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Monday, October 22, 2012

Can you be baptised with my baptism?

Mark 10.35-45

Today we gather to witness a most astonishing and disturbing event.  In a few moments we shall watch as a small child is put to death . . .  and then we shall see her being raised to an entirely new life.  Is that what you expected to see today?  Is that why you came?  Baptism, you see, is a profound ritual of death and re-birth.  It seeks to imitate the experience of Jesus as he was tortured and killed by evil men, buried in the ground, but then raised to be with God forever.  At its heart, the ritual of baptism seeks to bind the heart and spirit of the baptised person to the heart and Spirit of Jesus Christ.  Baptism is therefore a moment of high drama on the journey of faith.  It is not to be entered into lightly, for it is very, very dangerous to join a life to that of Jesus Christ.

Baptism is dangerous in three ways.  First, it will certainly kill you.  Second, it will take you into a strange and terrifying new world - a world I like to call 'the Godzone'.  And finally, baptism will lead you to do stuff which no respectable citizen ought to do.  You'll lose your reputation for being a nice person.  You'll nuke your credibility.  So don't go messing about with baptism.  I'm warning you.  It's dynamite.

When Jesus talked about baptism, he was talking about death.  When James and John, two of his friends, asked to be head honchos in the political oligarchy they thought he would set up, Jesus asked them this question:  ‘Are you able to drink the cup that I will drink, or be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with?’  In Mark's story of Jesus, cups and baptisms were short-hand ways of talking about Jesus' crucifixion.  The cup represented blood, and baptism was about being drowned.  The message is clear.  Just like for Jesus' friends, if we want to belong to Jesus then we've got to be prepared to die.

Now there are big deaths and there are little deaths.  Being baptised is both.  In baptism, we're called by God to nail all the destructive stuff in our lives to the cross with Jesus.  You know what I'm talking about.  Being so ego-centric that we don't give a toss about anyone else.  Living like money means more than people or clean air.  Being control freaks who won't come at anything that gives someone else the reins.  Worshipping at the altars of false gods.  Like TV.  Or Sport.  Or the perfect body.  Or corporate image.  Baptism means letting go of all that stuff.  It's killing us.  We need to let that stuff go in order to grab hold of the new life which Christ offers us. You can't have both.

If you’re serious about dying with Christ through baptism, then you'll eventually wake up in a strange and terrifying world - the Godzone.  You'll meet weird people there.  People who don't pretend they have it all together.  People who struggle with life.  People who are honest about their doubts and fears.  People who believe that God loves them and will never forsake them.  You'll also get to know a self that you never knew existed.  A self which is unafraid of life.  A self which can sit with pain and not want to run away.  A self which regularly forgets itself in the raptures of loving . . . loving people, and beauty and truth.  A self that can stand to be alone with that dark and terrible fire which is God.

But, be warned!  If you hang out in the Godzone too much—if you allow your baptism to shape your life—then you'll lose most of your credibility as a nice, middle-class, person who is going somewhere.  You'll find that your core values are changing, that they're no longer consistent with the dominant values of our society (or even your family).  You'll be sickened by the way in which the strong exploit the weak.  You'll become an advocate for the voiceless ones, the vulnerable ones, the forgotten ones.  Your drive to get ahead will be transformed into a desire to come alongside.  You'll stop hoarding your love and your time and your money.  You'll learn to give yourself away, as if that was all that mattered.  Because, in the end, you'll see that only God matters.  The God who gives himself away in Jesus Christ.

I hope you can hear what I'm saying.  Baptism is a very big thing.  It is not a nice day for the rellies. It is not an outing for grandma's christening gown.  It is not a naming ceremony.  Baptism is God's offer of love and liberation.  But it is also our response to that love, that vulnerable love of a God that is able to change our lives and makes us vulnerable too.  In baptism we become inextricably joined with the crucified and risen God.  We promise to live his life, and die his death, and we submit ourselves to be raised to the Godzone with him.  Live dangerously.  Live out your baptism.

This sermon was delivered at Christ Church, Kensington, in October 2003.

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