Category Archives: Baptism

Baptism: a beginning

A short off-Lectionary message for the baptism of an infant

Readings
Isaiah 55.1–9
1 Corinthians 10.1–13

Baptism is Christ’s gift.
It is the sign by which the Spirit of God
joins people to Jesus Christ
and incorporates them into his body, the Church.
In his own baptism in the Jordan by John,
Jesus identified himself with humanity
in its brokenness and sin;
that baptism was completed in his death and resurrection. 

By God’s grace,
baptism plunges us into the faith of Jesus Christ,
so that whatever is his may be called ours.
By water and the Spirit we are claimed as God’s own
and set free from the power of sin and death.

Thus, claimed by God
we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit
that we may live as witnesses to Jesus Christ,
share his ministry in the world and grow to maturity,
awaiting with hope the day of our Lord Jesus. — ‘The Meaning of Baptism’, from Uniting in Worship 2 

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Twice in C’s baptism today, I addressed her directly. The first time, I said these words from Mark 7.34, words traditionally used at baptisms:

C,
may the Lord open your ears to hear his word
and your mouth to proclaim his praise.

This echoes what Jesus said as he healed a deaf man with a speech impediment. It also reflects that without God’s grace, our ears are closed to God’s Word and our mouths utter imperfect praise. We need to be brought into relationship with God to become people of God’s grace. 

The second time I spoke directly to C was in these beautiful words derived from the Baptismal Liturgy of the French Reformed Church:

C,
for you Jesus Christ has come,
has lived, has suffered;
for you he endured the agony of Gethsemane
and the darkness of Calvary;
for you he uttered the cry, ‘It is accomplished!’
For you he triumphed over death;
for you he prays at God’s right hand;
for you,
long before you were born.

It’s traditional to address an infant who is about to be baptised. Now, S and B, I know C is really clever, but—she really didn’t understand what I was saying to her. (I’m sorry to break it to you like this…) 

But you know, we all talk to babies and we don’t mind that they just look at us and smile. We do that because one day, they will understand. And one day, C will talk back to you. 

And that of course is why we do so many things with children before they are quite ready for them: we want them to learn.

So, we let them practise sitting up. We sit them on the floor with plenty of cushions around them so if they fall, they don’t hurt themselves. 

We give them a spoon to eat food with, even though it ends up on their clothes, their face, and on the floor.

We teach our children by doing things with them. We don’t give them a lecture on table etiquette, and expect them straightaway to use the soup spoon instead of the dessert spoon. 

It’s the same in every area of life, including the spiritual. So we do things that open the spiritual world to our children. We make sure they aren’t strangers to the church. We bring them to the  Eucharist. We pray with them, perhaps at meals and the end of the day. We teach them values, like fairness and sharing. 

One day, they’ll grow up and call fairness and sharing ‘justice’ and ‘compassion’. They will make the link with caring for the earth in a time of climate change, and with welcoming those who have a different culture or faith or sexuality, resisting the forces that try to entrench division and hatred in Australian society. 

We’ve seen something of this lately; we have seen what extremist nationalism can do when it is unleashed. As people of faith, we stand against this, and for a peaceful and multicultural society.

One day, we all realise that life is far bigger than we are, and that we need to be plugged in to something bigger than we are in order to flourish.

We Christians name that something bigger as ‘God’. We plug in to God through faith, hope and love. 

Baptism is the public beginning of a walk with God, with Jesus as our companion and the Holy Spirit strengthening our hearts. 

Today, C has started that public walk. We all have a responsibility in her spiritual care. The congregation has promised to provide a secure base; parents and godparents have also promised to teach her the Way of Jesus Christ. 

To do that, we all need to pay attention to our own life of love, faith and hope, of prayer, sharing in the life of the church and serving others. 

So we give thanks for C, and for the triune God who has received her as a member of God’s family. And we pledge ourselves to help C and all the other children here towards a mature Christian faith.

West End Uniting Church, 24 March 2019

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Spirit-wind, Spirit-fire

Readings
Acts 8.14–17
Luke 3.15–17, 21–22

Baptism is Christ’s gift.
It is the sign by which the Spirit of God
joins people to Jesus Christ
and incorporates them into his body, the Church.

In his own baptism in the Jordan by John,
Jesus identified himself with humanity
in its brokenness and sin;
that baptism was completed in his death and resurrection.
By God’s grace,
baptism plunges us into the faith of Jesus Christ,
so that whatever is his may be called ours.
By water and the Spirit we are claimed as God’s own
and set free from the power of sin and death.

Thus, claimed by God
we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit
that we may live as witnesses to Jesus Christ,
share his ministry in the world and grow to maturity,
awaiting with hope the day of our Lord Jesus. — from Uniting in Worship 2

______________________

Some of you know that I used to be part of an Open Brethren congregation as a young man. When the Brethren talk about baptism, they seem to be describing quite a different thing to baptism in churches like the Uniting Church. 

Briefly, the Brethren only baptise adults. And they say that a person should only be baptised once they have been converted, once they are someone who ‘has’ the Holy Spirit inside them. 

We baptise people of any age. I’ve baptised old people, children, babies—including babies that were about to die. 

What can a baby who is about to die bring to the life of the church? We don’t baptise people for what they can bring to us, although a dying baby brings so very much. We baptise people to declare and demonstrate the infinite grace of the triune God. 

Why did John baptise people? Luke tells us that John the Baptiser

went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins… 

‘A baptism of repentance.’ What on earth was that?

Well, to repent is to change your mind, it is to turn around and move in another direction. John’s baptism signified a change of life. 

According to Luke (3.15), 

the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah…

But John was preparing the way for the Messiah, Jesus. And repentance, changing your life, was the way to prepare.

