s112g00baptism Trinity Sunday Somerton Park 18/6/2000
"Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit." John 3:5
When I began to think about what I wanted to say today for the baptism of ........... this morning, my mind went to C S Lewis, and his story in the fifth of the "Chronicles of Narnia" - "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" - where Lucy and the ship's company land on an island of voices (chapters 9-11). They are faced with an invisible enemy, headed by a Chief Monopod, the (often inane) statements of whom were always greeted with loud choruses of approval from his followers. The reason why I thought of them in connection with baptism was because towards the end of the story Lucy and the others plan to return to the ship, and invite the now visible friends to come too. However the Chief "hung back and warned the others that they'd find the water powerful wet ..."
These particular creatures, eventually christened "dufflepuds" after they become visible (the parallels with baptism become clear), were "ruled" by a feared magician in an old house, and they had always thought of themselves as ugly. Once they had sneaked into the magician's house to find a spell to make them look less ugly. But the only spell they could find was one to make them invisible, which they thought was better than nothing, so now they were. But by this time they had got tired of being invisible and were waiting for strangers to come to the island, to force them to go into the feared house, to say a spell to make them visible again. Hence Lucy was coerced, and went and found the desired spell, the delightful magician and Aslan himself.
And when Lucy saw the now visible creatures, she of course realised that they were far from ugly.
And the world and the Church can be a little like the dufflepuds and their chief. We can look at ourselves and think how ugly we are and how ugly those around us are. We can let others, like the chief dufflepud, talk us into believing that we are indeed ugly. But of course the dufflepuds were not ugly, neither are we, and neither are others.
And the process of the dufflepuds becoming visible is a bit like us being baptised. It is not that we become less ugly, but that God tells us and shows us we are beautiful.
But just as the dufflepuds took more than a little convincing, so we too ourselves. We too need to find that constant reassurance of God that we are beautiful, that Jesus did die and rise again for us, and this continuing reassurance is what happens in Holy Communion. The invisible dufflepuds lived a self-imposed life of fear and isolation one from another. They were afraid of the house and the magician, afraid of doing anything new, afraid even of the water surrounding the island.
Another telling snippet of conversation in the story is when Lucy and the Magician see the creatures waking from their afternoon nap, to find themselves visible. The chief, unaware of those listening, says to the others boastfully: "We've beaten him this time." Lucy asks the Magician how they dare to speak like that, "They seemed to be so afraid of you yesterday ..." The Magician replies: "One minute they talk as if I ran everything and overheard everything and was extremely dangerous. The next moment they think that they can take me in by tricks that a baby would see through - bless them!" And again I thought of us, and how sometimes we (in the Church) think of God in not so different terms.
We of course know baby ................... rather more than he knows us, as he has come to Church since his birth. It is a delight to today focus on this precious child, to speak the words of love that God has for him, in the words and actions that constitute Holy Baptism, as well as the same words of love for each and every one of us. ............. is precious in the sight of God, and what ever he does in life God will be with him.
The world, and sadly sometimes parts of the Church, will try to convince us that we are less loved, that God is to be feared, and as a result our lives can similarly be turned into self imposed fear and isolation, from each other, from our heavenly Father and from our real abilities. There are self appointed chiefs around who continue to mutter inanities, bolstering their own insecurities by warning others of dangers all around. And as with all chiefs, there will be plenty following with loud choruses of approval, bolstering their own sense of insecurity.
The whole purpose of the Church is to break that down and to lead us out into new paths, seeing the good in others, and in ourselves. This is the sort of life we wish for .......... and the life and the Church into which we baptise him.
And we need these rites of passage to make present and to put flesh on the eternal reality of God's love for everyone, personally as we baptise .................. today and as we too come to receive the sacrament of the Holy Communion ourselves later during this service.
We do all need "the water and the Spirit" in the terminology of my text today. For ever present, and all around us, in the world, and indeed sometimes in the Church, we find forces which will try to lead us back into self imposed fear and isolation, forces which might try to undermine our confidence in our beauty and our abilities. As I say, the chief dufflepuds warning that the water is "powerful wet" will find echoes in our own lives.
For some, a life of realisation of God's love for one and for all comes perhaps through channels other than the sacraments of the Church, but it remains God's love, however God chooses to communicate it to others. It is not our business to question or to criticise.
And the only way we can claim that Jesus is the only path to salvation, is to realise that it is only Jesus who leads us out of lives of self imposed fear and isolation. If the "Jesus" proclaimed seems to lead us into further fear or isolation, then it is not the Jesus I know and worship.
Or to put it more broadly if someone is being lead out of a life of self imposed fear and isolation, it is always Jesus who is behind it, visible or not.
And I find it significant that if we follow through the analogy of the dufflepuds becoming visible and baptism; baptism is not primarily about forgiveness of sin, it is about becoming visible, to each other. As with the dufflepuds, of course things are left behind, but their new mode of existence completely overshadows what has gone before. They are too busy enjoying their new existence to lament the past or even to think about it. So it ought to be with us.
Baptism is about seeing the things and the people around us in a completely different light. We see in others, Jesus crucified and raised, unless of course we are not looking, unless of course we are determined not to see.
For God is always present, inviting us to see. Might I draw your attention to the fact that the seraphs Isaiah saw in heaven said not just: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts" as the Church is want to focus on; but also: "the whole earth is full of God's glory." Isaiah 6:3 Our "Sanctus" waters this down, saying "heaven and earth are full of your glory".
It is a special delight to baptise ............ the child of ............ and ......... and brother to ........., who we know as part of our community of faith. We know them to be people who do see the good in others, in one another, kind, generous and supportive. We wish them every blessing on this special day in their lives and of course long into the future also.
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