Genesis 7-9, 1 Peter 3, John 3: Roger Getz’ Funeral Sermon

In 1949, a new child entered the world, Roger Getz. Typical of many in Missouri, he grew up in a small town, Flat River. Now, this may mean nothing to you. Perhaps, this might help. In January 1994, Flat River, Elvins, Esther, and Rivermines merged to form Park Hills, eight miles south of Bonne Terre.

Characteristic for someone growing up in the 1950s, he often went to church. Anxious about communism, our then-president, Dwight Eisenhower, viewed church attendance as a bulwark against this atheistic ideology. Why, he deemed churches to be a “matchless armor in our world-wide struggle against the forces of [a] godless tyranny,” meaning the Soviet Union and China.

With a name like Getz, hailing from Franconia, Germany, you might assume Roger wallowed in the waters of Roman Catholicism or Lutheranism. Nope, for he received baptism at the First Baptist Church of Flat River when eight years old. In wisdom and stature, he matured, later finding the favor of a young, attractive woman, Connie.

Nevertheless, Connie lived in another rural town, Rosebud, Missouri, with around 500 people on a crowded day. Smack in the center is Immanuel Lutheran Church, where she attended: A Lutheran from Lutheran stock.

Of course, we recognize what happened. So, what will this couple do? Will they each keep their take on Christianity? Most times, the man follows the woman since he needs to woo her more than she, him. Though, Roger’s a bit more hard-headed than most—30 years’ worth! Still, they soon marry, wedding bells and all, and both are teachers. At last, our Gospel reading from John 3 gains traction.

Consider the first few words from a man, Nicodemus, “Rabbi, you must be a teacher come from God.” Though never so presumptuous to regard himself to be “Jesus,” Roger and Jesus both taught others. Still, before someone can educate another as he should, he must learn what is from what is not. After Roger married, as with Nicodemus, he needed to fathom more about Jesus.

Swept away by healing and water becoming wine, Nicodemus wished to find out more. Next, this nighttime-learner states an obvious conclusion. “No one can perform the signs you do apart from the presence of God.”

Unlike the educational technique of going from the familiar into the unfamiliar, Jesus leaps ahead. Take in His response, “Unless one is born from above, he cannot be part of God’s kingdom.” Are we on the same sheet? At first, we all think “no.”

Let us not be so hasty. Despite Nicodemus not getting this, Jesus will instruct him on what he requires, not what he fancies. “Don’t let your eyes bedazzle you, for you are focusing on the wrong miracles.” Almost euphoric by visible signs and wonders, Jesus directs this befuddled man to the greater miracle—baptism. Confused, Nicodemus is beyond clueless, which we can only catch if we read from the original Greek text.

Ah, “anothen,” the word Jesus uses but, oh, how our translations betray us. First, this word can be time-related, something taking place at two different times, which Nicodemus assumes this Rabbi means. So, the bewildered man begins obsessing over a flesh-and-blood, second birth. Why he thinks he must squeeze back into his mother, who must birth him a second time.

Another definition for “anothen” deals with location, not time, something from above, heaven. So, Jesus must enlighten this man, “Unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he will not enter the kingdom of God.” So, this isn’t a physical birth, but spiritual.

Your flesh can only birth another en-fleshed being, which is your birth here, below, from your mother. Once delivered, you can’t crawl back into your mom’s belly for another go around—nor would she let you. Can you not appreciate why this poor man is mystified?

Like every birth, being born is something you can’t do to yourself. No, childbirth is something done to you by another. So, this water-and-Spirit birth is God’s doing, birthing someone into spiritual life by the Spirit’s use of water—baptism.

Like Nicodemus, we think we understand. How can Jesus be talking about baptism? Only after He dies and rises does He command His Apostles to disciple the nations by baptizing and teaching (Matthew 28:19-20).

Contemplate what occurs next in this continuing dialogue. To keep us from perishing forever, God sent His Son. Still, He is yet to die on the forsaken wood. Though what else can Christ be referring to but His looming death on the cross? Both baptism and His death still await and, yet, He talks about them both. Yes, we also trip over His words, drowning in the deep water of our Savior’s reflections.

Silly man, you didn’t cause your first birth. So, what makes you think you can birth yourself from above? Only God can do this, using water and His life-giving Spirit.

