034g02 Lockleys 13/1/2002 Baptism of Jesus
"This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased." Matthew 3.17
It was very helpful for Jesus to have been baptised by John the Baptist in the river Jordan. It really doesn't matter to me whether Jesus needed to be baptised or not. It shows us what baptism, and by extension, what much of the christian life is about.
Up until this stage Jesus had done nothing, either publicly or privately, to distinguish himself from the rest of humanity. Jesus had done nothing to deserve this special treatment by God &endash; if in fact it was in any way "special". So likewise we are loved by God, not because we have done anything to deserve that love, but simply because that is what God is all about &endash; God loves people. And if God loves us completely irrespective of what we have done or not done, logic tells us that God loves all people, irrespective of what they have done or not done.
And God organises this world to make sure that we can "hear" this truth about God's love. In our Christian tradition we have the Cross and resurrection, and we have the sacraments of baptism and holy communion, linking us to that Cross and resurrection &endash; but we should hardly expect that God is restricted to these means, no matter how precious these are to us, personally as Anglicans (of course for other Christian denominations they are equally as precious). The ways God can communicate the divine love is restricted only by our human imagination. And I use the word "human" deliberately, for by "our" I mean far wider than "us" as Anglicans. God can communicate the divine love in many other ways rather than being restricted by our Anglican imaginations. God can communicate the divine love through the beauty and awesomeness of nature and through the self giving of other people, to name just two. I observed just last week that God used the rainbow of Noah and the star of the Wise Men to get the message across to humanity. This should cause us to be careful, for the message then was that often humanity see where the ecclesiastical authorities don't.
So God, in our Anglican tradition uses particular rites, using physical actions to "say" something important. They are ritualised and therefore socially acceptable ways of touching, of connecting, with people. I was interested to have my attention drawn to the Prayer Book of South India before Christmass, and I was intrigued to find directions there as to how to "pass the peace". The direction, for your interest, says: "When the Peace is given, the giver places his right palm against the right palm of the receiver, and closes his left hand over the other's right hand …" (page xiii) Perhaps adherence to such directions as these might mean that some female type persons do not find their personal space being invaded in unwelcome ways, as I have heard happen in some other places.
This "connection" is very important, and Jesus made those "connections" often when dealing with others. Our wholeness comes in community, the most important at-one-ness is not with God, but with others.
And God says that Jesus is God's son. And in baptism God says to us, that we are God's son or God's daughter. It is not that we weren't a child of God before - it is that we "hear it from the horse's mouth" as the saying goes. It changes nothing in terms of our relationship with God. I simply wouldn't believe in a God who condemned someone to eternal damnation simply because they had not been baptised. But for us who do know that voice, that declaration changes everything. "Love changes everything …" says the song.
But God does not just tell us once, and then tells us get on with life. As we come to the Holy Communion, we come as part of God's family, with others who are sons and daughters of God. God reaffirms that Jesus died and rose again for us. We are God's family. Again, it is not that if we don't come we cease to be. We come and we are told: "you are my son", "you are my daughter", "Jesus died and rose again for you, and for many …" We are reassured again and again. As often as we need reassurance, there it is.
Matthew has the words: "This is my Son", so the recollection that he witnesses to is that God is declaring to others something about Jesus. The other evangelists have God speaking primarily to Jesus, saying "You are my Son". So again, in baptism, it is not that something happened in Jesus' life to change him from something into something else. His baptism served to say something to others about who he was.
And again, when people are baptised, it is not that the baby or the child or the adult changes in any way, but we - those around who are witnesses, are told something about this person. We have to hear that this person is also God's daughter, God's son. So our relationship with this person can only be conducted on a fully equal basis. There is, of course, no reason that it should have been any different previously. But having been baptised we must look at others as equals, as people who have something to contribute to our lives, as much as we have something to contribute to theirs.
For the reality is that one cannot be anything more than a precious daughter or son of God. Despite my pretty dresses and my funny collar, I am nothing more or less than a precious child of God. The Pope, in all his wisdom, is nothing more than a precious child of God, for that is all Jesus was called.
Now I wonder how far we will allow this to be taken? God's word in baptism is for us to recognise that others are God's children too. We Anglicans are no more children of God than others. The obvious conclusions are that there is no more important person in our congregation or less important &endash; and that there is no more important denomination or less important.
For baptism doesn't make us any more loved by God - for we and all people are loved by God because Jesus died and rose again for everyone, baptised or not. I wouldn't worship a God who made such distinctions like this. Of course if I make this statement, it is obvious that I wouldn't worship a God who made distinctions between people who have been baptised by full immersion or light sprinkling &endash; or between persons who have been baptised as babies or as adult believers. The words of God: This is my Son, my Daughter, brook no quibbling.
And this is why I particularly love the opening words of our second reading, when Peter, after a very long and drawn out conversion experience, speaks to the household of Cornelius, that the truth has finally dawned on him - he who had walked, talked, argued with, denied and been forgiven by this Jesus &endash; "I truly understand that God shows no partiality…"
I need to point out that these words of Peter are considered particularly important by the Church. They are set to be read every Easter Day, year A, B and C as well as today. If you get the message that the Church is trying to tell us something, I think we would be right!
The Cross and resurrection are our guarantee that the efforts of the religious authorities to assert that God does show partiality, and so to stop Jesus associating with people other than themselves - were doomed to failure. So the sacraments of baptism and holy communion, for all they truly personally inextricably link us to that death and resurrection, they by definition also inextricably link us to others. Since we ourselves were "others", like the Israelites who were aliens in Egypt, our personal participation in the sacraments, inevitably allow us to see the presence of the risen Christ in others &endash; people who are not replicas of ourselves - people of other denominations and people of other faiths. We will see the risen Jesus in people who are skeptical and in people who cannot believe.
Jesus would not have been crucified by the religious authorities if he had only associated with people who were replicas of them!
I was thinking recently - sometimes I wonder what we expect of others? Are we content that people are living their lives minding their own business and living and loving as they are able?
The message of baptism and holy communion is not that we have been incorporated into the people of God, and those who don't join us can just "go to hell". The message of the cross and resurrection, of baptism and holy communion, is to enable us to see the risen Christ in ourselves and others.
As we hear God saying to Jesus at his baptism, so long ago, "This is my Son" so we need to continue to hear the very same words of God as we come in contact with other people, whoever they are.
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