s182ss13  Sunday 15 Sea Sunday  14/7/2013   North New Brighton

'Do you not care that we are perishing?'   Mark 4.38

Many years ago, when the AIDS/HIV crisis erupted on the world scene, one of my colleagues commented that life itself was a sexually transmitted terminal illness.   I don't know if this was his own statement or he had heard it from someone else.   Perhaps it was inspired by Augustine's doctrine of original sin.   But also long ago I recall hearing a radio program where one of those infected early on talked about his life.   For him the diagnosis was a liberating thing.   He determined to make the most of what he thought were his few remaining months.   When he lived for many years, he was able to look back and be grateful for the diagnosis.

Despite its intrinsic pessimism, the definition of life as a sexually transmitted terminal illness is useful, for each and every one of us is sexually transmitted.   Perhaps that great taboo is slowly being opened up.  

Each and every one of us has to deal with life, with its joys and sorrows.   No one gets through life unscathed.

More recently I have been pondering the question: 'If I was God ..   (and one of my ponderings was ..)  I would understand the desire to be healthy, wealthy and to live for ever, but would ask humans to consider the number of chickens and fish that didn't live to a ripe old age, but were killed in the prime of their lives, just to feed them.   Even though I was God I havenít found a way out of this conundrum.' :-)

We are perishing, some more quickly than others, some aware of their immanent demise, others blissfully unaware.

Water is an amazing thing.   I grew up at Brighton in South Australia, so swimming at the beach was something we did regularly.   The best time was an early morning swim when it was going to be 40 degrees during the day.   So when I first came to Christchurch three years ago it was the source of some bewilderment that there were few people who swim here.   It has only been in the last year since we moved closer to the beach that I realise that generally the water here is too cold.   I'm no great swimmer, but there is something about diving into the water and body surfing that is invigorating and liberating.   And during this last summer we were blessed with somewhat higher water temperatures and we were able to swim without wetsuits.

We have just returned from visiting grandchildren in Adelaide for the baptism of the younger 6 month old one.   It was a fabulous time and while Skype is wonderful there is nothing like holding one's grandson for the first time.   It was winter and lots of rain.  The elder of the two - 16 months - spent his time fascinated with water.   Bath time is special.   He was splashing in puddles and had to be restrained from jumping into the Torrens creek and various fountains that we came across in shopping centres.   This made me realise that fountains in shopping centres are not just for decoration - they are there to attract families.     Then the redevelopment of New Brighton has been spurred on by the campaign to have a water park. (1)  The delight that our older grandchild has for water is somewhat in contrast to the theological explanation the prayer book gives for the younger one's baptism.

I reflect how the first real shower one has after an operation in hospital makes the patient feel human again.   And we are brought into life after the waters in the womb have broken.

There are two other aspects of water that I want to also highlight.   There is an equality on the beach.  One has to strip off one's finery - all are equal in the water.   And sailors are involved in trade between nations and cultures.   They act as bridges between different people.   Equality and communion are important aspects of the christian life.   Indeed egalitarianism is a precondition for real communion, between people, and between the divine and humanity.

I confess I haven't much time for the idea that there is a life after death.   So often this can have the practical consequence that people go through life the whole time worried that they might do something that ruins their chance for even more misery.   I mean the idea of a heaven where everyone spends an eternity as the hymn says: 'prostrate before thy throne to lie and gaze and gaze on thee' doesn't sound like much fun to me. (1)   The real question is whether there is life before death, life for us and life for others?

I wonder if 'pie in the sky when we die' doesn't make the gospel imperative of loving one's neighbours into a threat or a promise, when really it ought to be a joy.   I mean are crazed terrorists and puritan separatists actually happy people, fun to be around?   How do these sorts of people contribute to the happiness quotient of society other than providing horror stories for tabloids?   If our church does not contribute to the happiness quotient of society - like the liberation and exhilaration of swimming - is not society justified in regarding the church with distain?

Yes, Jesus and God do care that we are perishing, and would hope that we all manage to enjoy life in its fulness before we do - with the emphasis on ALL.   And when it comes to our enjoyment of life and other's enjoyment of life, this is far more up to us as individuals and as a corporate community, than it is up to God.

For life in all its fulness is life in community, defined not by who may be a part of it and who can't, but community defined by diversity and acceptance.   And if baptism, communion and the church actually take us away from the community defined by diversity and acceptance, well, the question is: will we be much fun to have around?

So baptism does not save us from death after life - it saves us from death before death.   We are saved from a life long following of a religion of sanctified selfishness and we are saved for life in the widest possible community defined by egalitarianism, inclusion and acceptance, regardless even of creed.

Baptism invites us into the water, into the water with others, stripped of those denominational rivalries which separate us off from others.  Baptism and the faith we share invites us into communion with all others, into a communion where we are simply grateful that others are enjoying existence with us.   We are invited to share communion; enjoying the exhilaration of simply being and simply being with others.   Amen.

(1)  http://www.newbrightonwaterpark.co.nz/#1
(2)  My God, how wonderful Thou art  Frederick W Faber.