034eEP11.htm The Baptism of Jesus 9/1/2011 Christchurch Cathedral Evensong

‘When he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him.’’ Hebrews 1.6

In the name of God, Life-giver, Pain-bearer and Love-maker.   (Fr Jim Cotter http://www.cottercairns.co.uk/)

Tonight’s readings speak of Joshua setting out across the Jordan and coming into the promised land.  The names ‘Joshua’ and ‘Jesus’ have the same meaning - the Lord saves.   And our reading from Hebrews speaks about how special Jesus was because of the divine voice speaking at his baptism saying: You are - or This is - my beloved Son.   Jesus is so more important even than angels.   And we can take the message that we as 'christians' are so much more important than other people.   In our baptism we to are made children of God, members of Christ and heirs of the kingdom of heaven (- to quote the old catechism).   No one else is so privileged!

Interestingly we miss out some verses in the OT reading from Joshua - and the words are about how the invading tribes of Israel were to witness the annihilation of the people of the land - ‘the living God who without fail will drive out from before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites.’  (Josh 3.10)    They - the ancient people of God were so special that the fate of others was irrelevant!   Others were essentially expendable.   So it is not just followers of Allah who are terrorists!

And successive generations of 'christians' have been taught that others were expendable too - they were consigned to eternal damnation.   It is fascinating that the church has taught individuals that they must love their enemies, but corporately the church feels it is their 'christian' duty to challenge people who express their faith in different terms to orthodoxy, to marginalise women, to excommunicate women who have fled abusive relationships, to alienate gay and lesbian persons, and threaten all and sundry with hell and damnation in the name of this God of love!   Surely there is some logical disconnect here - or am I strange in saying so?   This is terrorism in the name of the ‘christian’ god!

The baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the river Jordan, the very same river which Joshua and the tribes crossed centuries before, marked the beginning of Jesus' ministry.   But it was a unique ministry, where Jesus was noted not for initiating an exclusive organisation with fixed rules for membership - a holy huddle - but for travelling here, there and everywhere, associating with tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners - to the chagrin of the devout and orthodox people who were noted for loving God with all their heart and soul and mind and strength.  In the end Jesus was to be killed at the instigation of these specially devout people, because he didn’t associate with them alone in their holy huddle.

So if we celebrate the specialness of Jesus, and by extension the specialness of Christians who follow him, it is because God has put the divine imprimatur on associating with others rather than separating ourselves from others.   Jesus’ baptism did not mark his withdrawal from society to lead a holy huddle of suitably subservient and gullible followers, Jesus went from town to town, visiting all and sundry, indiscriminately accepting the hospitality of all, from Simon the leper to Simon the Pharisee, indiscriminately and unbidden, forgiving the sins of all.

Some of the great Christian theological themes actually reflect precisely this.

Often you will have heard some ‘christians’ speak of being born again - but in my experience it is usually into a holy huddle of like-minded devotees.    I was reminded of the words of that well known carol: ‘Hark the herald’ - ‘born to give us second birth’.   It lurks even in good ‘Anglican’ circles!   But no!   Jesus was born into the real world and those who have retreated into a ‘holy huddle’ are precisely the ones who need to be born again into the real world - like Nicodemus - ‘the’ teacher of Israel.   Those who are already in the world don’t need to be reborn.  

Another great theme of Christianity is the atonement, where ‘christians’ talk about being at one with God.   Well, at Christmass, Jesus came into the real world.   If we speak in orthodox language the event we celebrate is Jesus leaving the Father to be at one with ordinary humanity.  Jesus says the most important thing is being at one with the world - not God.   It was precisely those who were most conspicuous in their devotion to God - those who would claim that they were at one with God - who had Jesus killed!

A third theme of Christianity is repentance which is mostly interpreted by ‘christians’ as something other people have to do, by coming to church, believing the things we do, and being intimate only when and with whom we approve.   Recently some Anglicans called on the Anglican churches in America and Canada to not ordain gay and lesbian persons as bishops and to stop blessing same gender couples.   Their ‘communiqué said the two provinces must show "genuine repentance" for actions that it said show they "continue in their defiance as they set themselves on a course that contradicts the plain teaching of the Holy Scriptures on matters so fundamental that they affect the very salvation of those involved."  ‘http://www.episcopalchurch.org/81808_121838_ENG_HTM.htm  The unfortunate thing for the ‘christians’ who wrote this communiqué is that Jesus’ words about repentance are directed towards those who were most conspicuously devout and who separated themselves off from others.  This is who Jesus addressed his three parables in Luke 15 to - the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son.   It was they who had to repent of their separatist and neo-colonial aspirations.

So when we were and are baptised - we are not baptised out of the world, but baptised into humanity.   But why on earth would one be baptised if one does not actually gain anything from it?   If we don’t actually get any personal benefit why would one bother!

