Baptism: Becoming One in Christ (Easter 3B)
Madison Agyemang was baptized as the newest member of the Body of Christ today. She is held by her mother, Sarai Rhett, and surrounded by her father, Ashanti Agyemang (blue shirt, next to Sarai), godparents, and priest.
Below is a rough outline of my sermon from this morning.
“Baptism: Becoming One in Christ”
3rd Sunday in Easter - April 15, 2018
1 John 3:1-7
1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he[a] is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
4 Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.
This morning we will celebrate a baptism, the first of five that we’ll hold at St. Matthew’s Church this Easter Season. We give thanks for the signs of growth and new life that God is planting in our midst!
So I want to highlight briefly two important aspects or characteristics of baptism. These are things that Christians believe happen to us and in us when we washed in this water.
Baptism makes us Children of God
Baptism is a sign of our repentance from sin and God’s forgiveness of our sins
1. Baptism makes us children of God through God’s profound love.
“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are … Beloved, we are God’s children now” (1 John 3:1a, 2a).
This is our new identity in Christ. God gives it to us as an unearned gift. That’s what grace is. It’s not based on our being good, but on God’s enormous love for human beings.
All the old markers of self (family, status, nationality, race, culture) are not erased, but they are diminished (made less important) in the light of Christ.
After the Madison is baptized, we will say to her (as we say to all the newly baptized): "We receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood" (BCP, p. 308).
The church adopts new Christians into this new community that is international, interracial, and intercultural. We aspire to rise above these human distinctions through our common love for God and belovedness by God. Baptism is closely tied to unity.
Unfortunately, we often fail to be unified because “our sins are stronger than we are” (Psalm 65:3). The Church proclaims unity in Christ, and strives toward it. But deep down most of us believe it’s more important to be American than to be Christian, more important to be black or white or Latino/a than to be Christian, more important to be rich or middle class than to be Christian, more important to be a man or a woman than to be Christian.
This is a sin of mistaken identity. We fail to recognize the priority of our Christian identity. That sin has been the root cause of much of our social and political strife in the West for centuries.
We have trouble believing God’s promise given to us in St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians:
“26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:26-28)
2. So, Baptism is also a sign of our repentance and God’s forgiveness of our sin
This is complicated for young children since they aren’t making conscious choices about these things. But Christians believe that sin is more than individual problem; it affects all people.
“Before any individual commits a sin of his or her own, he or she is already part of a diseased society, and since we are social beings and dependent one on another, sin is universal. … Sin, or rather the conviction of sin, is the presupposition of baptism” (Macquarrie, p. 68).
In baptism, we turn away from sin (“You know that [Jesus] was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin” - 1 John 3:5), and turn toward the goodness and love of God (“All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as [Jesus] is pure” - 1 John 3:3).
In baptism we are given something bigger and more powerful than our outward differences. In baptism, we are given the power of the Holy Spirit, living inside of us. This powerful Spirit of God can overcome our sins of disunity. The Spirit can “cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). The Spirit can bring us closer to each other by drawing us closer to Jesus.
That is our key prayer for Madison and for ourselves this morning.
Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon these your servants the forgiveness of sin, and have raised them to the new life of grace. Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen. (BCP, p. 308).
Jennings, Willie James. "Being Baptized: Race." In The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics, 2nd edition. Edited by Stanley Hauerwas and Samuel Wells. New York: Blackwell Publishing, 2011.
Macquarrie, John. A Guide to the Sacraments. New York: The Continuum Publishing Company, 1998.