Saturday, 9 January 2016

The Good News of Baptism: a sermon (Isaiah 43:1-7, Luke 3:15-22)

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you.
I have called you by name, you are mine. …
Do not fear, for I am with you.
 
Over the course of the year, there are three particularly good Sundays to celebrate Baptisms, and today is one of them.
 
The other Sundays are Easter, when we celebrate the risen Christ into whose risen life we are baptised, and Pentecost, when we celebrate the Holy Spirit who is active in our Baptism.
 
Today, our Gospel lesson focuses upon the time when Jesus himself was baptised, in the Jordan River, by John the Baptist.
 
Very briefly, there are some big differences between the baptism practiced by John the Baptist and the baptism practiced by the Christian church in the centuries since the time of Jesus.
 
John’s baptism was individually-oriented, while Christian baptism is community-oriented.
 
In the baptism practiced by John, the focus was radically on the individual and on the steps of faith being taken by that individual.
 
In Christian baptism, the focus is on the pilgrim people of God welcoming and celebrating a new fellow-traveller.
 
John’s baptism was past-oriented, while Christian baptism is future oriented.  
 
In the gospel passages talking about John, they said he practiced a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. John’s baptism was past-oriented, about dealing with the bad stuff of the past and getting rid of it.  
 
And so, given that Jesus wouldn’t have had anything to repent of himself, the reason he chose to be baptised by John, as well as possibly giving a bit of moral support to a relative who was doing his thing, (It happens.) was mainly to identify with our human condition in all its brokenness.
 
But, on the other hand, Christian baptism is future-oriented. Christian baptism is about the beginning of a life of faith. It’s about the early stages of the pilgrimage of faith, which is the reason why most Christian churches baptise babies and children as well as adults.
 
John’s baptism was about a human action, while Christian baptism is about God’s action.
 
In John’s baptism, the focus was always on the decision made by the person being baptised. It’s about the person’s choice.
 
This is the main reason that I am personally very happy that I was too small to know what was going on when I was baptised. I don’t particularly want the life of faith, the life of living out my baptism to be mainly about me and about my choices.
  
In Christian baptism, the focus is always on God’s action. It’s about God’s choice.
 
And God’s choice is always love.
 
As we heard in our first lesson, from the book of Isaiah:
 
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you.
I have called you by name, you are mine. …
Do not fear, for I am with you.
  
God’s love is there for each of us, 
  • not because of anything good we’ve done, 
  • not because we have been baptised, 
  • but simply because we’re alive.
 
And baptism – particularly when we baptise a baby or a child – is the most potent way we can communicate this important affirmation of Christian faith.
 
God’s love is there for each of us,
  • not because of anything good we’ve done,
  • not because we have been baptised,
  • but simply because we’re alive.
 
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you.
I have called you by name, you are mine. …
Do not fear, for I am with you.
 
For Charlie, and for each of us here, and for everyone in the immediate world,
 
There is nothing that he – or anyone else - can do to lose God’s love.
 
There is nothing that he – or anyone else - can do to earn a bigger share of God’s love.
 
He’s got it all now.
So have we all.
That’s the good news of baptism.

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