The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r098.htm
s098e03 Lent 1 Lockleys 9/3/03
"baptism ... now saves you ..." 1 Peter 3:23
There has been various reactions to the old sacramental idea that people who were baptised would go to heaven and those who weren't wouldn't. One of the more recent ones is the emphasis on the ministry of all the baptised, so that churches talk about Baptism being every person's "ordination for ministry". It seems often to me that the Church is an organisation which is never satisfied. The Church is perceived to be struggling, so the remedy is to get others to do more, to be "faithful to their baptismal calling ..." with the implied criticism that people haven't been in the past, and if the Church continues to decline, it's someone else's fault ...
Let us go back to fundamentals.
The Cross and Resurrection, Baptism and the Holy Communion are inextricably linked - everyone agrees about this. It was on the night before Jesus died that Jesus celebrated that last Supper with his disciples. When Jesus said: "This is my body" and "This is my Blood" he was surely referring to the body and blood of the Cross. His actual body and blood were there before them - taking and blessing the bread and the wine. The bread and the wine hardly needed to represent something that was present. The bread and the wine represented something that was not present - his body on the Cross the following day.
And it was after Jesus was raised to life that the great commission was given to the apostles: "Go out into all the world, baptising them and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" Matt 28.19.
There are some reports of Jesus and / or his disciples baptising earlier in the ministry, but the reports are sketchy, I suspect that this is precisely because baptism is so intimately linked to the Cross and Resurrection. (John 3:22) St Paul tells us that we are baptised into Jesus' death. (Rom 6.3).
So Baptism and Holy Communion are the same. We are baptised once, but we come and receive the Holy Communion again and again. What the Cross and Resurrection meant for all humanity, in the words of St Peter: "Christ .. suffered .. for all" we make our own, personally as individuals, as we are baptised and as we receive the Holy Communion.
Because Jesus was crucified because he sat down and ate with people other than the religious authorities, the resurrection is our guarantee that Jesus continues to sit down and eat with us as well as with others. The Cross and Resurrection affirm the blessing of God on all people - so baptism and Holy Communion both affirm that this is true in our lives but also in the lives of others - who may not necessarily have been baptised and who may not necessarily receive the Holy Communion.
Because the Cross was about stopping Jesus blessing the lives of ordinary people, the resurrection, Baptism and Holy Communion invite and empower us to see where this is continuing. So the effect of the ministry of Christ, Baptism and Holy Communion is to enable us to see and bless the actions of God in other people's lives.
So the last thing that we can do is to make Baptism and Holy Communion into badges of membership - they are both signs of God's grace for all.
The Anglican Bishop of Willochra, the Right Rev'd Garry Weatherill, writing in "The Advertiser" (Monday 24th 2003 page 14) says in an article headed "Working towards christian unity": "There are some difficult issues for us as we come to share Holy Communion. For some Christians, sharing in the Sacrament is a means to unity while for others the Eucharist is the sign of the fulfilment of that unity. People will be led by their consciences in these matters." I suspect our difficulties resolving these matters actually points to a fundamental flaw in our understanding of what the Cross and Resurrection, Baptism and Holy Communion are all about. They are all about seeing the work of God in people other than ourselves, otherwise we are just putting ourselves in the place of the religious authorities of old - and surely we don't want to do that!
So we are saved, and what are we saved from? Well when one thinks about it, and if we want for a moment to think personally, we will be saved from the enmity as others react if we look at them as if they were lesser individuals. But really we are bidden to think not just about our own comfort. If we are to be something of an influence in the world, as surely we would like to be - even if only in a small way - we will do our little bit to save the world from sectarian violence.
The latest issue of "Market Place" the successor to "Church Scene" as a national newspaper for Australian Anglicans, originating in Orange in New South Wales asks: "Would Jesus side with the Christians?" In what I consider to be the pivotal paragraph, it asks: "The chief dilemma is how to be a part of the solution to tribal religious conflict, not another part of the problem." (12/2/03 page 9) It invited responses from "Anglican theologians out there" and I did, saying: "For me - the answer to the question of whether Jesus is the "solution to tribal religious conflict, not another part of the problem?" is fundamentally related to what we believe the reason the religious authorities killed him. If they killed him because Jesus claimed to be the Son of God (how they justified their actions) then Jesus will remain a part of the problem. If they actually killed Jesus because he sat down and ate with people other than themselves, Jesus may in fact be seen to be the solution."
