An Incomplete Sentence

Text: Matthew 28:19
Date: The Holy Trinity + 6/15/14

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. What? What is in the name of the Trinity? Who? Who is in the name? What’s missing in that oft repeated sentence is a subject and a verb. Therefore it is an incomplete sentence. Many a pastor has felt it necessary to “remedy” this by saying something to the effect, “We make our beginning in the name….” Well, in a certain way they’re right. Left unsaid, however, is our beginning of what? So the idea still remains incomplete.

Funny! (The subject and verb “it is” being implied!), it is funny that an incomplete sentence should describe a complete person. What I mean is to say that who and what is complete in this name but a Christian disciple. For this is how Jesus commanded that disciples are to be made, this is how you were made a Christian, a disciple of Jesus, namely, by “baptizing them in the name….” Funny! It is funny furthermore how certain large sectors of Christianity should on the one hand claim to be Christian disciples and yet on the other hand reject or question the command of baptism, or try to change it to be something else or serve a different purpose.

Certainly baptism isn’t magic that is that just by the outward act a person becomes a Christian. Yet, what else can you add to this outward act? Baptism isn’t magic.

I do remember, however, a woman who came to me in my first congregation in Chicago. She said she was a Christian and she was married to a Muslim. This was way before the sensitivities of our post-9/11/01 experience. She said that a short time ago they had their first child born to them. But her husband demanded that the child should not be baptized as a Christian. This troubled this Christian woman greatly.

In our discussion, however, she related a time when she was coming down from upstairs and heard her mother in the kitchen with the little one baptizing her in the kitchen sink. I asked, “Did you hear what she said?” The woman reported that she heard her mother applying water, saying her name and saying, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Well what is baptism? Answer: “Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s word.” What word? This word of Matthew 28:19. Though baptism normally happens in church, at the end of all of our hymnals (page 1023 in Lutheran Service Book) we have always included “Holy Baptism In Cases of Emergency.” The very first sentence says, “In urgent situations, in the absence of the pastor, any Christian may administer Holy Baptism.” “Take water, call the child or adult by name, and pour or sprinkle the water on the head of the candidate while saying: Name, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” “Holy Baptism administered by a layperson shall immediately be reported to the pastor for its recognition by the congregation.”

At the woman’s report I simply responded saying something to the effect, “Well congratulations! Do you want me to write out a baptismal certificate?”

Now, I’d say that, while baptism is not magic, it is a sacrament, that is, an act commanded by God using some visible means through which God has promised to work faith, to give and feed the new birth.

So I was thinking. The Invocation that we say and hear at the beginning of every Divine Service, this incomplete sentence is not so much a declaration or announcement of anything to the people gathered for worship. Though the rubric in the Lutheran Service Book gives the choice, “The presiding minister may face the altar and sign himself, or he may face the congregation and mark them with the sign of the cross,”[1] I believe it is more appropriate for him to face the altar. For it is more accurate to think of these words almost as a not so secret “password” necessary for admittance into God’s presence. It is the only reason we have the right, that we dare enter into the presence of the most Holy God, namely because, as these words recall and declare, we are baptized, because we already belong to Him, because we are part of His family.

It is funny that an incomplete sentence should describe the complete person. For, apart from God, on our own, by our fallen, sinful, broken nature, we are incomplete persons; incomplete because sin separates us from God and from life. We’re not what God originally intended us to be when He created us. But because of this helplessness of all people born into sin God sent His Son, that Person of God through Whom all things were created in the beginning, His Son who, for us and for our salvation came down from heaven, this “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him…this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God [Whom] you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:22-23). Then, when it seemed the end to everything, to every hope, to every longing for life, on the cross, only then was His sentence and our sentence made complete when He said, “It is finished” (Jn 19:30). What was finished? Finished, completed, His work of salvation, the vicarious offering and sacrifice of His holy Body and Blood on the cross by which the sin of the world, by which all your sin is taken away, wiped out, forgotten, forgiven.

The last thing, therefore, is to connect you to this saving sacrifice. But how can we go back in time to be so connected? We don’t and we can’t. Therefore Christ by the Holy Spirit brings His salvation forward through time and connects us with Him in the Sacraments. We are made complete by the incomplete sentence, by being baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We are born again in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We are kept strong in the confidence of faith in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We dare enter into the presence of the Holy God, the Holy Mighty God, the Holy and Most Merciful Creator in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, that is, by the grace of our baptism. And we make all our beginnings and our endings in Him who is “with you always, to the end of the age.” In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

[1] Lutheran Service Book, Altar Book page 133.