Scripture: 1 Cor 12: 4-10; Luke 3: 17-21; Baptism Nigel Bunce
Baptism and the River of God: different Scriptures offer varied insights into this rich sacrament. Today, we explore water — the River of God — and the need for river guides as companions on our individual journeys.
Different Scriptures, same promises
Two weeks ago, we baptized Melissa Varga. On that occasion, the Gospel reading was the parable of the Good Samaritan. I related the baptismal promises to the idea of being a neighbour to other people, and even to the rest of Creation.
Today, we will baptize Steven Debaneh. The Scriptures are entirely different, but the promises are the same. Michael and Talar, Steepan and Karina will promise to help Steven become a follower of Jesus. Formally, by church-going and prayer. Also, by respecting all other people.
The role of water
The key element of baptism is water. We have just re-told the story of Jesus’ own baptism. It happened in the River Jordan. A miraculous event occurred. A heavenly voice declared of Jesus. “You are my beloved Son. In you I am well pleased.”
Now, I doubt that a heavenly voice will say the same thing about Steven. Though anything is possible!! But yet, Steven knows that he is already the beloved son of his earthly parents, Michael and Talar. They care about him not only physically but spiritually. hat’s why they have brought him here for baptism this morning.
Also, it’s why God, his Heavenly Father, also calls him a beloved son, even if the words don’t reverberate through the building.
Seeds of faith, spiritual nourishment
John the Baptist told his followers that he baptized with water. Just as I will. But one coming after him would baptize with the Holy Spirit. The Gospel writer John likened the Holy Spirit to an advocate.I think of today’s baptism as planting a seed of faith in Steven.
We trust that the right amount of spiritual nourishment will make him a fruitful disciple of Jesus. Just as the right soil and the right amount of sunshine and rain will produce beautiful flowers or luscious flavourful tomatoes in our gardens.
That spiritual nourishment is mostly the responsibility of Steven’s “advocates”. Parents. Sponsors. Godparents. But not just them aone. It is also all of our responsibility. Hence, I ask whether we will do whatever we can to uphold Steven in his life in Christ.
To this, we answer, “We will.” Therefore, we want Steven’s family to know that they will always be welcome in this place, among friends, and we hope that they will feel similarly.
Let’s not forget those baptismal promises
To seek Christ in all people, loving our neighbours as ourselves. To respect the dignity of every human being, setting aside our ingrained prejudices. Also, to care for God’s Creation.. We plan to keep our promises – with God’s help. Although, we know that we will not always succeed.
However, we can take comfort in an old saying. “If at first you don’t succeed, try again.” That’s why Christian church services include moments of confession. Not because we are inherently sinful. But because we are not always at our best. Yet God promises to give us second, third, and more chances. We call that Absolution.
Our first reading was part of St. Paul’s first letter to the church he had founded in Corinth. It also speaks about the Holy Spirit. Each of us, Paul wrote, is unique, with an assortment of spiritual gifts. We recognize that our own gifts don’t include everything.
We are blessed in some areas, not in others. That’s why we need other people, to round out our particular talents. We can’t just be the Lone Ranger!!
That is true for Steven. We don’t know yet what his special talents will be. But we can agree with Paul that the Holy Spirit will animate them. Yet, more than that, we point to the role of those advocates – Steven’s parents and sponsors – to bring his unique spiritual gifts to fruition.
River of God: full of water
John baptized Jesus in the River Jordan. Its flow is somewhat meagre, because the Holy Land is a desert country. In contrast, the author of Psalm 65 wrote that the River of God is full of water [Ps. 65: 9]. We can use the River of God as a metaphor for our lives, and therefore for Steven’s.
Sometimes the river splashes and sparkles in the sunshine as it flows over a gravel bed. Or, there are exciting times. Rushing rapids or waterfalls.
At other times, the river flows quiet and deep, perhaps looking frightening under a dark, cloudy sky or in a deep sunless canyon.
These are metaphors for different times in our spiritual lives. There will be times of joy and pleasure. Times of excitement. Times of reflection. And even times of darkness. We encounter them all on our journey on the river of life. No matter what, Steven will meet them too.
But what we do today for Steven – and week by week for the rest of us at St. George’s – is to give assurance that we will have river guides on our journeys. For Steven, not only his family and sponsors. Not just this congregation. But also Jesus, to be with him as he navigates the river of life.
God calls each of us, as we leave this place this morning, to be a light to the world. To show the face of Christ, the face of the divine, to those around us, Also, to have respect for all of God’s creation. These are pretty scary expectations.
It seems to be a heavier load than we, mere human beings, can carry. But, “I will, with God’s help.” We agree to try our best. And, the Gospel writers tell us that we are not alone. Because the Holy Spirit will be our Advocate and Guide on our journeys on life’s river.
Even when we can’t actually hear the heavenly voice telling us that we are beloved. And that God is pleased with us. Perhaps we need to listen a little more carefully. Amen.