Today is the first Sunday in Lent, and traditionally in Lent we think about prayer, fasting and almsgiving. In the gospel passage for Ash Wednesday, Jesus does tell us that we need to do these things "in secret". Self mortification is the old term for these things and it is not a popular concept these days. The trouble is that it's importance has been blunted by the fact that it is still so self - centred. It is *our* sacrifice, something private - between me and God. Yet self mortification is important, and indeed can be joyful as one forgets oneself and one's own salvation for a time, and thinks about other people. Jesus tells us to do these things in secret so that the focus is not on us and our reward. We can secretly magnify others and accept them as they are. For we are already assured of our reward, because we know God is one who accepts all, including us.
Indeed I strongly suspect healthy self - mortification is the key to personal happiness because it throws the focus away from ourselves and on to others.
And the point of fasting is surely to do without something of the excess in our own lives in order to feed someone who has not even the necessities. It has been suggested that people could consider sending half a cup of uncooked rice to our Prime Minister with a message for peace and requesting him to send that to Iraq rather than our soldiers. I am not sure that I consider our Prime Minister an enemy, and I know of no one who wishes any more suffering for the people of Iraq. Saddam Hussein is certainly seen as "the enemy" but not George Bush - for all I wish that war could be averted. Certainly if I could actually send a half a cup of uncooked rice to someone who needed it, I should be happy to do so, but I suspect that Saddam Hussein could afford it more than me!
The point of almsgiving similarly is about recognising our relative affluence and other people's poverty and not expecting the government to fix it.
And we are to pray - pray for our enemies. How are we to pray? - that all the Jewish, Moslem, Buddhist, Hindu, the atheists and agnostics and everyone else become "Christians" like us. This is hardly likely and a big ask - even for God. Should we pray that God will forgive all these people their ignorance and hardness of heart? I suspect that again we will be wasting our breath but for the opposite reason, for God is far more merciful than us and this is already the case, just as God forgives *our* ignorance and hardness of heart.
We pray for our enemies in precisely the same terms as we pray for our friends - that they will see that God accepts all people and that they will see God at work in their lives and in the lives of those around them.
Ministry, I have said time and again happens not when we are in Church, some of us putting on special robes and those of us who can, meekly kneeling on our knees. Ministry is when we are doing our job, providing for our families, struggling to exist and trying to use honest means to do so. Ministry is breast - feeding a baby, or for a male type person, bottle - feeding to give Mum a break. Ministry is washing nappies. Ministry is responding cheerfully to the person on the checkout, and accepting the variety of people who make up our community. Ministry is learning at school, and not closing our eyes to bullying in the playground. If our Baptism and Holy Communion doesn't result in these sorts of things happening then our Baptism and Holy Communion doesn't mean much at all - and the Cross and Resurrection of Christ likewise.
I want to comment on the phrase: "a good conscience". It seems to me that primarily "a good conscience" must refer, not to our relationship with God, for we can never presume to be able to accurately assess this for ourselves. "A good conscience" primarily refers to our relationship with those around us. If we do not put others down for any reason, it is then that we can have a good conscience towards God. If we do put other people down, in the name of God (because they believe in different terms to us) - for their "well being" or whatever, while we may be *certain* that we are speaking for their own benefit - there is ever a chink of a possibility that we might not be. The only sure way of having "a good conscience" is to seek other people's upbuilding. I wish I could claim that I do this consistently, but sadly I cannot.
I was delighted that the short report in the "Advertiser" about the new Archbishop of Canterbury concluded with these words: "We don't solve our deepest problems just by better discipline, but by better discipleship, a fuller entry into the intimate joy of Jesus's life." (March 1 p 58) The death and resurrection, Baptism and Holy Communion saves us from sorrow and anxiety - that possibly we might miss out. In the joy of knowing we are accepted, we can share the joy of acceptance of all people with everyone.
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