Friday, 20 June 2008

Baptism

Romans 6.1-11

The language of baptism is odd. We don't really have parallels.

It is not simply about joining a club: although when a person is baptised they become a member of the church


It is more than that.

Probably a better way of looking at it is in terms of citizenship ceremony.


We have some friends who came here as asylum seekers from Azerbaijan. Last year A and N went through a citizenship ceremony. They pledged allegiance to the queen, said they would follow the laws of this nation, and they became British citizens. As far as the law is concerned, they ceased to be Azerbaijani, and they became British.


I guess it is what would happen if there was such a thing as an adoption ceremony. The person adopted ceases to belong legally to one family, and they become members of another family. They are placed in a new set of relationships. They even take on a new name.


Baptism is like that - but it is in fact - bigger than both of those. The language that is used in the baptism service is not the language of leaving one to join the other; the language that is used is the language of being immersed into something.


The reason that fonts are so large is because in the past babies would have been dunked right into the water - and in many churches today adults, when they choose to be baptised, are immersed under the water


It is the language of death and resurrection.


And in baptism we are not just joining the church. It is quite literally the ceremony by which we die to ourselves and come alive to Jesus.


It is the ceremony in which we are literally immersed into Jesus Christ. Notice the language: we have been baptised 'into' Jesus.


And that means three things.


1. We are baptised into Jesus death


If we are 'in Jesus', then it means that as he died on the cross, we died with him.


Our old self dies in baptism


"For we know that our old self was crucified in him" (v6)


When we are baptised our old self - the self with its ego and pride and fear and self-centred hopes and ambitions, and its self-reliance - dies. It dies with Jesus


I look at Jesus on the cross and I say, 'There is Jesus dying for me'. But because I have been baptised, because I have been united into Jesus, I can also look at Jesus dying on the cross and say: 'There is my old self dying on the cross'.


Baptism is much more than saying: 'I am going to be a good person - be environmentally friendly - not abuse kids or vulnerable elderly people - give to charity'.


It is more than saying: 'I am going to be a good Christian - come to church regularly - read my bible - say my prayers - tell others about Jesus'.


Baptism is saying: 'I'm a dead person. Dead to me - to my efforts to be a good person or a good Christian - to my independence from God - to my self-appointed standards, to my self-reliance and to my self-interests'


In baptism our old self dies with Jesus.


2. We are baptised into freedom


Paul writes in v6: '... anyone who has died has been set free from sin'.


I remember several years ago, one of our children saying: 'Daddy, there are two mes: there is a me that wants to do right, and there is a me that does wrong. And they have a fight'.


Most of us know that experience. We wish to do right. We do not wish to take things out on our family or friends or colleagues; we don't wish to be knotted up by unforgiveness or jealousy or ambition. We do not wish to be prevented from doing what is right and true, because of the fear of what others will think of us. It is a particularly British paranoia. We do not wish to browse through those websites. We do not wish to be grumpy old or young men or women, constantly moaning and complaining. We don't wish to be caught up in gossip or consumerism.


The problem is that we are. We are, the bible puts it, 'slaves to sin'. And when we do it, we hate it and we hate ourselves.


Well, says Paul, 'remember that when you were baptised - as a baby or an adult - it doesn't matter - the body ruled by sin was done away with. It died with Christ. So you actually have been set free from the power and the condemnation of sin.


The problem is that the old me is like a headless chicken. It is very very dead - but it is still running around, pretending to be alive.


Paul says, 'Count yourselves dead to sin'. If we wish, deep in here, to follow Jesus, to do what is right by God, but we feel the pull of the old self-centred, self-reliant life, we need to say to ourselves: 'Malcolm, A, I, remember. The old you is dead. It has no power over me. It has no future. I do not need to give in.'


The baptised person has, in fact, been set free from slavery to sin.


3. We are baptised into a hope


If we are united to Jesus in his death - then says Paul - v5: 'we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his'


This hope is both future and present.


It is future because it is about what happens after death. Just as Jesus was raised from the dead, so we will be raised from the dead on the last day.


We live in hope. Death is not the end. It is not just the hope of meeting again after death; it is the hope that what is good and right and true in this world is not destroyed or lost by death. It is the hope that in the end love and life win.


But this is also a present hope


My guess is that many of us here have been baptised but we are living as if we have not been baptised, as if we have not been immersed in Jesus' death, as if we are not dead to sin, as if we have no hope.


We're like the bag lady of Kensington, who had lived on the streets for many years. She used to get hungry and people bought her food. But when she died they discovered that she was worth millions of pounds. A few years earlier a distant relative had left her the money: but she was so used to life on the streets she couldn't handle it, so she remained on the streets. She went on living her old life.


We've been given so much in our baptism. We have been offered forgiveness, freedom, a hope, new life, eternal life. The problem is that we have chosen not to live it.


My prayer for I and for A is that they will grow up knowing what they have received and living it. That will in many ways depend on you the parents and godparents. It is as you live the life that they will see what it is all about.


And my prayer for each of us is that we will live our baptism


Maybe today is the opportunity for us to renew again our baptism commitment. For some, it will be a personal thing. For others it may need something formal. That is why we have confirmation or the reaffirmation of our baptism vows. We publicly say, "This was said by me or for me at my baptism. Now I am going to say it and live it."

The great thing about our baptism is that we can begin to live it now or we can begin again to live it now - whenever now is. I pray that for A and for I, and for some of us who are a little older, today will be the now that matters.

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