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Sunday, May 25, 2014

During this week when we mark the dedication
of the Sanctuary of Fourth Presbyterian Church
100 years ago, we share these words by
William P. Merrill, Pastor of Brick Presbyterian Church
in New York City, preached in the Fourth Church
Sanctuary shortly after its dedication
 


Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:10–17
Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. (NRSV)

Reflection
To be baptized as a Christian, to claim and receive the right to be called by that name, means that one is marked by a positive faith. From the beginning of the Christian church, baptism has been into a name; at first it seems to have been “into the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

But very early it came to be “into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Here is something more than assurance of pardon, something more than being set on the way of moral uprightness. John’s baptism meant “Here is someone who is trying to do right.” Christian baptism means “Here is someone who believes,” “Here is someone who has started to live with God.”

When I say that Christian baptism stands for a positive faith, I do not mean that it stands for a definite creed, the intellectual acceptance of a formula. It stands for an experience, a conviction, a life. And what a rich experience it is. … Into the name of God I am baptized, that into that wonderful experience of fellowship with God I may enter, there to abide and to grow, in love and life and joy. …

To be a Christian, truly and worthily, is to build upon a foundation of repentance and new purpose the growing structure of a living faith, an actual and positive experience of fellowship with God, a personal realization of the richness of the Christian idea of God: the love of God the Creator, the intimacy of God in Jesus, the present reality of God in the Holy Spirit. …

You were baptized into a good life, but you were baptized also into a great name. God called you to be God’s friend. We often speak of baptism as if the chief element in it were the giving of a name to the one baptized. But far more significant is the giving to the one who is baptized God’s name—that the one baptized may look up and claim personal and intimate fellowship with God, as revealed in Christ and manifested to us in the Holy Spirit.

Prayer
God, may our religion be more than morality, more than seemliness of conduct and worship and creed. So  grant that we may live our faith as a joyous and vivid experience of fellowship with you and a flame of your Spirit, a faith of power, of grace, of evident strength and joy. Amen.

By William P. Merrill
Pastor of Brick Presbyterian Church, New York City,
From a sermon preached in the recently dedicated Fourth Church Sanctuary



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