And when the Messiah came, John said,

He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

What on earth?

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Gratitude and Grace

Readings
Ephesians 5.15–20
John 6.51–58

Teach me, my God and King,
In all things thee to see
And what I do in anything
To do it as for thee.
— George Herbert, ‘The Elixir’ (from The Temple, 1633)

 

Everything is a gift. The degree to which we are awake to this truth is a measure of our gratefulness, and gratefulness is a measure of our aliveness. — Bro. David Steindl-Rast, Gratefulness: the heart of prayer

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When I began to think about preaching through August, I thought we’d follow along with the Gospel Reading and have a four-week series on Christ, the Bread of Life.

That was before I found that today would be my last Sunday here. So the series is cut short, just like my time here. So I would like to follow the advice of the Apostle Paul and ‘give thanks for everything to God the Father’. I want to speak about gratitude and grace on this occasion of Hudson’s baptism. 

Baptism is based in gratitude for Jesus Christ. We are baptised to share in the salvation that Christ has won for us; it is only because Jesus has saved us that we can ‘become his faithful witness and servant’. 

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‘I am about to do a new thing’

Reading
Acts 10.44–48 

But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine. 

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.

I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

Isaiah 43.1–2, 19

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Last week, we heard of the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch. We heard that the Spirit of Jesus led Philip to him; we heard that there was no reason for a eunuch not to be baptised. In other words, there was every reason for him to be baptised! 

Today, we have heard the final act of another very important story in the Book of Acts. It’s the climax of the story of the conversion of Cornelius and his household.

The Ethiopian eunuch had an important position in his country, but he was also considered an inferior. Cornelius also had an important position; he was in charge of 100 Roman soldiers. But no one considered Cornelius to be at all inferior, because he was a Roman. 

Luke wrote the Book of Acts with an eye towards Rome, and so he spends a lot more time on Cornelius than he did on the Ethiopian eunuch, whose name we don’t even know. (Have you noticed that?)

Cornelius was a seeker. He was searching for truth, and that search had led him to become a ‘God fearer’. God fearers were Gentiles who found the Jewish belief in one God and the Jewish ethical code to be very attractive, but they did not take the step of actually becoming Jews, with all the demands of the Jewish law that entailed. 

So Acts tells us that Cornelius 

was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God.

It was while he was praying one day that God told him to fetch Peter to his house. Listen to what happened to Peter the very next day: Continue reading

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The Eunuch’s Bath

Reading
Acts 8.26–40 

[E]thnicity, sexuality, ableism, gender, religion, and many other expressions of human difference must be considered in accounts of societal sin. — Janice McRandal, Christian Doctrine and the Grammar of Difference, Fortress, p.84. Kindle Ed’n.

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The Book of Acts is very clear that its story is the beginning of the global spread of the Good News. Jesus tells the disciples:

you will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

The Gospel news starts in Jerusalem, then spreads beyond into the surrounding country. From there, it goes all over the world. Even to Australia. 

I came to Australia too. I came as an eleven year old schoolboy, dressed up in my school uniform complete with cap, blazer, and tie. They were my best clothes. You could say that I came to the ends of the earth…

We flew here, and our flight was long. It took about 36 hours from boarding in London to disembarking in Brisbane. We made eight stops along the way, and each step further away from England was a step towards differences that were quite disorienting. In Cairo airport, I went to the loo. There were soldiers with big rapid action machine guns standing around in the loo, talking. It was quite intimidating. And Calcutta was like a furnace (remember I was in a school uniform made for the north of England). There were people in rags looking at us from outside a tall wire fence. And everywhere we went, people looked and spoke differently.

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In the Service of Christ

Reading
Mark 1.29–39

Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can. — John Wesley

…to know Christ is to have served the poor, to have felt the indebtedness of the very gift of life that animates such service, yet also to have received the identity of Jesus back afresh in the process. — Sarah Coakley, ‘The Identity of the Risen Jesus: Finding Jesus Christ in the Poor’ (in Gaventa and Hays, Seeking the Identity of Jesus: A Pilgrimage (Kindle Location 3576). Kindle Edition.

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Simon’s mother-in-law was sick in bed with a fever, and as soon as Jesus arrived, he was told about her. He went to her, took her by the hand, and helped her up. The fever left her, and she began to wait on them.

There’s something tricky about this, something just a little awkward for our contemporary sensibilities. Jesus heals Simon Peter’s mother-in-law—no,  healing a mother in law is not the problem—and straightaway she starts to wait on them. She immediately busies herself getting food onto the table.

And she has just been sick with a fever! Why doesn’t she take it easy, and convalesce? Now that’s a very good question!

Peter’s mother in law didn’t need to take it easy; she was instantly healed by Jesus. Made fully better. Maybe she felt better than she ever had before. No convalescence was needed at all.

But why did she serve them?

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Is baptism important? (The Baptism of Jesus, Year A 8 January 2017)

Readings
Acts 10.34–43
Matthew 3.13–17 

…because of their baptism, they are bound to the patient, long-term discovery of what grace will do with them. (Rowan Williams, Silence and Honey Cakes)

How important is baptism?

It seems to have been important to Jesus.

In Matthew’s version of the baptism of Jesus, John the Baptist tries to put him off:

John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?’

But Jesus insists. This is the way forward.

John’s baptism was a sign of repentance; that’s why John didn’t want to baptise Jesus. He knew Jesus didn’t need to repent.

But Jesus was identifying himself with sinners. All of them, from the unclean and those outside the law to religious hypocrites who thought they were fine as they were. He was identifying himself with the whole of Israel. Eventually it would be clear that he was identifying himself with the whole world. He was the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

Christian baptism—our kind—is a little different. In his baptism, Christ identified with sinners; in our baptism, we are identified with Christ.

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