Baptized: Head & Heart & Life

A Sermon Shared with the People of St. Matthew’s, St. Paul, June 30, 2013
Phillip Boelter



Imagine with me that you are standing on the edge of a water filled gorge...

on this side with us

are all of our beliefs,

our treasured theological musings,

our creeds, spoken and unspoken,

in short our faith.


On the other side,

across a yawning darkened chasm,

lies the world of works....

the good we do for others,

the kind acts we do in the name of Christ,

the obedience we would render to God.


How do these two,

the believing and the doing,

the head and the heart,

relate to each other?


What lies between

and how do we cross this watery chasm?


The Apostle Paul had a lot to say about such questions

in his letter to the Galatians.


Love Paul 

or hate him

or  even practice a studied indifference to him,

he is still, 

after our Lord Jesus, 

one of the most influential figures in our Christian  faith community.


In my Missouri Synod Lutheran home

we were frequently reminded

of how bravely the apostle Paul

fought for justification by faith alone,

apart from works.


And of course  in OUR home

one couldn't mention the Apostle Paul

without in the next breath

thanking God for the great Reformer Martin Luther.


Justification by faith alone meant for our family of faith

that God alone does the heavy lifting for our salvation.


Nothing we do,

or fail to do,

makes one iota of difference in our relationship with God.


For Lutherans,

It’s all about faith and trust in God alone,

not in anything we humans do.


Don’t get me wrong.


I still love my Lutheran heritage,

its emphasis on faith alone

and its respect for the apostle Paul.


However, as I moved out into the world

beyond my insulated childhood faith

in my twenties and thirties and forties

I began to ask other questions,

different questions.


What is this justification by faith thing anyway?

Does it mean we don’t do anything…

That God does it all?


Or as long as you and I believe the right doctrine,

then nothing else matters?


It was all very confusing at the time.


The pathway between what I always believed in my head

and what I knew was in my  heart

eventually led me through a watery baptismal grave.


There my own most cherish beliefs

and my strongest held priorities

have had to die and rise

with the crucified and risen Christ

again and again and again.


After I had been a Lutheran pastor for seven years,

as I went through grad school at Notre Dame,

I went through a divorce,

And began a new life as a single dad.


It was then that I learned that

 justification by faith alone

is really a misnomer.


The truth is really that we are justified

by God’s faithfulness to us

in a real tangible and sometimes very tough relationship.


It’s not just a head thing-

It’s a heart thing-

And a hands and feet thing.


If there really is a God of Grace,

Then this God DOES indeed come to us,


In our intellect and our ideas and our brain,

but he also comes to across dark and dangerous chasms

where our most cherished beliefs

are challenged and overthrown

by how we respond to God’s movement in our lives and world.


I remember one night,

shortly after my wife Roxanne and I had separated.


She and I were headed toward our divorce,

It’s been sixteen long years,

But I remember this moment like it was yesterday.


One night I climbed the stairs and put our two young sons to bed.

I looked in on our two sons, ages two and four,

sleeping so peacefully in their beds.


And at that moment

I felt like I was standing at the edge of a cliff.


What would life be like for me, for us?

I literally had no idea

what I would do for a living,

where I would go,

how I could survive.


I stared for a very long time,

pausing at that step from which I knew even then

 there was no turning back.


But still I knew I had to move forward through that awful moment.


I had no way of knowing at the time

But on the other side of this chasm

between my head and my heart

lay a new life,

a new community of the baptized,

new purpose.


For the Apostle Paul,

For me in my divorce,

And for us today,

the answer lies in death and life,

death to self and life in the Spirit of God.


In short, as many of us as have been baptized into Christ,

immersed into the waters of baptism,

have died and risen with Christ.


In Paul's view,

As many as have made the journey through these waters

have all put on,

or been clothed with,



Our Baptist sisters and brothers have an advantage here,

because it isn't always as evident when we baptize by sprinkling or pouring.


But the visual truth of baptism is this:

every one who is baptized is plunged down into the waters of death

with Christ, and then raised up to new life in Christ.


