What is the first thing you see when you come into St Mary Mag? Maybe lots of things. But right there in the middle of our vision is usually the baptism font. Maybe we are so used to it is why we don’t see it anymore. This can happen with our own baptism. Especially because for most of us, we were baptised before we could remember. It was not our choice - it was something that was chosen for us. And chosen with the very best of intentions, by our parents.
To get us started thinking about baptism this morning, I’m going to go back to the font and say the prayer over the water. This is the prayer in the baptism service when we ask God to bless the action of baptising someone with this water.
Just before this prayer over the water, we would also say the creed, as a reminder of the involvement of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in a baptism.
we thank you for your servant Moses,
who led your people through the waters of the Red Sea
to freedom in the Promised Land.
We thank you for your Son Jesus,
who has passed through the deep waters of death
and opened for all the way of salvation.
Now send your Spirit,
that those who are washed in this water
may die with Christ and rise with him,
to find true freedom as your children,
alive in Christ for ever. Amen.
In the prayer there are three pictures about baptism. The first picture is of the great migration of people that happened over 3000 years ago called the Exodus. The Jewish people had been made slaves in Egypt. The prophet Moses led them out of their slavery in Egypt and through the waters of the Red Sea. The water parted and the people walked through the sea on dry land. In this way they were able to make their way to the land promised to them by God.
Baptism is just as dramatic for us - in a spiritual sense we move from slavery to the ways of the world into the freedom of living in Christ. God’s forgiveness in Jesus sets us free to live in this new way.
The second picture in the prayer is of Jesus, who in his dying on the cross is described as passing through the deep waters of death. In doing so, in going through death and into life, he opened the way of salvation. The way of salvation is life lived in Jesus and like Jesus, now, and in eternity.
The third picture in the prayer is of us dying and rising with Christ. What do we die to? We die to the ways of the world, we leave behind its ways of selfishness, greed and power-seeking. And we rise with Jesus into his way of living for others, in humility and love.
So there is a lot to swallow in water baptism, if that is not too awful a pun. At the centre it might be easier to think of baptism as being all about identity. Baptism announces to you, to me, that we have a new identity, because we now belong to Christ. God gives us a new identity in him, which we then live into.
It’s like receiving our first passport. We have to decide to complete an application for the passport. The Australian passport is something we decide to have for our own personal travel needs. But the nation of Australia was created before we were born, back in 1901. And it is the government of Australia which has made provision for what it means to have Australian nationality, and it is the government of Australia which provides for and issues passports, which in turn give us our identity as citizens of Australia with all its rights and privileges.
Baptism is like that. It is not our decision for God which is at the centre, but God himself. God planned before we were born to embrace us as God’s children. Before we were born Jesus gave up his life for us. Through our baptism God affirms to us that we belong to him, and that we are receiving from him all the rights and privileges of being made one of his family.
As Anglicans we baptise people of any age, babies included. Some churches have believer’s baptism. Some sprinkle, some go into a baptism pool. Sometimes there is a feeling that one kind of baptism is better than another. But there is only one baptism, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Baptising babies actually teaches us something very important. A baby is helpless, totally dependent on others. A baby cannot decide to become worthy of God’s blessings. Sometimes as adults we are tempted to think that we must become worthy of God's blessings in order to receive them. It is why Jesus said we must come to him as a little child. In that way God can fill us up. Jesus completes what we are not able to do, in his life he fulfils the law of God, and conveys grace to us to follow in his steps.
I am sure that if you were a parent, you would be the most encouraging sort of parent, building up your child when they fall, showing tender mercy, and providing gentle leading along the best way. Have you ever known a pushy parent? The child of a pushy parent had better do well, because the parent demands it! When we come for baptism, in our heavenly Father we do not meet a pushy parent, whom we have to please! There was a medieval theologian who wrote that God can only give love. Such a God is worth our trust.
A baptism is of course just a beginning. It is the first step on a life-long journey of life and love. It is a journey that is meant to be the mirror image of the life of Jesus, lived in the middle of a challenging world, where everything else is often in chaos. And it is a journey that is only possible because of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Because the trials that will come will take us beyond our limits and capabilities of doing the right thing. Because in baptism and entering upon the Christian life, we are not saved from the world of creation - we are saved for the world of God’s creation.
All of which brings us back to Jesus and his baptism in the river Jordan. His being baptised is a good reason for us to do the same. In his baptism his identity was made known and he was affirmed in the voice from heaven, ‘You are my Son, and I love you. I am very pleased with you.’ This is the kind of declaration that we want to remember for ourselves from our own forgotten baptism, and what we want to share with all newcomers to the faith: ‘You are God’s child, and he loves you. He is very pleased with you.’
When we come to the Peace today, I invite you to stop by the font and dip your fingers in the water, and make the sign of the cross on your forehead. And you might think of the sentence on the back of the pew sheet:
“I am God’s beloved child, called and sent to make a difference in the world."