By Ross Engel –
Struggling to speak, she quietly exhaled, “Pastor, I have shame and I have regrets.”
This past week, I was called to the home of an unchurched woman who is in the final stages of her life. She wanted to talk with a pastor before she breathed her last breath. I gladly went, not knowing what to expect.
This wasn’t the first time I had been called to the home of someone from outside of the church to talk with them during their last days. Sometimes folks want to get something off their chest; other times they are alone and want someone to be there with them as the end draws near. Once I visited a man who wanted to spend his last hours telling God to “go to hell,” along with some other rather colorful, offensive, and explicit things. Since he couldn’t see God, the local pastor (me) was the next best thing. That particular visit ended with him spitting in my general direction as he sent me away saying, “Hey errand boy, take that to God and tell Him it’s from me.” That was not an enjoyable visit; I did not convey the man’s message.
As I drove over for my visit this week, I went over all the possible ways the conversation might go. I didn’t know much about the woman who had requested my presence, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. In my mind, I went over how I might respond to a variety of questions, thought of ways to defend the faith and considered what kind of appropriate Law and Gospel the situation might call for.
After making introductions and asking for some privacy, with her head hanging low, she tearfully said, “Pastor, I have shame and I have regrets.”
She spoke briefly; it was as long as she was physically able. When she finished, she looked at me expectantly. Perhaps she wanted to see if there was shock or judgement in my eyes. What she received was neither.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” – 1 John 1:9
We spoke for a bit about sin and the suffering, death, and futility that go along with it. The Law of God certainly was staring us in the face, “For the wages of sin is death.” We didn’t have to dwell for too long on sin and the pain and suffering that accompanies it. Death was staring us in the face. It was time to talk about the last words of Romans 6:23, “But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
We talked about Jesus. We talked about a loving God who created all things and sent His only begotten Son into the world to die for us and our salvation. We spoke of forgiveness. We spoke of the great comfort in knowing that we can’t out-sin God’s love and grace and that in Baptism we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness and receive the promise of eternal life.
“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” – Romans 6:4-5.
“But I’ve never been baptized, Pastor.”
“Would you like to be? You can be baptized right now.”
“Yes. I want to be baptized. Can we really do it right here? Right now?”
And with that, we called in the family, she confessed her faith—speaking the words of the Apostles’ Creed—and she was baptized in the “Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
With my hands on her wet head, we prayed, “The almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given you the new birth of water and of the Spirit, and has forgiven you all your sins, strengthen you with His grace to life everlasting.” “Amen.”
At the word “Amen,” she looked up at me and asked in child-like wonder and awe, “That’s it?”
“Yes, that’s it.”
It truly is amazing to see God at work!
What joy it is to know that she is now a baptized child of God and that all her sins are washed away. Our heavenly Father has joyously welcomed her into his arms as His beloved daughter. And quite soon I imagine that she will find herself at rest in the Father’s arms, waiting for the resurrection of all flesh.
God works through the unassuming and seemingly insignificant water and His holy Word proclaimed. How amazing it is to witness the simple way that God brings forgiveness, life, and salvation to an individual and the joy and comfort that comes with that free gift from God.
“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” – Titus 3:4-7
I departed thankful for God’s work of salvation and filled with joy at the peace and comfort that I saw beaming from the face of this newly baptized child of God.
“Yes, that’s it! It truly is amazing to see God at work!”