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The Thickness of Water (a baptism sermon)

August 31, 2010

Just to offset the impression created by my last post about living in the ruins of the church with few parishioners between the ages of 18 and 65 I thought I’d post my sermon from last Sunday where we celebrated the baptism of a twenty something guy and the confirmation of two 16 year olds. As you internet junkies out there will realise the sermon is inspired by the inimitable welsh preacher Kim Fabricius, whose sermon was recently published on Faith and Theology

Texts:              Rom 6: 3-14               Gal 3: 27-28

In the NT baptism means several things… all closely related. I want to focus on just two key things this morning.

Firstly, to be baptised is to enter into a new life… a new way of life… but you don’t get new life without the death of an old life.

Paul (writing to the Romans) has seen what happened to Jesus… And seeing what happened to Jesus he is very conscious that the world is controlled by sin. Not that every single thing that happens is a “sin”. Sin nevertheless controls the way the world works, and we are unable to love God with complete abandon, and so we cannot give ourselves in love to our neighbours. Instead our fears and anxieties and our personal vulnerabilities (the wounds we all have) mean that we tend to organise life for our own security rather than for the love of our neighbours. And because no one is an island, we inherit this problem from our parents, and our peers. Sin has dominion over our mortal bodies. Christianity takes very seriously the idea that no one is an island – and that sin is a system and a process that links us all together in the same difficulty

And into this world dominated by processes of sin came a man who loved God with complete abandon and gave himself to others in love, and so resisted the sin of the world. In fact he threatened the whole system of religion and politics, the smooth running of the world, and was such a threat to the world that he was killed. In fact he resisted without playing the world’s game at all, without responding to violence with violence. Instead he trusted God (his Father) and resisted to death. Paul says he ‘died to sin’, once and for all. This dying to sin, is a consequence of a life lived completely for God and also for others. And so when God raises this man Jesus, from death and gives him again to his friends, those friends very quickly came to the conclusion, this man, Jesus, was the life of God with us – God in the flesh. What’s more we get to share in this, his dying to sin, and his living to God.

To be baptised is to enter into this new life. To die to an old life, one which for all of us will come naturally to us if we are not caught up into the life of Jesus.

Sean is not just joining a club… not just making a public statement about his private thoughts and beliefs. Sean is embarking on a new way of life. From now on he will be a disciple. His life is not his own. It will be disciplined by Jesus. It’s no longer up to Sean whether he buys a car and which one, whether he has sex and who with, whether he votes and who for.

Today is Sean’s funeral. We celebrated Jessie and Hayden’s funeral many years ago. The beginning of their dying is also the beginning of their living. Sure they will die one day physically. But in an important sense, they have their death behind them. Life in Christ is ahead of them. They can now make decisions that are not shaped by anxiety about their death, and all the loss associated with that. Death is past.

Secondly, to be baptised is to enter into a new humanity (hear the difference)… a new human race, a new form of living with others.

What happened 16 or 17 years ago was that Glenda and Terry and Robert and Colleen brought two scrawny little red creatures into an old building, full of mostly elderly people and some bloke (probably) dressed to look like darth vader and asked that bloke to pronounce Jessie and Hayden dead, dead to the world that is passing away…

But more than that these crazy parents also decided that they didn’t want to keep their child to themselves. In the words of one Welsh preacher, they decided…

to raise their child as part of another family, a genetically unrelated family, where their child would have not only other brothers and sisters, but also other mothers and fathers too. In fact, this new family would, in principle, supercede their own family as the child’s true and ultimate home.

It sounds appalling doesn’t it – appalling parenting! Perhaps we should call CYPFs in to deal with it?

Perhaps the reason we don’t is that the church has forgotten what baptism means… we have watered it down, so that in practice we think is just a nice little ceremony of blessing to celebrate a birth, perhaps it gives the child a better chance of going to heaven, perhaps it magically instills some faith in them to help them survive in the world. But it’s not. It’s introducing them to a new world… a world in which they are no longer in charge of their own life. Scarey!

Listen to the kind of life-together Paul believes has arisen from Jesus Christ:

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male nor female

As brothers and sisters of everyone else who is baptised, Sean and Hayden and Jessie are entering a world in which the usual divisions don’t count for anything. Slave or free, male or female, maori or pakeha… irrelevant… all of us are equally Sean’s and Hayden’s and Jessie’s nearest relatives now. People say ‘Blood is thicker than water’, and in the old life it usually is. But Christians say ‘water… is thicker than blood’. Baptism trumps all the other divisions of life.

Sometimes it isn’t obvious though… a lot of organisations that call themselves ‘church’ have perpetuated and still perpetuate the domination of men over women. Prejudice against people of other races is still there, the slavery of the third world is assumed as inevitable… Often enough organisations that call themselves church look pretty much like clubs, sadly. But we are not baptising Sean into the organisation or the club. Jessie and Hayden have not been baptised into the club… but into a new world, wherever Christ creates that new community, wherever the Spirit breaks open the old world. Even when we fail, Jesus will not fail to create this new kind of life-together.

This is a world in which Jesus commitment to the poor, the weak, the losers, the screwed up and the brutalised trumps our desire to get to the top. This is a world in which Jesus willingness to take a punch (or a nail) trumps our tendency to fight back, or to harbour resentment. For all its vulnerability, its danger… this is the world that will last, this is God’s eternal life.

And so we welcome Sean… and continue the welcome we made to Jessie and Hayden when they were babies. Jesus welcomes them into this strange and wonderful community, this world of the future.

Thanks be to God.

Bruce Hamill (29.8.10 at St Margaret’s Church)

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