But being a part of all of humanity is the only way that peace on earth is possible.   But more than this, it is in our relationships with others that the fullness of life comes.   It seems one of the constants of mental illness is isolation, whether it is stigma on the part of the sufferer or fear on the part of others, or delusions of grandeur cause the separation.   And one of the constants of religious sectarianism is separation from others, and ‘sectarianism’ I use in its widest possible sense.   It doesn’t matter  if it is biblically, sacramentally, spiritually or mystically sanctioned delusions of grandeur.   Again one of the constants of alcoholism and drug addiction is separation from loved ones.  Sometimes isolation precipitates alcoholism but alcoholism always exacerbates isolation.   And there are other addictions which cause isolation - or vice versa - like addiction to work.   Most people I know hate to have to go to hospital.   I know that it is unusual and stressful to have to live so closely to other people who we haven’t met and to suspend our precious independence, but for me it is curious that healing comes in this close relationship with others.   And interestingly hospitals consider a person really well when they are returned to live in society.   We cannot be healthy by ourselves - when we are independent.   After four years in hospital chaplaincy, I see God at work in hospitals, not especially in church services.

So the baptism of Jesus marked his public debut into real life.

And our baptism is the same.   It is God’s divine imperative to join in society in all its fulness, not hive off on our own: not challenging people who express their faith in different terms to orthodoxy, marginalising women, excommunicating women who have fled abusive relationships, alienating gay and lesbian persons, and threatening all and sundry with hell and damnation in the name of this God of love.   Any god that does these things is a demon, an idol and no god, generally made in the image of the person who worships it.   This is another opportunity to quote some bylaws from the “Virtual Church of the Blind Chihuahua” <http://www.dogchurch.org> by J. A. H. Futtermann, and in particular the third:  “Every once in a while, when you assert, "I believe ..." ask yourself just exactly who is it that is believing.   After all, if you don't even know who you are, you should be very cautious in making assertions about who God is.   This exercise may help you refrain from projecting your inner demons onto God when you are witnessing to others.”

I suspect that if someone was to ask what most ‘christians’ wanted those who weren’t ‘christians’ to do, it would probably be something like they would want others to acknowledge the fact that God is with the ‘christians’ in a special way.   Well our lord and saviour, Jesus Christ, whose baptism we celebrate today, had something to say about this particular situation.   He said: ‘In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.’  (Matthew 7.12)   So if we want others to recognise God’s special presence in us, Jesus tells us to recognise God’s special presence in others.

And Jesus didn’t say: ‘Do unto white, straight christian males as you would have them do unto you’.   Nor did he say ‘love your neighbour but only if he is white, straight christian and male.’   This is not a liberal secularist plot!   I suspect that the injunction: you may not covet your neighbour’s wife, was written, not because she had any importance in her own right, but because the transgressor would be stealing from a white, straight, christian brother.    Such ‘christianity’ is terrorism not particularly dissimilar to Sodom and Gomorrah only with different pretexts.  Some ‘christians’ feel it is their god-given duty to be not just dismissive of but abusive toward any angels who visit strangers who have come to live amongst them.   My text tells us that Jesus is much more important than angels and Australia is a ‘christian’ country after all!!!   Dean Peter has helpfully observed that as I get more and more into a sermon my Australian accent becomes broader and broader.   I will refrain from using the vernacular equivalent of the biblical word to ‘know’. :-) (Gen 19.5)

I am sorry, but no amount of finger-waving, bible-bashing, or pulpit-thumping will ever replace doing unto all others.   Slick evangelism programs, good works, not even prayer will do the slightest good.   And there is no point whatsoever in attempting to do this on a personal level while the church corporate sails blithely on, ignoring her founder’s summary of what the law and the prophets are all about.

But is Jesus not special?   Are christians not special?   Well, if your Jesus does associate with people other than ourselves and like minded individuals, then he certainly is unique in the history of religion.   And if christians follow this Jesus in associating with others, then they too are unique in the history of religion.

And I am happy to affirm that no one indeed comes to the Father, except by associating with others, people of other hues, people who express their intimate affections with people who surprise us, people who express their devotion to the divine in terms quite different from our own, females equally as males.

Today we celebrate Jesus’ baptism and the reason that we celebrate it is because it affirms us as unique individuals.   As I often say, when I baptise a child, the most sacred thing in this building is not the altar, the cross, the pulpit, the bible, the font, the organ, or even for those misguided persons the Vicar or Dean!   The most sacred thing in this building is the persons who are here, in all our quirkiness, unbelief and baggage, and the sooner we get on with those other most sacred of things in this building the better we all will be.   Indeed the most sacred things in this world are the people God has put in it, in all our quirkiness, unbelief and baggage, and the sooner we get on with those other most sacred things in this world, the better we all will be.   Jesus baptism which began his unique ministry of association and acceptance of others in all their quirkiness, unbelief and baggage and our baptism surely ought to be no different!

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