Sunday, January 08, 2012

Baptism Sermon

The First Sunday of the Epiphany
The Baptism of the Lord
January 7, 2012
Holy Trinity Cathedral, Wangaratta
Fr Robert Whalley

We’ve just heard Mark’s account of John baptizing Jesus in the Jordan River at the beginning of his ministry and I want to connect that baptism with each of our baptisms, whether they took place recently, or some years ago, whether we remember them vividly or not at all, and how each of us participates in the life and ministry of Jesus by offering the sacrifice of our lives in his service as baptized members of his body, which is the church.

Listen to what Rowan Williams wrote a few years ago:

The Christian Church began as a reconstructed version of the notion of God’s people – a community called by God to make God known to the world in and through the ... model of action and suffering revealed in Jesus Christ.. a pattern of common life lived in the fullest possible accord with the nature and will of God ... in which each member’s flourishing depended closely and strictly on the flourishing of every other and in which every specific gift or advantage had to be understood as a gift offered to the common life.

This is how the imagery of the Body of Christ works in St Paul’s letters. There is no Christian identity in the New Testament that is not grounded in this pattern; this is what the believer is initiated into by baptism. And this is a common life which ... depends on the call and empowering of Christ’s Spirit.

So with that in mind, let’s talk about the two biggest questions about our baptism in Christ which are these: First, how do we take that in and, second, how do we live that out?

For when we really look at it, we see that baptism is more than just a friendly ritual, something pleasant to do to an infant before a festive brunch with family and friends (though it can certainly be that, and that’s not a bad thing at all), but it can be so much more more. By the grace of God it is a matter of life and death, of dying to an old life so that we can be part of a new partnership, a new community, brought together, quoting Rowan Williams again, in “the call and empowering of Christ’s Spirit.” it's a real renewal!
 For Baptism means we don’t have to live for ourselves or by ourselves anymore and it points to the true promise that our participation in the baptism of Christ enlivens us to a larger purpose, opens us to the greater gift of a larger life that shared by God, enlightened by Gods life, living within the reality of God's love.

And that is only the start! For the liturgical ceremony of baptism at the font, that lasts a few moments, turns out to be something that lasts well over a lifetime. That ceremony of baptism is just the beginning; for in that we are enabled and called to take up the work and ministry of the baptized, to take this new life that Jesus shares with us, and to spread it around, to join Him in washing the world and helping to make sure it shines with the love of God.

Now, to take a step back, I’ll admit that it is not always an easy task, and so in many ways, I think that’s one of the best reasons for coming to church every Sunday! We might have been washed up at the font in our baptism as a baby or as an adult, but we still need to  keep coming back to learn more of the basic steps  and basic shape of it in the motions of the Eucharist to learn to let it move into all the ways we live our life from here on.

You see, we might have come here to reach for Christ; but what we find is in doing that, in reaching for Jesus and asking him to be part of our lives, we get a bit more than we expected. Grace works that way. So if we come to get a grip on him, we can find that we’re called to hand him to the world and hand the world back to him. It can be a bit of a stretch at times, but it seems that’s part of God’s economy, that’s part of what it means to be part of God’s household, God’s ongoing and outpouring ministry.

For the hands which reach for the body and blood of Christ here, are the same hands, same body, same love, same life, that reach out to touch the world in daily life in all the places where we make business, or peace or war or love: everywhere we move to touch the lives of friends and strangers, every place we spend our days. The love of God in Christ reaches into the particulars of all our daily liturgies through our baptismal ministry, and we come to move like Christ in all these places. We just come to remember it here.

Look at what we just did in the center of this Cathedral with the reading from the Gospel. We stand on our feet for the Gospel here in the center of the church, but we do that here so that we can learn to stand for the good news of God everywhere; so that we can learn to stand individually and corporately  for God’s caring, connection, judgment and renewal of the whole creation; again, not just in church, not just here, but everywhere! Standing in witness and wonder and partnership for Gods’ loving action in the whole world.

So this shared liturgy in church helps us exercise our ministry muscles when we move it out! So everything  we do in here helps us remember and renew everything we do out there! Because by God’s grace it is one world! And what  we need to remember, in singing hymns or wishing Peace to a neighbor across the aisle, is that we’re exercising the same voices, same hearts and minds, same bodies, which takes showers, eats breakfast, goes to the market, talks to friends and strangers, lives life in all its daily demands and complexities every day.

So here’s a few ministry exercises you can do on your own: First, try wishing the peace of God to the person who calls to sell you long distance phone service when you just sat down for dinner; pray for the talkative person with the full cart in front of you in line at Safeway or Cole’s; try piling blessings on the person who took your preferred parking place on a warm day; simply love your neighbor and the stranger and your own self as best you can, and make that an offering to God every minute of your day, every day of your life.

It’s not always an easy task, an liturgy, and that’s all right. You won’t always get it right, and you don’t have to, you don't have to make it a big thing. In fact it’s better if you don’t, ‘cause it’s not all about you at all; it’s just giving a gift that you received in your baptism. Just try to make your daily life a kind of silent Gospel procession and proclamation, a sustained hymn of peace and praise, a reaching out for the body of Christ in all his distressing disguises, a kind of continuation of the communion you take in here. Take that out to the world.

Remember what we say at the end of the Eucharist?

“We offer ourselves to you as a living sacrifice through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Send us out in the power of your Spirit to live and work to your praise and glory.

For in the end our baptismal ministry happen every time and every way we take time to  create, redeem, and relate like God. It’s how we live our lives. Some people heal with kindness, others love the stranger, others listen well. Some make justice, visit the sick, give to the poor, live cheerfully, tell the truth. Everybody does what they can, and that’s why we come here today, every day, to remember that this is God’s good world and  we are God’s good friends, and the good news is that we are here to remember and renew our call, by the grace of our baptism and the love of God, to be the body of Christ.


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