Baptism of the Lord, 12 Jan 2020 ~ SMC
What are you a member of? I have to say I’d assumed everyone was a member of lots of things when I first thought about that question but pretty quickly I came to think that I’m not sure people are members of things much. Maybe community or cultural associations? Maybe gyms? Maybe English Heritage? Maybe Costco? It strikes me about these organisations and about other things we have joined there is a sense in which the organisations help the individuals who join them to do what they were hoping to achieve anyway and there are a few keenies to help it happen.
We have to be care full that we don’t see our membership of the Church as something similar. We might ponder our membership this morning as we celebrate this Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The movement of the Church’s year proceeds rapidly from Jesus Birth and the visit of the Wise Men to when He is thirty years old and being baptised. This is done I presume because we are celebrating that these events are not solely historical events but are realities that are alive in us today. And so, St Paul writes in Romans 6:3-4 “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, we don’t come to Church because it so happens that it aligns with what we want out of life, that we only come when we need something or when it is possible and convenient. Our membership of the Church is not like our membership of other things. We’re members and are therefore here because something of the life of Jesus is caught up in us and something of us is caught up in what we celebrate. This is life for us for whom the Life of Jesus is caught up with our own.
Jesus is baptised to give us an example. He has no sin to be removed, He doesn’t need the life of God to be poured into Him because He is already full of grace and truth. Jesus does so much for us. He washes the feet of the disciples at the Last Supper and says “I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15). And so it is that the Lord sends out the disciples and says to them, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you,” (Matthew 28:20).
There are lots of ways we can follow this example Jesus sets for us. Priests baptise ordinarily, of course, but it is a ministry we all share in. Ensure your family members are baptised and support them through that process; don’t just badger them about it! There are cards at the back of Church and there is information about Baptism on our website which you could point in their direction.
It is not unusual for people who start coming to Church and want their children to be baptised to not know anyone suitable to be a godparent. Wouldn’t it be fantastic for our congregation to be a place where young parents came and met people who were willing to be a godparent? To do this, we need to remember that being a godparent is not about looking after the children if the parents die or - as many families put it to me - “if anything were to happen.” Now God forbid parents should die leaving young children but it is not automatically the godparents’ responsibility to become full-time parents to those children. Nowhere does the church require that of them. Godparents are asked to live a Christian, worship-filled life in a visible way such that their godchildren see what it is meant to look like. Godparents will forge a relationship to their godchildren through prayer and conversation so as to lead them to Christ.
But it is not just in being godparents that we can support this wonderful entry in to the life of the Church that is Baptism. I wonder if someone in the congregation would commit to supporting baptism families through organising a get-together for those who have recently brought their children for baptism here. Or it might be that someone was happy to send anniversary cards to baptism families on the first anniversary of their baptism. We have currently no more than twenty five baptisms a year so it’s not a huge undertaking.
If we have godchildren, we can commit on this Feast of the Baptism of the Lord to be better at praying for our own godchildren, inviting them to come and worship here, perhaps for Candlemass on Sunday 2nd February when we shall celebrate the light given to the Gentiles, the whole world, and the glory that God’s people are to know here on earth. Take a photograph of the candles you light in this Church for your godchildren and send them to them.
Baptism, or Christening as it is sometimes called, is all about life. The life of Jesus at work in the individual who is baptised, who in turn has the godparents pledge on his or her behalf to walk valuing and holding sacred the life of Jesus Christ. This union is seen in the Baptism of Jesus where the Spirit descends like a dove as Jesus comes up out of the water. This same movement was seen in the history of the salvation of God’s people in the flood. Noah had built the ark. He, his family and the animals therein survived the forty days of flood and as they came up out of it, a dove came to show dry land had been found: salvation was known. Jesus does not receive the Holy Spirit for the first time because the Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus Christ. The Spirit descends on the humanity Christ shares with us, the Spirit descends on the waters in which we were baptised.
That baptisms are about life is why they do not usually happen in Advent or Lent, those seasons in the Church’s year which are about penitence and chastising the flesh that future celebrations might then be known in purity and truth. Baptisms traditionally happen in Eastertide when we celebrate the Risen Life of Jesus and the outpouring of this life to the whole Church. I do, however, permit baptisms during Advent and Lent outside of the main Sunday Masses as an accommodation to those families who might have particular hopes for dates and who have not quite yet attuned themselves to the Church’s year.
There are those who sadly do not permit the baptism of infants. It’s a sad restricting of the love of God. Their argument normally goes that we need to understand faith before we can be baptised. I think the first part of the answer to that argument is to ask whether we ever really understand faith more as an adult than we do as a child, after all to them, the little ones, belongs the kingdom of Heaven, as Jesus says in Matthew 19:14. The second part of the argument is that we do not earn our salvation: it is God’s gift and He gives it the little child no less than the aged old person. The third thing I often wonder is what those people who deny children baptism think about those adults who have mental disabilities such as limit comprehension or articulation of faith verbally. Are they really denied access to the saving waters of baptism because they cannot use a set of words? I believe and, more importantly, the Church teaches us that this is not the case.That the Church has from her earliest days baptised infants and that this is fully consonant with the God who is love and His desire for those who constantly misunderstand or are half-hearted in their discipleship, for us to be close to Him.
Jesus has left us this wonderful Sacrament of Baptism, my friends, so that the whole world might have His life at work in them, let us pray for a greater diligence in caring for this life of the Risen life in others; thus we give glory to the Living God. Amen.