This sermon was preached at a service during which a baby was baptized.
I’ve brought with me two historical documents, evidence of important events in my life.
Here’s my certificate of Holy Baptism. It says I was baptized by my father with my oldest brother and a friend of my parents acting as godparents. Evidence that I was baptized. And here’s my certificate of confirmation by the Bishop of Woolwich. Evidence that I was confirmed.
Of course I don’t remember my baptism – I was 4 months old.
I don’t remember a lot of detail about my confirmation. I do remember being the only girl among a couple of dozen boys from the school where my father was chaplain.
The subject of baptism comes up in our Gospel reading this morning. Jesus is being questioned by religious leaders about what authority he has to teach, heal the sick and, worst of all, turn money-changers’ tables upside down in the Temple.
Jesus responds with a question for them:
“Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?”
Why is this such a challenging and disturbing question? The leaders know why:
“if we say ‘from heaven’” he’ll want to know why we didn’t believe him.”
It’s a challenging question because of John’s teaching and prophesies about the Messiah, God’s chosen one.
It’s challenging because John called people to turn their lives around, which is what repentance means. John called to them to have their old lives washed away so they could start again with new ones.
And even the people considered to be the worst of unclean sinners responded to his call.
Most of all it’s challenging because when Jesus came to John for baptism John recognized him and proclaimed him to be the Christ. What’s more, when Jesus was baptized a voice from heaven, God’s voice, was heard saying,
“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased”
So, what are the leaders to do?
If they say they believe John’s baptism was of human origin the crowds who follow Jesus will rise up in protest against them. But if they say it was of heaven they’re going to have to follow that through to a belief that Jesus is Messiah, the Christ.
The question goes unanswered.
The baptism of Jesus by John was a defining moment in the lives of both men. And it is for us also as we in our generation accept the identity and authority of Jesus as our Lord and our God.
Our own baptisms are defining moments in our lives as well. Little A won’t remember this day but he will have a certificate and, if it survives, a holder for a candle and, I’m sure, plenty of photos! He’ll also have us. We can say to him one day, “yes A, we remember your baptism, it was a special day for all of us too”.
We can tell him that we watched and listened as he received the sign of the cross with the words,
“A, Christ claims you for his own”
We are A’s witnesses just as John the Baptist and others who heard the voice of God were witnesses for Jesus at that defining moment in his life.
So A sets out on his journey of faith with the love, support and prayers of all his family and friends and we will welcome him joyfully into our fellowship here.
But what about those of us who have already travelled some way along our road.
Jesus tells the story of two sons whose father tells them to go and work in the vineyard. One says “yes” but doesn’t. The other says “no” but changes his mind.
We know we don’t always get things right. We know that A won’t always get things right.
We know that even if we have accepted for ourselves the authority of Jesus there are times when our words and actions are not in tune with what he asks of us.
And each of us almost certainly know people who do not share our own faith but who we can see are closer to doing God’s will than we ourselves are.
But if we can recognize our failings and say sorry to God we will find that God does forgive us and lets us make yet another new start.
We may go through rough periods of wilderness when we feel lost, abandoned and afraid. Of course we hope A will be happy and fulfilled. But we also have to be realistic – we know life isn’t always easy or fair.
During those times we may need others to reassure us that we are still loved by God. We can do that for A if he ever needs us to. And we can do it for each other today and throughout our pilgrimage of faith. Today could be our day for being washed into freedom by God once again.
And so when we join A’s parents and godparents in affirming our faith in God and promise to teach and support A in that faith we can renew our own commitment to doing God’s will with his help and each other’s support.
I’m fairly sure Robin will give us all a liberal sprinkling of holy water to give us a boost!
So before A is baptized let’s spend a little time reflecting in turn on these things: (short pause after each phrase)
Reminding ourselves of our own baptism.
Recognising that all too often we get things wrong.
Repenting of those wrong things and turning away from them.
Renewing our commitment to God.
Rejoicing in God’s faithful mercy and love and his gift of life in A.