Summary: To make the affirmation "I am Baptised" is to bring the reality of our baptism into the present making us vitally aware that we are Children of God, disciples of Christ and members of the Church.
Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord
I am Baptised!
Apparently Martin Luther, the great 16th figure of the reformation used to take great comfort from these words. When it seemed to him that the whole church had left the precepts of the Gospel, when he was under scrutiny from Church officials as to the truth of his beliefs, when his life was under threat and when he suffered self doubt he would boldly claim, "I am baptised." Those words belong not only to the Martin Luther’s of this world but to each and every baptised person. To each of us who have had water poured over us in the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit. Let those words sink in this morning: "I am Baptised!"
Today we remember the baptism of our Lord. Much ink has been spilt over questions of why Jesus needed to undergo the baptism of John - which was a baptism of repentance. Generally it is thought that Jesus chose to identify with the rest of humanity in this way. It is a development of the incarnation. In Jesus God not only becomes flesh, but fully human, born into family, tribe, and community. In some ways this is harder to come to terms with than a mere taking on of human form. Jesus is God, fully divine, but also fully human having to deal as we do with temptation, suffering, pain and death.
The Christian community took baptism as its rite of initiation. People become members of the Church by being baptised. We believe too that in Baptism we receive the grace of God in a special way. The Prayer Book tells us that "Baptism with water signifies the cleansing from sin that Jesus’ death makes possible, and the new life that God gives us through the Holy Spirit." The Prayer Book goes on to say, "We are joined to Christ, and made members of his body, the Church universal."
When we say, with Martin Luther, "I am Baptised," the emphasis shifts from the mere details of our Lord’s baptism and the directives of the Prayer Book. That shift is substantial. What does it mean for each of us that we are baptised? Most of us were probably baptised as infants and have no memory of it. I have a photo of that day and my certificate which on which it is almost impossible to read the date. Most of us were faithfully brought along to the parish church by our parents to be done. We had Godparents take on the promises of faith for us. If we were baptised before the liturgical changes of the 1970’s our God parents would have faced this exhortation:
Forasmuch as this child hath promised by you his sureties to renounce the devil and all his works, to believe in God and serve him; Ye must remember that it is your parts and duties that this infant be taught, so soon as he be able to learn, what a solemn vow, promise and profession he hath here made by you. And that he may know these things the better, ye shall call upon him to hear sermons; and chiefly ye shall provide that he may learn the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments in the vulgar tongue...
The exhortation goes on to state the child be brought up to lead a godly and virtuous Christian life. Most of us will remember none of this. Even when we were confirmed - our chance to take for ourselves the promises made on our behalf - many of us might have felt we were going through some trial all children go through, like exams or even immunisation. Rather than saying boldly with Luther words "I am baptised!" There is a temptation to speak in the past tense, "I was Christened when I was a kid," or even more off handedly, "My parents had me done when I was a baby."
When we utter those words with both conviction and wonder we allow ourselves to enter into the deepest realities of our faith. We recall first that God, even the creator of the universe, makes us God’s children. Second, that Jesus calls us into discipleship. Third, that we are members of the Church.
We are God’s children. One of my favourite Old Testament stories in Genesis just after Adam and Eve had eaten of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Those two representative human beings know they have gone against God and hide from each other and from God. The story speaks in a simple way of the love and care God has for us. It speaks so simply the depth of what it reveals about God might easily be passed over.