Sermon for ‘The Baptism of the Lord’ – 09.01.22

Isaiah 43:1-7  • Psalm 29  • Acts 8:14-17  • Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

When preparing for the sermon this week, I came across a story about a young girl called Georgie who was at home with her mother.

Georgie had been a terror all day long and with each incident of bad behaviour her mother warned her, “You just wait until your father gets home!”

Eventually evening came and Georgie’s dad got home from work.

Her mother began telling him about their daughter’s behaviour. The dad looked at his daughter and before he could say anything the girl cried out, “You can’t touch me. I’ve been baptised!”

Wow! If only it was that easy, that clear, that simple. If only we could say to the sorrows and losses in our lives, “You can’t touch me. I’ve been baptised!”

Wouldn’t it be so wonderful to just be able to say to the struggles and difficulties in our lives, “You can’t touch me. I’ve been baptised!”

If only we could say it to the changes and chances in life, “You can’t touch me. I’ve been baptised!” But of course, that is not how baptism seems to work.

Despite our baptisms most of us have suffered sorrows and losses in our lives, we’ve encountered difficulties and struggles, we’ve had to face changes and chances in life that we would rather have avoided.

And despite her baptism, little Georgie in the story was still sent to the naughty step by her father!

And yet she speaks a deep truth. She is absolutely right; she is untouchable. At some level she knows that her existence, her identity and value are not limited to time and space; to the things she has done or left undone.

She knows herself to be more than her biological existence. She knows herself as beloved. She knows the gift of baptism.

Baptism does not eliminate our difficulties, fix our problems, take away our pain or change the circumstances of our lives.

Instead it changes us and offers a way through those difficulties, sorrows, problems and circumstances – and ultimately a way through death.

Baptism transcends our biological existence and offers us a vision of life as it might be. Baptism offers us a new way of being – one that is neither limited by, nor suffers from, our “createdness.”

Through baptism we no longer live according to the biological laws of nature but by relationship with God, who through the Prophet Isaiah says, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).

That means when we pass through the waters of sorrow and difficulty God is with us. That the rivers that can drown will not overwhelm us. It means that when we walk through the fire of loss and ruination we are not wholly consumed by the flames. For he is the Lord our God, the Holy one of Israel, our Saviour.

To know this, to trust this, to experience this is the gift of baptism and baptism always takes place at the border of life as it is and life as it might be.

That border is the river Jordan.

Geographically, symbolically and theologically the Jordan River is the border on which baptism happens.

It is the border between the wilderness and the promised land; the border between life as survival and a life that is thriving; the border between sin and forgiveness; the border between the tomb and the womb; the border between death and life.

We all stand on that border at multiple points in our lives. Some of us might be standing there right now. Some of us experience that border as a place of loss, fear or pain. For others it is a place of joy, hope and healing. In reality, it is both of these things at the same time.

The only reason we can stand at the border of baptism is because Jesus stood there first. We stand on the very same border at which his baptism took place.

Jesus’ baptism is for our sake and salvation. His baptism makes ours possible. The water of baptism does not sanctify Jesus. Instead he sanctifies the water for our baptism. The water that once drowned is now sanctified water that gives life.

Ritually we are baptised only once. Yet throughout our life we return to the waters of baptism. Daily we must return to the baptismal waters through living our baptismal vows.

We must confess our belief in God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit –  because God first believed in us.

We must continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers because the Holy Spirit has descended upon us and has filled us.

We must persevere in resisting evil and whenever we fall into sin, we repent and return to the Lord because the heavens have been opened to us and we have seen our true home.

We must proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ because we have heard the voice from heaven declare us beloved children in whom he is well pleased.

We must seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbour as ourselves; striving for justice, peace, and dignity for every human being because that is how God has treated us and how could we do any less for another one of his children.

Sometimes our own body provides the waters of baptism – our tears.

St. Ephrem the Syrian spoke of our eyes as two baptismal fonts. Tears are the body’s own baptismal waters that cleanse, heal and renew life.

At other times the circumstances of life – things done and left undone by us and others – the ups and downs of living – push us back to the waters of baptism. We return in order to again be immersed into the open heavens, to be bathed by God’s breath, the Holy Spirit, and to let the name “beloved” wash over us.

There is truth in what little Georgie said, “You can’t touch me. I’ve been baptised!” My dear friends believe that! In and amongst life’s adversities say it and claim it for yourself! “You can’t touch me. I’ve been baptised!”

Amen

May Our Lord bless you and those you hold dear during this coming week.

Fr Simon

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