Tag Archives: Reaffirmation of Baptism

The heavens torn apart (The Baptism of the Lord, 11 January 2015)

Readings
Genesis 1.1–5
Mark 1.4–11

Mark tells the story of John baptising Jesus in very few words. Let’s hear it again:

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

That’s it. Mark tells the story of John baptising Jesus in very few words; and he tells it from Jesus’ point of view. The heavenly voice speaks to him: ‘You are my Son…’ Jesus sees the Spirit descending like a dove, and Jesus sees the heavens ‘torn apart’.

Did anyone else see or hear anything as far as Mark was concerned? We just don’t know. Mark seems to be presenting it as a purely personal experience of Jesus.

I’m really intrigued about one thing. The first thing Jesus saw was ‘the heavens torn apart’. That’s a pretty violent image, don’t you think? Perhaps it’s no surprise then that Matthew and Luke tone it down in their stories of Jesus’ baptism. You need to be aware that Matthew and Luke both used Mark as one of the sources for their own work, and they moderated Mark’s language at a few points. This is one of those points.

Matthew says,

…suddenly the heavens were opened to him…

And in Luke we read,

…the heaven was opened…

We may prefer Matthew and Luke over Mark. Their accounts are calmer. ‘Opening’ is quieter than tearing apart. It’s more serene, more in keeping with the tranquility suitable to proper religious occasions.

Yet I can’t help thinking that Mark’s version would please the prophet Isaiah more. Isaiah’s heart yearned and burned for God to come down. He once wrote (64.1),

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down…

Well Isaiah, it’s happened at last: the heavens are torn apart.

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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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Buried with Christ, raised to life—Easter Vigil, Year C (30 March 2013)

Reading
Romans 6.3-11

This is the night when our Saviour Jesus Christ passed from death to life! This is the Passover of Jesus Christ:

Through light and the word,
through water and the bread and wine,
we recall Christ’s death and resurrection,
we share Christ’s triumph over sin and death,
and with invincible hope
we await Christ’s coming again.

This is the night we gather around the new fire to light the new Easter Candle. This is the night we move into the darkened church with our candles lit, the night we sing songs of resurrection, the night we renew our baptismal vows and then share the Easter Eucharist with the risen Lord. (And we get to do it with the Anglicans!) I love this night.

For a few minutes, let’s look at what we’ll be doing next—renewing our baptismal vows. We heard from Paul’s letter to the Romans:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

Do you see what Paul is saying here? Once baptised, we are baptised into Christ’s death. Don’t forget, ‘baptism’ really means to be immersed. It might not look like it our churches, but we go right under the water in baptism. We go down for the third time—in fact, Paul says “we have been buried with him by baptism into death”.

Through baptism, we are dead and buried—to sin. We are dead and buried—to the old ways of living. That’s what happened when we were baptised, even if we were baptised as infants.

That’s why Paul can’t understand it when Christian people still live self-centred lives:

How can we who died to sin go on living in it?

The scandalous truth is: baptised people, who have died to sin, may yet sin. We see that there’s nothing automatic about baptism. We may be dead and buried to sin, but the old self is still active. So Paul says:

we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

We have been buried with Christ. That’s done. Now, we are to “walk in newness of life”. But it’s not automatic. It’s not you are buried with Christ and you ‘automatically’ walk in newness of life, but you are buried with Christ so that you may walk in newness of life.

Once we realise who we are—people buried with Christ, dead to the old ways of the world—we can start to reorientate ourselves. We can start to live as part of the new creation that the Resurrection of Jesus has brought into being.

Yes, we fail, that’s why we need nights like tonight. A night in which we reaffirm our baptismal vows; in which we together proclaim the Faith of the Church in the words of the Apostles’ Creed; and in which we remind ourselves that we are marked with the sign of the cross. And where here, at least, we do it ecumenically.

Paul goes on to remind us of our great hope:

…if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his…if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.

We walk in faith, we live by hope. We have been untied with Christ, one day we shall be like him. Baptism isn’t automatic, but it is grace. God redeems us; God sanctifies us; God will transform us so that one day, we may be his children in every fibre of our being.

What can we say? Thanks be to God! Alleluia!

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