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Leave the Old Country Behind

January 7, 2019

That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land!” (Romans 6:3-4, The Message)

Like me, you may have grandparents or great-grandparents who came from “the old country.”  In my case, the “old country” was Poland, and all four of my grandparents came to the United States around the beginning of the twentieth century.  Some, if not all of them, arrived in this country through the Port of Baltimore.  Most of the people who came from the old country around that time were anxious to be done with their country of origin.  They were ready to move on.  Our relatives rarely spoke of the old country.

Leaving the old country behind is a theme of the Scripture texts for next Sunday,[1]  when we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord, and our own baptisms.  Luke records “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3: 21-22).  The Holy Spirit in this passage descends on Jesus in the form of a dove. As Jesus received the Holy Spirit at his baptism, we also received the Holy Spirit at our baptism and became God’s adopted sons and daughters.

In the early church, full immersion was the common form of baptism.  The lowering of the person into the water symbolized the burial of the person’s sins. Coming out of the water symbolized resurrection—a new life with Christ, with the old left behind.  That is what Paul is referencing when he wrote, “That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land!. . . When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did.” (Romans 6:3-4, 8-11, The Message).  We leave our old selves, the old country, behind in baptism and start a new life in our new country—a place of grace where Christ is our leader.

As baptized Christians, when we left the old country we learned to speak a new language–the language of love.  Our sins were nailed to the cross with Jesus.  The message of the cross is to forget the language of sin and start speaking the language of love.  Our job as baptized Christians is to live a life of active love.  As Paul says, “our old self was crucified with him [Jesus]” (Romans 6: 6).   We left the old country and we’re not going back.   In the Nicene Creed we “acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.”  While we will continue to sin throughout our lives, we do not do so with intention.  Sin is a by-product of being a human being.  But our conscious goal and fervent prayer as citizens of our new country is to follow Jesus’ example, and to live as “little Christs.”  We throw off the chains of guilt and move toward the light of Christ.  Guilt is to the soul what pain is to the body—it tells us that something is wrong.  Remember what the Holy Spirit did at your baptism, and leave the old country behind.  Welcome to the new country of grace.

 Prayer:   Father, help us remember that you filled us with your light at our baptism and that your Spirit is with us every moment of our lives.  Open us to the guidance and comfort of your Spirit as we struggle with the challenges we face in our everyday lives.  Help us to walk as children of light knowing that by Jesus’ sacrifice, our sins were left at the cross.  Thank you for welcoming us into the new country of grace.  Amen

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1]The Scripture texts for the Baptism of our Lord are Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 29; Romans 6: 1-11; Luke 3: 15-22.

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