Notes for a More Coherent Baptism Sermon

NOTES FOR A MORE COHERENT SERMON:
11:00 a.m., October 17, 2010
St. Andrew’s Old Roman Catholic Church
138 Pears Ave. Meeting Room
Toronto, Ontario

1st Lesson: Galatians 3: 26 – 29:

You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Gospel: Matthew 3: 13 – 17

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

SERMON PROPER BEGINS

Rites of passage from one state of life to another are common in many traditions. Some are literal rites of passage, such as the blessing of a lintel or doorway. Some are more significant, such as the celebration of marriage. Humans celebrate together those things that give meaning and significance in our lives. Today we will be sharing in the celebration of one rite of passage, a rite that has a significance across the many expressions of the Christian faith—baptism. It is a moment of wonder, when all the mysterious potentialities of new relationships with God and all within creation is released. In baptism, we become the embodiment of the promises of the Gospel.

The actions are fairly simple. Water is poured onto the head of a person. Water itself has magical significance—it heals, its cleanses, it sustains life, it can be a barrier between the seen and unseen worlds. But it is common. We all have felt it, we all have tasted it. We have experienced it in nature in rain and snow, as welcomed relief from the heat and as penetrating cold sleet. It transforms the world as it erodes mountains and brings sand to a beach. And in baptism water is part of what transforms those who experience it for in baptism we move from one world into another.

In undergoing baptism we join in the body of Christ. We join a community of faith that has in its most integral expression a radical vision of inclusion—we cease to be divided by the divisions of the world. We put behind a world where there are racial divisions and gender segregation and power relationships to enter into the shalom kingdom where all things are made new again. In baptism we become an infant, untainted by the world, and an elder, with the experiences of a lifetime to draw upon.

In a world where power and greed dominate and Christianity seems to be a ubiquitous presence, it is hard to take in the difference in living in the world a small group of people embraced over 2,000 years ago. In a place of war and foreign occupation, people blessed peacemakers and gave to all in need—their enemies and their friends. In a place of massive social divisions of faith and race and gender everyone was welcomed into a community that broke down the old ways of viewing the people around them. In a place and time that encouraged hording and looking out for one’s own, the founders of our faith called for sharing what one had with all in need, living a life where love for all was integral to a faithful life. And in a time of strict religious hierarchy, the founders of our faith called for a priesthood of all believers. It wasn’t the responsibility of a few to ensure that the faith was a living expression of divine will, but the responsibility of all. It wasn’t just men that were leaders, but women. It wasn’t just people of one nation that shared in the possibilities of the shalom kingdom, it was all. And the work of faith wasn’t confined to a specific place or time. Wherever people were hungry they were to be fed; wherever people were homeless they were to be sheltered. Wherever people were aliens in a strange land they were to be given haven. The life of the faith included worship and ritual but it was, and is, more clearly expressed in caring for the needs of one another.

In baptism we put aside the sins of the past, the shared sins of greed and anger and hatred and exploitation and are ennobled with a call to love and be loved, to care for others and to accept care, to seek out the divine in prayer and in all our relationships. We take on the call to share the good news that God loves us with all and to find our own calling that allows us to best be an evangelist. Those called to prayer live the faith differently than those called to work in a soup kitchen, but both share in the work of ensuring that God’s grace is active in the world. Those that struggle for peace in places of conflict are an essential witness for God’s love as are those who visit the sick. In baptism we join in this tapestry of people who for 2,000 years have lived both in the world and in the kingdom of God who try by precept and example to show in the hear and now the promise of God’s kingdom—peace, justice and the integrity of creation.

 

In baptism we join into a community that includes Archbishop Romero and Caesar Chavez and Jean Donovan and Francis of Assisi and Teresa of Avila and doubting Thomas and Dorothy Day and June Carter and Galileo and Mary Di Rosa and Hildegard of Bingen and J.S. Woodworth. This sounds like an impossible burden and awesome company, and it is. Any one of us would likely break if we were solely responsible for the faith, to be the only voice sustaining the gospel message in the world. But in life the burden is light. It is shared. All those who are baptized take a share in the work. And in baptism we accept the promise that God’s spirit will be with us in our new life, sharing with us in our struggles to be faithful, in our striving to be good to one another, in our seeking a life of meaning in every challenging times. We become ontologically changed, somehow different in the way we move through creation. We can find sustenance in art and music, strength in a potluck dinner, meaning in active sharing with the homeless and disposed, hope in a peace vigil, a vision of God’s purpose for creation in a jail cell, joy in sharing the Eucharist. In baptism we accept the promise of a new beginning, one in which we are never alone in creation, the yoke of faith is light, our responsibilities shared and 2,000 years of a living tradition renewed.

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