it.” It included his transformed life. In what ways are you proclaiming this gospel?

Really answer the questions that end this sermon.

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