I don’t know whether you have had the experience of looking at a screen or a blank piece of paper and thinking that you don’t know what to say? Well this happened to me this week. I was really struggling to work out what I wanted to say about baptism and this, in a way, is really strange because I give lots of baptism homilies every year.
Now there is obviously a difference between giving a homily at a baptism and speaking to the baptised about baptism, even though I use the same gospel reading, and I think that this is where I got stuck. The event that, if you like, got me back on track was a tweet from + Steven in which he invited ‘clergy and LLMs preparing sermons inviting people to baptism and confirmation, to share our top 3 reasons for inviting people to come to the waters.’ So here we go: the three reasons that I gave:
First, baptism is a celebration of our individuality. In the reading from Isaiah we hear some of the most beautiful words in Scripture: ‘do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine,’ and again ‘do not fear for I am with you,’ we are also told that we have been ‘created for glory…..formed and made.’ I would like to suggest that we grow into our fullest selves when we accept the basic premise that we are made, known, and loved. When we accept this the wonderfully good news is that we need no longer fear, for love has won. Baptism is a celebration of love, joy and God’s delight in us as his children. We need to hear for ourselves the words that the Father spoke to the Son: ‘you are my son / daughter, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ Can you, dare you, imagine a world in which each and every person knew that they were individually and truly loved? I would suggest that such a world would be a world free from abuse, tyranny and fear.
Secondly, baptism is also a celebration of community. The sacrament of baptism brings us into the church and makes us members of the body or communion; the sacrament of the Eucharist keeps us and sustains us in church. And, don’t we live in a world where people are longing for genuine, authentic and loving communities? Baptism first affirms us as individuals and then locates us in community. Baptism is a celebration of individuality in community.
Thirdly baptism is a celebration of possibility. In both the New Testament reading and the gospel we learn that the Holy Spirit is given through baptism. Peter and John are said to have laid their hands on the people of Samaria – just ponder that for a moment: they laid their hands on a whole bunch of Samaritans; the ultimate outsiders – ‘and they received the Holy Spirit,’ whilst at Jesus’ own baptism the ‘Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.’ The Holy Spirit is the author of baptismal possibility. It is through the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit that individual lives and church communities are transformed.
In the Church of England baptism is a once and for all time sacrament. If you haven’t been baptised but would like to consider it please do talk to me. If you have been baptised can I encourage you to reflect on what baptism means for you as an individual in community? On the pew sheet we have included a prayer for the affirmation of baptism. Can I ask you to take the pew sheet home with you and reflect on the readings over the course of the next week and also offer to God the words of the prayer provided. Let us pray:
‘Loving God, we thank you that at our baptism you anointed us with the gift of your Holy Spirit and called us by name. Help us this day, and always, to live lives worthy of our calling, that freed from all fear we may proclaim your holy name in word and deed, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.’