“Signed, Sealed, Delivered”
Rev. Tasha Blackburn
November 24, 2019
Tis the season…no, I’m not talking about decorations or even about cooking a turkey. Tis the season for the UPS driver to leave packages on your doorstep. If this has ever happened to you, you know that the driver sets the package down and rings your doorbell to let you know he has left it. Then he leaves to continue with his deliveries. The season came to my house the other day and the truck pulled up, the doorbell rang, the dogs went crazy, and I did not move from the sofa. I assumed the driver would move on and the package could be brought in later.
But then the doorbell rang again. And again, even a third time. When I finally answered it, there was the driver and he had a machine in his hand. It turned out this was a special package and it had to be signed for. When I brought the box inside, I immediately saw that it was edged in a special seal labeled “tamper-proof.” Upon opening it, the reason for the precautions became clear: it was full of blank checks; a precious package indeed. Which is why it had been signed, sealed, and delivered.
Signed, sealed, delivered: it calls to mind not just postal service nor just the song by Stevie Wonder of the same name. It calls to mind our baptisms. For that is what is happening when someone is baptized. That is what happened when you were baptized. You were signed, sealed, and delivered. The words we use for the transformation are these: “You are a child of God, sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked as Christ’s own forever.” Many of you were baptized as children and so you don’t remember those words being prayed over you. Even those of you who remember your baptism have slept since then and may have forgotten. But each of you had those three phrases spoken over your damp skin. We are going to spend a few moments today considering the power your baptism has in your life, consider the meaning of those words: You are a child of God, you are sealed by the Holy Spirit, you are marked as Christ’s own forever: signed, sealed, delivered.
First, being signed. When you were baptized, you were given nothing less than a new identity and this identity means more than any other definition upon your life. In your baptism, you are a child of God. The way Paul puts it as we heard in Galatians, is that you were once no more than a slave but, in your baptism, you were made a child. Once you were orphaned, but now you are in God’s family. You are not without a home; you are not alone. God has signed for you and taken you into his house.
Not only has God signed for you in your baptism, but he has put his signature upon you. No matter what the world would say about you, no matter even what you would say about yourself, God has written on you and that is the truth that matters. As Tish Harrison Warren describes in her book Liturgy of the Ordinary, baptism gives us the gift of seeing ourselves through this lens. She tells the story of a priest friend of hers who invited her to a house blessing. The priest blessed the kitchen, and the living room, and then the whole family headed for the bathroom. How, they wondered, would he bless the bathroom? He blessed it by taking oil and anointing the bathroom mirror with a cross so that you could not see your face in its reflection without seeing a symbol of Christ superimposed upon it. Then he prayed that all in the home would look in this mirror and see what God has made in them and what God is doing in them.
When you look in the mirror, your crooked nose does not matter in your life, nor does your crooked past or even your crooked nature. The identity that matters is that you are God’s child. He has signed for you and he has signed you. You are his.
Second, being sealed. As we well remember from our junior high history classes, seals have been used since ancient times. They were placed upon precious things to let everyone know whose they were and to ensure that no one could tamper with or mistreat it. No one was going to mess with my blank checks without me knowing! In baptism, you are that precious thing. And you have been sealed, not by just anyone, you have been sealed by God’s Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who sends you out and the Holy Spirit who holds you fast.
Your baptism, of course, was not magic. It does not mean that from that day on, no trouble could reach you or you have had some sort of invisible force field surrounding you. No, baptism is not magic. It is the prayer you get to live out your whole life long. You have been sealed by the Holy Spirit, so you can pray to God and he listens for you are precious to him. And when you cannot pray, the Holy Spirit will pray for you. This prayer journey of your baptism goes both ways. You can pray and the Holy Spirit is praying for you as well. This does not happen only when you are dipped, or dunked, or dabbed. It happens over and over again. That is why we say at funerals that your baptism is now complete in death. Because it is not a once and done. The Holy Spirit continues to cover you. Your baptism is strengthening you even now, shoring you up so that you can resist any tampering. For you have a seal upon you.
Third, being delivered. We often talk about baptism as sign of the forgiveness of sin and it is that. But it is important to notice that when Paul talks about baptism here in Galatians, he never even mentions sin. Baptism, instead, is about deliverance. It is about being set free. Paul puts it like this: We are all in a state of bondage, we are slaves to our sin, to our surroundings, to our fleshiness. And our baptism sets us free from that slavery. We do not have to be bound by whatever battle that would tie us up tight. Instead, we have been delivered.
It’s like the famous story that came out of Japan after World War II. Back in the remote mountains, soldiers were still fighting. They had no idea the war was over until ten years after it had ended! Treaties had been signed, new governments installed, a new reality had begun, but no one had told them. In your baptism, God told you: the war is over and I have won it. You don’t have to continue to fight as if victory is in doubt. You don’t have to be slave to any of those forces because they have already lost and you are free.
You are safely delivered by Jesus Christ. And that cannot be taken back because he has marked you as his own. That is what was said over you: You are marked as Christ’s own; freed from captivity of the world’s making, of your own making. You are freed because you are his; marked as Christ’s own…forever.
Signed, sealed, delivered. That is how those blank checks came to me because they were precious cargo. How much more precious are you than they? There are many influences that would like to drive you, many forces that would label and stamp you. But don’t let them. You are too precious a delivery for that. You are worth too much—perhaps you don’t think so but God does. You are a member of God’s family, who is precious to him and who doesn’t have to be afraid for you know that who has won. This is who you are. This is the identity that matters. You are signed, sealed, and delivered. You are baptized. Amen.