Every experience of our everyday lives,

Good bad or indifferent,

all become part of this journey through death into life,

as we face life’s joys and difficulties

In the companionship of God and Christ


As the Apostle says elsewhere in the book of Galatians,


I have been crucified with Christ

and it is no longer I who live

but  it is Christ who lives in me

and the life I live now in the flesh

I live by faith in the Son of God

who loved me and gave himself for me.


For me,

as I went through my divorce,

being clothed with Christ meant finding a new community to belong to,

a place where I could trust and be trusted by others.


For me,

that new life came in the form of a single dads group.

I first went to the group in need of help.

I wanted to know how to parent as a divorced dad.


In that group I found other men who had undergone

experiences like mine,

others who could share our needs together,

our joys,

our hurts,

our ways of coping,

our journeys.


And after a few years,

This new life took on another dimension for me.


After my own life had stabilized,

I was able to turn around and offer the same support

To other fathers who were facing what I had faced.


Deep down in the dark chasm of our baptismal existence

lies death,

but it is anything but death alone.


It is death and dying,

but also rising and living with Christ

and WITH and FOR each other.


Eventually I discovered also

that journeys like these

 are never made alone-

by me, by you

or by anyone else who goes by the name of Christian.


Our daily beliefs and practices

are a communal exercise in living out

the death and the life God gives us in our baptism,

and moving forward

and sometimes stumbling through this world for which Christ died.


Our baptismal vows,

reflected in the Book of Common Prayer

share this same profound personal and communal configuration.


Turn with me, if you will,

 to page 302 in the Book of Common Prayer (the (black???) book in your pews)


Here we see that those who are to be baptized

are questioned closely about their belief.


I invite you to join in on the responses.


Question     Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces

                of wickedness that rebel against God?

Answer        I renounce them.


Question     Do you renounce the evil powers of this world

                which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?

Answer        I renounce them.


Question     Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you

                from the love of God?

Answer        I renounce them.


Question     Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your


Answer        I do.


Question     Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?

Answer        I do.


Question     Do you promise to follow and obey him as your


Answer       I do.


These are core questions about what we believe as Christians.

They are the molten core of apostolic Christianity.


But like a good marriage ceremony,

the "I do" is just the beginning.


Then the Apostle’s Creed is proclaimed- the essence of our faith-

Do you believe in God the Father,

God the Son,   God the Holy Spirit?


This creed is the theological spinning out of those earlier, simpler questions-

prayed over,

thought through

and refined,

as it were,

by multiple generations of theologians and thinkers.


But right here after the Creed,

is where the tenor of the liturgical conversation shifts.


Here is where the great chasm is bridged.

as our attention turns from belief to practice:


On page 305 we continue with the Baptismal Covenant.


Here we find ourselves moving from what we believe

firmly to the ground of just what

we Christians are supposed to be doing.


Again, I invite you to join in on the responses.


Celebrant      Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever

                 you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

People          I will, with God’s help.


Celebrant     Will you proclaim by word example the Good

                 News of God in Christ?

People          I will, with God’s help.


Celebrant      Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving

                 your neighbor as yourself?

People          I will, with God’s help.


Celebrant      Will you strive for justice and peace among all

                 people, and respect the dignity of every human


People          I will, with God’s help.


In the end,

be we Catholic or Lutheran or Anglican

or simply nameless believing unbelievers,

there is only one way for us

to continue bridging that gap

between what we believe  and what we do.


It is by the daily living into

and out of the gift of new life

we have already received in Holy Baptism

in our Lord Jesus Christ.


We live out our beliefs

and our baptism into Christ's death and rising

when we return again and again to God's forgiving love,

forgiving each other as Christ does for us.


We walk the watery way

when we peer long and hard

into the lives of those whose lifestyles are different from our own

and purpose to meet God there,

already working in them,

no matter how different from us they may be.


We renew our baptismal vows

when we joyfully

each and every day,

seek out those in our communities

who need to experience the renewed dignity

of their personhood,

the ones for whom,

after all,

Christ died and rose.


We live out our baptism

Whenever and wherever

 we chose to face and cross the watery chasms

which lead us from head to heart to community

and to God, Godself.



Will you join today on that journey?

Will you cross the chasm from belief to life?


In the name of the One into Whom we are baptized,

Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.