From “Preaching the Sacraments” in The Preached God by Gerhard O. Forde. Edited by Mark C. Mattes and Steven D. Paulson (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007). For future reference (cuz that’s the problem with library books – I have to return them and I forget where the quote comes from!)
But how shall we do it? No doubt sacraments should find their way into a good many sermons if not all of them. When there is a baptism or a baptism Sunday there should be a specific baptismal sermon. Perhaps the best way to close out this essay is to offer again some concrete suggestions and experiments to exemplify what I have been talking about.
I begin with baptism. If baptism is to be preached in accord with what I have been saying, it should be preached as the unrelenting and unconditional divine yes that cuts off our inward flight at every point, lays the old to rest, and calls forth the new. It would probably go something as follows. Baptism regenerates, it works forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. But how can it do that? Simply by being what it is, a washing with water that cannot be erased together with the speaking of the promise, the creative word, the divine yes spoken over us, spoken to us from the outside, from the beginning, the first an the last word about us, the word calling us to life out of our death “in Adam.” “You are mine,” says the Lord God. “You always have been and always will be.” But that, of course, is incredible. Maybe even frightening. Thus all the questions come tumbling out, all of them attempts to take the gift and retreat inside, protests of the old Adam and Even who know themselves to be under radical attack in their inner bastions.
But in the preaching all the questions must be countered relentlessly by the divine yes. Is baptism enough? Yes! It works forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Live in that and hear it again each day. Believe that it is enough and that is certainly enough! Would it have all the significance even if I were only a baby and did not know what was going on? Yes, because it was God who spoke that yes over you. God is God. What about my response? Are you saying that I do not even have to respond? Now that, of course, is the trickiest question of all in the old Adam’s aresenal. It too can only be countered ultimately with what is perhaps an equally tricky yes. Yes, I am saying you do not have to respond. What is the matter, do you not want to? It is the old Adam who can only think in dreary terms of have to and ask stupid questions about it. The old is through, drowned in the water. If you think it is a matter of have to, forget it! Here we are calling forth the new who simply wants to. This is the divine yes calling to our yes in the Spirit. “Awake thou that sleepest and arise from the dead!” Come out of your stinking tomb! But, but, do you mean to say I am not free to reject? Yes, I should hope so! What in the world do you want to do that for? How could you call such rejection freedom? To reject must be only the most horrible form of bondage. It certainly is not “freedom”! Does that not mean that God is taking a great risk? Yes indeed. But he takes it nevertheless, even unto death. Are you saying, “Once saved, always saved”? Yes. What is wrong with that? I am counting on it, aren’t you? It is the divine yes, God’s Word. You do not mean that grace is irresistible, do you? Yes. I find it to be so, do you not? To be sure, grace is not force. Grace is just grace and as such it is by definition “irresistible,” I expect! Does that not mean it could be grossly misunderstood, misused, and abused? Yes, I expect it does. But God suffered all the abuse to bring it to light. Is that not what it’s all about? Should God, as Luther could put it, call off his goodness for the sake of the ungodly? If so, who at all would be saved?
The answer, you see, is yes, yes, yes. It is God’s yes, and he will go on saying it until finally you die of it and being to whisper, “Amen! So be it Lord!” Baptism does regenerate. Of course this is dangerous business! So-called evangelicals will howl about sacramentalism and object vociferously to the “magic” of such externalism. And they are quite right to do so if sacraments are only analogies of allegories of our inner life. If sacraments, that is, leave the old subject intact we could not speak like this or put such confidence in sacraments. Either we must preach them so they kill the old Adam and Eve or we’d better forget them. A sacrament that has all the objective validity we want to claim for it and still leaves the old subject intact is only an invitation to disaster.