Ponder the destroying deluge in Genesis. In this world, wickedness became an insatiable beast, seeking no reprieve. Scrutinize what’s on the line when God mentions evil overtaking the world. Without an intervention, Noah’s offspring will soon forsake God’s promise of His heaven-sent Rescuer to come.

So, God acts. For, if He doesn’t intercede for our salvation, immortal life will fail to become a reality for the corrupted descendants of Adam, for you, me, and Roger. Though we wince at the cruelty of the overwhelming flood, the water’s real life-changing act is to save people, so the world’s long-promised Savior will come.

After, God will place a rainbow in the sky as a sign, never to destroy humanity by water again. This flood’s larger purpose is to rescue eight people—Noah and family, from whom the prophesied Messiah will come. Oh, St. Peter goes crazy with this!

No longer will God exploit water to kill, but to give life. The rainbow foretold this, testifying to what He will do through water. The instructing Christ intends Nicodemus to welcome what will take place in His use of water. In the same way, Nicodemus should discover and value Jesus’ coming death for our everlasting deliverance.

So, rising above our reason, God washes away our human-made boxes into which we place Him. Baptized believers are born into something God accomplishes, which is how He chooses to deliver us in spiritual birth.

The Apostle Peter wrote about God saving Noah and his family. How? By water. Like God saved old-man Noah, with his family, so with water does He save you—through baptism. How? Listen to Peter’s explanation, “not by removing the filth from the flesh, but as the appeal of a clean conscience toward God.”

How can someone’s conscience be clear before God? The first way is by not sinning, but no one meets this standard except Jesus. The other is to be forgiven. For if God forgives you because of Christ, He gifts you with His Son’s holiness in place of your sin. So, this is what our Lord is doing in baptism.

Still, someone does need faith. So, let’s attend to more of Jesus’ words. First, He teaches about the Holy-Spirited birth God grants through water, welcoming someone into His everlasting realms. Follow where Jesus goes next. “Like Moses lifted the snake in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted, so everyone who believes in Him may receive eternal life.”

With few words, Jesus points his visitor to baptism, to His crucifixion, both still to come. In one, God bestows a spiritual birth and, in the other, we are to trust in Jesus and what He does to restore us to God. Does Jesus separate the two? No, He contains them in the same conversation, of what He does to liberate a fallen, lost people.

At first, Nicodemus doesn’t grasp this—but he will. In Christ, God’s Spirit delivers us into a mystery well-past our awareness and senses. Yes, yes, God is God, and we are not. To be grounded in the Lord Jesus is to be well-watered in the truth of baptism.

So, if the way God works appears foolish to you, don’t be perplexed. Do not marvel that you must be born, not here, but from heaven above. A covert, midnight encounter began something more substantial than the nighttime student of long ago imagined.

Inside Nicodemus, a real reliance on Jesus germinates and grows roots. After this clandestine meeting, he changes and trusts in the Messiah, Jesus. A once holier-than-thou Pharisee is now a disciple, forsaking his misdirected opinions for the life Jesus gives. Later, Jesus dies on a Roman cross, and Nicodemus will appear, asking to take Jesus’ body so he can bury Him.

With the Holy Spirit working in our lives, we never weary of hearing our Lord’s Gospel, which brings us to believe in Him with fresh ears. In the same way, God’s refuge for us in His baptismal cleansing never grows old. Your rescuing Lord connects the faith you receive to the faithfulness you live. So also, is baptism and belief.

So, find solace in your spiritual birth. Like all births, baptism is something done to you. Concede this, and you will gain a reassuring comfort no one can take away. All because you didn’t bring about your heavenly birth—God did.

So, in the end, baptism does matter because Jesus reveals as much. Now, you need not fret about the depths of your sincerity when you asked Jesus into your heart. No, in your dying breath, you can, instead, rest in God’s saving deed done for you.

Raised as a Baptist like Roger, I needed to realize redemption isn’t about what you did or what you prayed, but what Jesus did and does for you. Now, if you think you took the first act or said the proper prayer, everything is uncertain.

Not so with Jesus, who provides you with an unshakable certainty for all eternity. Such a God-given belief will water and nourish you to live—and die—in this teaching of Jesus. In Christ, you will see Roger again! Amen.

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