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Sacraments for sinners

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By Nancy Kennedy

Last week my friend Mike got baptized.
As the only adult being baptized, he was upstaged by some cute little kids and a baby, but he still shined.
We baptize babies and grownups at my church because we believe baptism is not so much us declaring our commitment to follow Jesus, but it’s our declaration that we’re in desperate need of his cleansing.
It’s one of two sacraments we celebrate, the other one being communion.
Before Mike’s baptism we watched him on a video recorded earlier in the week. The first thing he said was, “I’m an alcoholic. I’m sober, but I’m an alcoholic.”
He said he’d been coming to the church for a long time. He talked some about his being sick from his drinking before he got sober, that he had even been drunk while at church.
He talked about being a screw up and a loser and being broken. He said he began reading the gospel of Luke and realized that Jesus came to seek and to save the screw ups and losers and the broken. He identified with them. If Jesus loved them, he reasoned, then maybe he’ll love me.
He used the term “reborn.” If you knew the “before Jesus” Mike you’d know that once God rescued him by grace and set him free from the demons that plagued him, reborn is an accurate description of what happened to him.
One day years ago, Mike came to me, sick and scared. He said he felt like God and the devil were each pulling at him and he was terrified because he didn’t know who would win. I think he was afraid he was dying, and maybe he was.
I told him, “In a battle between God and the devil, God always wins.”
Mike has since told me that he didn’t know that back then, but now he does. His new life of wonder and faith is evidence of God winning. That’s what Mike’s baptism was all about — God winning.
Mike used to wear a ratty looking red cardigan with a torn pocket. Now he wears button-down shirts with ties. Not that that’s a requirement of the Christian faith, but in Mike’s life it’s a sign.
He was broken and Jesus is fixing him. He was lost and Jesus found him. He was sick and Jesus is making him whole — and it shows.
So, last week we celebrated the sacrament of baptism and celebrated the God who saved a wretch like Mike. His words on the video were powerful. I can’t explain it — you can’t explain when the Spirit of God shows up. But everyone in the church felt it. Mike said later that he felt it too. He felt the “Wow,” he said.
Whenever there’s a baptism, I put myself in place of the baby in her mother’s arms or the grown up kneeling, receiving the handful of water on top of his head.
We sang, “Foul, I to the Fountain fly; wash me, Savior, or I die.”
As the pastor poured water on Mike’s head I prayed, “Wash me, too, Savior!”
That was last week, and as is my church’s tradition, the week following the sacrament of baptism we celebrate the sacrament of communion.
Like baptism, the sacrament of communion is not for those who are good and whose devotion and commitment are pure, but for those who admit they need grace and mercy, those who have run to Jesus for forgiveness.
It’s Christ’s body broken and his blood shed for sinners.
Truly, the Christian faith comes down to that. We are dirty and need to be cleansed. We are lost and need to be found, broken and need to be fixed.
If you knew Mike, you’d know that he loves his life now. He loves being sober. He loves chocolate and fried chicken and garlic toast and walking in the morning. He loves tacky neckties and shopping at the dollar stores.
He loves talking about loving his life and the wonder at being at peace after years of being in torment. He loves Jesus.
After Mike was baptized last week, everybody clapped. We clapped because God is good, because Jesus came to save sinners, because “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9) and because he’s given us sacraments to remind us.
Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at (352) 564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via email at nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.