Category Archives: Liturgy

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 

______________________

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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Remaking the world (Advent 3B, 14 December 2014)

Reading
Isaiah 61.1–4, 8–11

Earlier this month, I was in Adelaide at a two-day colloquium that was exploring the way our theological colleges across the Uniting Church teach liturgy and worship. I hope and believe that some very good things will come out of it. While I was there, I was thinking about what we do in worship, and about what the significance of our liturgy is.

Gathering together for worship seems like a simple thing to do. Yet we are doing something very significant every Sunday, week by week, as we come together to worship God as the Church. And that significant thing is this: we are sharing with God in remaking the world.

Does that sound a bit grandiose, a bit self-important? How can l’l ol’ us be remaking the world? Continue reading

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Baptised as God’s beloved children (The Baptism of Christ, Year A, 12 January 2014)

Readings
Isaiah 42.1–7
Acts 10.34–43
Matthew 3.13–17

 

When we baptised H last week, we made a brief statement about what baptism ‘is’. It started like this:

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.

Baptism is a gift. It’s not just being ‘done’, just going through the motions. And it’s not a useless gift either; baptism does something. Through the sign of baptism God’s Spirit joins us to Christ and makes us part of his Body, which is the Church.

The statement continues:

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.

The best gifts are those that the giver values very much. Jesus valued baptism enough to go through it himself. He didn’t have to do it; John’s baptism was a sign of repentance. Jesus didn’t need to change his ways, but he identified with us in our “brokenness and sin”.

And baptism didn’t stop there for Jesus! Jesus identified with sinful humanity so fully that he died on the cross of Calvary. There—in death—his identification with us was absolutely complete. And in his resurrection from death, Jesus promises that we will share in his eternal life. Our baptism also is completed in our death and risen life with the Lord.

And then the statement says:

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.

“Baptism plunges us into the faith of Jesus Christ.” What is “the faith of Jesus Christ”? It is more than believing in Jesus. The faith ‘of’ Christ is his commitment to the kingdom of God, to God’s will being “done on earth as in heaven”. The faith ‘of’ Christ is also his faithfulness to his mission. Faith in God and obedience to God go together. As baptised people, we are called to be faithfully committed to God and God’s ways. It doesn’t matter if, like me, you were a baby when you were baptised. Baptism brings to us the promises of God and calls us to seek the kingdom of God.

“Baptism plunges us into the faith of Jesus Christ, so that whatever is his may be called ours.” Here’s a great promise: “Whatever is his may be called ours”. We can see what is Christ’s as we look at his baptism by John. Firstly, he is God’s beloved Son; in and through him, we are adopted as God’s beloved daughters and sons. In and through him, we are part of the family of God.

Secondly, the Spirit comes upon Jesus; we also share in God’s Spirit in and through Jesus. The Spirit opens our spirits to the life of God, enlightening our minds, converting our hearts and gifting us for the sake of God’s kingdom.

The Spirit applies to us the salvation Jesus won. Dying, he defeated death and rose again in new, eternal, life. Sharing in baptism assures us that we share in his risen life here and now, that we are “set free from the power of sin and death”—even in times of doubt or spiritual dryness.

The statement concludes like this:

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.

Baptism gives us a purpose and a share in God’s coming kingdom as Spirit-anointed witnesses and sharers in Christ’s ministry and mission in the world.

Baptism isn’t something that happens once, which we then leave behind. Baptism marks our whole life. The sign of the cross is never erased from us, it doesn’t wear off. Today, we shall reaffirm our baptism as people who are on the Way with Jesus, the strange way to life he has pioneered. We are people made alive with him, people sharing in his Spirit. We shall commit ourselves for a new year; we shall set our course for 2014.

We are forgiven.
We are God’s children.
The Spirit of Jesus is with us. Amen.

 

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Taking Jesus seriously

Ordinary Time 19C; Pentecost 12C; Proper 14C

Readings
Isaiah 1.1, 10–20
Hebrews 11.1–3, 8–16
Luke 12.32–40

Right there in chapter one of his book, Isaiah tells Israel that God does not ‘like’ its worship services in the great Temple of Jerusalem. God says,

When you stretch out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen…

So, how do you feel after a service of worship? Do you enjoy our services? Perhaps ‘enjoy’ isn’t the right word. Perhaps I should ask how you ‘respond to’, ‘experience’, ‘appreciate’ our services.

Maybe you don’t enjoy worship all that much. If not, why not? Often, when people say that they mean the music isn’t right for them. Or the sermons are too long. Or we should have Holy Communion more often, or less ‘liturgy’—whatever that is.

Maybe we feel that the Pentecostals have got it right, with their exuberance, their songs and their spontaneity. Or the Orthodox Churches, with their mystery, icons and incense. It may even be we’re ok with the way things are.

But let’s face the real question: If God didn’t like Temple worship back then, then the real question is not what we think about worship, but what God thinks about it here in Centenary Uniting. How does God respond to our worship?

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Palm Sunday 2013

Palm Sunday this morning at Centenary Uniting Church. Thanks Josie!

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Nadia Bolz-Weber: Entering the stream of the faithful | Faith & Leadership

I’m reading about this idea of ‘Traditioned Innovation’. It seems to me to have resonances with what we’re trying to do liturgically in following the path of ‘ordered liberty’, as well as echoing Robert Webber’s ‘Ancient-Future’ scheme.

Besides all that, Nadia Bolz-Weber consistently has a great message. Do yourself a favour, read it:

Nadia Bolz-Weber: Entering the stream of the faithful | Faith & Leadership.

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Sixth Sunday of Easter (Year A, 29 May 2011)

The risen life: the Spirit of unforgetting

Readings
1 Peter 3.13-22
John 14.15-21

The proud parents bring their new baby boy home from hospital. His older sister, all of four, asks if she may have time alone to speak with her new brother. Mum and dad agree, but they decide to listen in from behind the door. They hear big sister leaning over the cot and saying, ‘Quick, tell me who made you. Tell me where you came from. I’m beginning to forget!’

We are frail, forgetful creatures. Jesus knows that, so he says:

I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

The Spirit ‘abides’ with us, stays with us as our Advocate, our Friend in high places. Jesus calls the Spirit ‘the Spirit of truth’; and ‘truth’ is a very interesting word in the Greek language in which John’s Gospel was originally written. The Greek word for ‘truth’ is aletheia.

A-letheia means ‘not forgetting’, ‘not hidden’, ‘unforgetting’, ‘unhiding’. In the Greek language of the New Testament, we find ‘truth’ as we recall things we have forgotten. And the Spirit stays with us partly so that we may not forget.

As far as the people of the ancient world were concerned, it was the dead who forgot.

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