Sunday, October 16, 2016
Baptism Sermon, Abraham Edward
This morning I have the wonderful privilege to baptism Abraham Edward Williams. Performing the sacrament of Holy Baptism is among the best things a priest gets to do. As the service of Baptism states, in Holy Baptism we are regenerated (born again) and grafted into the body of Christ's Church. Historically baptism has often been called a Christening, which simply refers to the belief that in Holy Baptism a new Christian is made, not of course as a result of any merit that we present to God, but because of God's loving grace poured out in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and given to the baptized person as a free gift.
In the sixth chapter of his letter to the Romans, Paul asks the question, Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Put simply if you are baptized, as you go under those cleansing waters you die with Christ in his crucifixion, and as you come out of those same waters you rise again with him. Holy Baptism follows the pattern of Christ's death and resurrection. And why, you might ask is this important? It is important because we want to belong to our Lord Jesus whom the Bible speaks of as a new Adam.
We all know the old Adam, and in a sense we all live like that old Adam. In the opening chapters of Genesis, we hear the account of how man falls away from communion with God, and this comes about because Adam wants to live by his own light rather than the light of God—he will decide what to call good and what to call evil rather than subjecting his will to the Word of God. Adam and Eve's alienation from the Lord is succeeded by a break in the fellowship between brother and brother when Cain slaughters his brother Abel. As I've said many times before, In Adam's sin, man said to God, I do not need you, and in Cain's, man said to his brother, I do not need you. The old Adam's heritage is a heritage of alienation, sin, and death, and we still see these impulses strongly at work today, to say to God, I don't need you, and to say to a fellow-man, I don't need you.
But the new Adam comes to teach us how to live in the light of God and in fellowship with one another. He tells his Father, even in the midst of the agony of death, that he needs him: into thy hands, I commend my spirit. The one who displays his superiority and moral perfection does not despise fellowship with sinful and broken humans. Rather, he works endlessly to restore them to God and to one another. Even in the difficult things that our Lord says, he is not aiming at abrasion but healing.
By original sin, we belong to the old Adam—we are part of his communion, although this word can only be used equivocally since the lineage of Adam blindly smashes every act of communion and fellowship by sin and selfishness. It is, I am sorry to say, the legacy of old Adam that seems to have won the day in our society today, that is so divided by suspicion, discord, and animosity. Our only real hope is Christ, who can reconcile us to God and to one another. By grace and the sacrament of Baptism, we belong to the new Adam, our Lord Jesus. As St. John reminds us again and again, “truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. . . and if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another” (1 John 1:3,7). As we belong to Christ the new Adam and live in him, we become part of his spiritual family, the communion of saints that will ever grow in charity. As we bring Abraham to these cleansing water we pray that, though the old Adam will undoubtedly still manifest his legacy in his life, it will not hold sway, and the gifts of the new Adam will live and grow in him, the gifts of forgiveness and love and concord.
In the English 1662 Book of Common Prayer there is a prayer in the service of Baptism that is not found in the later American prayer books and it is truly exquisite. It begins by a recollection of Old Testament figures whom God saved through water, specifically Noah and his family in the ark and the Hebrews who passed through the Red Sea on dry ground. Both of these are figures of Baptism in which God saves us from trial and judgment. The prayer concludes by petitioning God that the infant about to baptized will be placed in the ark of Christ's church and that "being stedfast in faith, joyful through hope, and rooted in charity, [he] may so pass the waves of this troublesome world, that finally he may come to the land of everlasting life." The "waves of this troublesome world." A beautiful and poignant phrase. Isn't that the nature of this life. It is full of waves and tumults. We feel like we are in constant flux and change. As soon as we seem to land on settled ground, all turns to chaos. It has been my observation that most people most of the time are in inner chaos despite the serene front we may put on. If the world and life is like this, then surely we are in need of God's grace from beginning to end, from the first day of our life to our death. Without God's help, we simply cannot tread this world's troublesome waves long enough to reach shore. In the words of a familiar hymn with which we are soon to be reacquainted, our longing must be that "God [would] be at my end and at my departing." We need God's grace every moment of our lives, and this is one reason why it is fitting that infants are baptized.
You know, Shakespeare got it wrong when he said faithful romantic love is "the star to every wandering bark." The image of course is that of a ship which navigates by the reliable North star. Think about our lives for a moment. I am a wandering bark--we all are wandering ships--tossed by the "waves of this troublesome world." The star, compass and map that guides us home is Jesus and his love and grace. May we all this day be reminded of the grace we have received, signified by our Baptism and given freely to us every moment of our lives, a grace that leads us through "the waves of this troublesome world, so that finally we may come to the land of everlasting life."