I speak to you as a sinner to sinners, and as one who is loved to the beloved of God, through the mercy of God. Amen.
This week we have been reminded again of the brokenness and the fragility of the world. We are grieving the deaths of those known to us, and those who are on our hearts in recent world events. Not least, this morning we remember the 176 passengers who died when Ukraine Flight x was shot down by Iranian missiles near Tehran. Many of them who lived, worked, studied, or had families in Canada. Some were part of the community here in North Vancouver. Some were affiliated with local colleges and universities. We do not yet know whether this tragedy happened through malicious intention or misunderstandings. But what we call sin manifests in the power struggles of nations and factions and ourselves: in hatred, discrimination, oppression, distrust, and dishonesty. Sin separates us from love. But some things are beyond our human capacity to forgive and to heal. We need help.
Jesus came to proclaim that nothing can separate us from the love of God, if we believe in God’s power to reconcile. It is not something we do on our own. It is something that God can do through us if we accept Jesus in our life. What we call baptism is a public proclamation that we believe in the power of repentance leading to forgiveness- for us and for others- and we believe in the power of healing leading to right relationships- for us and for others- because of what Jesus did for our broken world.
One of Jesus’ followers, a man named Peter, tries to explain this to his listeners in a passage from the 10th chapter of the book of the Acts of the Apostles. Imagine yourself trapped in an elevator with Peter for 30 seconds while he tries to pitch you the good news. Verses 34-43 are his elevator speech. We know God’s love through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Lord of all. Peter uses key words: impartiality, peace, forgiveness, right judgment. He proclaims his hope that all who come to Christ through baptism have new life.
Now, Peter was baptized with water and was commissioned by the risen Jesus with the other early leaders of the Church to go and make disciples of others. Where did this come from? The Jewish faith already had a purification ritual. To ceremoniously be cleansed with water signified the soul’s submission to God, a token of repentance for offensive words, thoughts, or actions. But it was not seen as a one-time-only moment, or magically change anything inside a person. Then the forerunner of Jesus came along in the person of John the Baptist. He took people down to the Jordan River and told them that only those who were truly committed to leading a new and righteous life were to turn to God and repent of their sins. He warned that he baptised with water, but that the one to come would baptise with fire and the Holy Spirit to complete God’s work.
Then Jesus comes along and John balks at dunking him in the river. Jesus doesn’t need to be forgiven his sins. He’s the one who should be forgiving John. But Jesus insists that he needs to be immersed into the full human experience: surrounded by the pain and hurt of the world so that God through him can break through with love. He is fulfilling all righteousness through his action of going from death into new life. It’s why his death on the cross is sometimes referred to as Jesus’ second baptism.
And ever since, the followers of Jesus have taken baptism as a pattern for proclaiming their new life as disciples. The beginning of each Christian’s journey of faith is marked with a public acceptance of relationship with Christ and the claim that he is truly the Lord of all, the face of God in the world. With Jesus, individuals feel both the physical water and the spiritual fire of the Spirit of Jesus inside them, and they are made a new creation. They are dead to their old sinful lives and alive forever in Christ.
That doesn’t mean that those who are baptised never feel pain or grief again. It’s not a magical protection against harm, as we know too well in our world. The promise is that we are never separated from the love of God. Even at the times when we do not feel God’s presence with us, we have the Holy Spirit of Jesus dwelling inside us. With God’s help, we can live into our identity as beloved children of God. The promises we make (or are made for us if we are little children) gives us the pattern.
We continue in the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers of the community.
We persevere in resisting evil, and whenever we fall into sin (which we will), repent and return to the Lord.
We proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ (this means our actions and our words become our elevator speech, like Peter).
We seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbours as ourself.
We strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being, reflecting God’s impartial and unconditional love.
We strive to safeguard the integrity of God's creation, and respect, sustain and renew the life of the Earth.
This life begins with baptism. But baptism is not a rite of passage: something we do once and then put behind us. Baptism is a rite of initiation that marks the start of a lifelong learning journey. It is the start of a new life that gets lived into more deeply each day. And in the midst of the brokenness of a world that turns neighbour against neighbour and seeks to take at the expense of others, our attitude is an antidote. Baptism gives us the boldness, the words, and the roadmap for proclaiming our hope. God so loved the world, that he gave us Jesus, the one who makes us right again.
There is a reason that the font- that little stand with holy water in it- is usually placed at the entrance to a church. It is to remind us of our baptism. No matter how long ago that was or how young we were or how well we understood what God was inviting us into, those promises are a Christian’s rule of life. They are rules not in the sense of having to do them perfectly or God will not love you. But rules in the sense of a ruler, whose purpose is to help you draw a straight line. When you come into the worship space, you may want to stop by the font and to dip your finger into the blessed water. Then make the sign of the cross on your forehead. To remember that you are loved especially by God, and that in Christ you are made a new creation to help carry out the work of reconciling the world.
In a few moments I am going to invite those of you already on the Christian path to join me in reaffirming your baptism. And for all whose hearts and spirits are moved by the Holy Spirit, be open to what God may be leading you towards in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.