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Baptism and a New Way of Seeing

baptism

Baptism Sermon – Mark 9.38-end, Psalm 124

“Come to Church” they said “it will be fine.. it’s a baptism! they don’t talk about all the scary stuff any more.. it’s all luvvey-duvvey now. None of the gratuitous violence or random maiming… it’s all fine and fluffy”….. er… well . .. (whoops!)

We are here on this wonderful joyful day, and then our reading gives us this?£&%@!
As Richard said a few weeks ago… the Lectionary is set for the whole church … a way of working through major themes in the bible over a three year cycle… we don’t get to decide.

But actually if we realise that Jesus is using a metaphor, creating the most vivid images to make a dramatic point.. we will see that there is something in this reading which is pertinent to our baptismal family today, and indeed to all of us….

* I want to introduce you to an OT Hebrew word; Anawim, עָנָו
‘Anaw’ means afflicted, humble, poor the outcast, the vulnerable – those open to exploitation……. A common usage was ‘little ones’ (Anawim, is the plural).

Who might that be? Children certainly… revealing vulnerability and innate trust; but also outcast are the homeless, the exploited, or excluded by gender or race or sexuality, the disabled, the sick, those deemed ‘unprofitable’…

* In creation season.. we might think also of the forests, the oceans, indigenous tribes, endangered species.. All interconnected parts of the marvellous kaleidoscopic wonder of creation.. all vulnerable.. all weak, all ‘little ones’, all anawim

(And maybe we see the vulnerable in ourselves too?)

So let’s explore the context of this week’s reading.. remember this is a conversation following straight on from last week’s when the disciples are embarrassing themselves as they consider who is the greatest in the kingdom, and Christine reminded us that Jesus took and held a young child, (probably a toddler),

* “you want to know who’s the greatest..?”

Dramatically illustrating the fact that the kingdom belonged to the little ones, the wide-eyed, the innocent – and not those who look for power or status…

The kingdom Jesus speaks of is truly upside down, it inverts and challenges the priorities of the world.. it is revolutionary and transformative..

We have only paused for the week… and now we are sat back down (with the popcorn and the boxset) and we press play .. “where were we up to? … ah yes Jesus holding this child…”

Aha! Still holding the child? (we can forget that detail) Ok.. so that helps us to think about what he goes on to say…
We resume with a bizarre question from John. ‘teacher’ he says (as he begins another question that suggests he hasn’t learned anything so far!!), ‘teacher we saw a man who was driving out demons in your name, and we told him to stop, because he doesn’t belong to our group.”

 

Jesus appears frustrated – he’s certainly emphatic!

And comes back immediately with three staccato ‘for’ responses; don’t stop him!

  1. for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.
  2. (for)Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 
  3. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

The exorcist didn’t have ‘true-faith’ assumes John.. or did he? He knew enough to know that Jesus was to be respected… and that his aims were not to exploit, but to heal, (we may surmise).

John seems to want a border, some definition, ‘our group’ (and maybe that’s understandable); But Jesus is pointing to openness and inclusivity of this kingdom of God… it seems to be a kingdom with very porous borders!

Jesus seems to be getting at something far deeper… the kingdom isn’t so easily defined – but is about the heart. The heart in rhythm with the heart of God, open to God. It makes space for our mistakes and errors, and allows for vulnerability and openness.. (and thank goodness for that!)

What he is saying is still relevant to the child in his arms; which may explain why he jumps straight to these next words….

42 “If anyone should cause one of these little ones to lose faith in me, it would be better for that person to have a large millstone tied around the neck and be thrown into the sea.”

Is he really connecting the street healer (‘not of our group’) to the vulnerable child?

Jesus kingdom is made explicit again, even though it remains mysterious; the vulnerable come to us in trust, they reveal the kingdom of God to us! And they require our care, love and nurture.. The forests, the earth, the air we breath.. the oppressed, the exploited, those on minimum wage or living on the streets.. and the children… All are the anawim, all ‘the little ones’ who so often are the first victims of the human desire for power and greed…

Jesus then ‘ultra-emphasises’ the injunction not to exploit… he goes fully ‘out-there’

“do anything.. cut off your limbs if need be, but don’t exploit the little ones.. “

In God’s kingdom (where the poor are lifted high).. there is nothing worse than exploiting the vulnerable. Instead… we are to love, to care, to treasure and honour…

 

Which brings us to today’s happy occasion and what baptism means…

This morning our family are here for baptism… a sacrament of new life in the church and in God…

The children lead the way in this kingdom.. we are reminded that it is the wide-eyed, awe-struck, wonder and playfulness which is its mark.

By emphasising the distinctive—salt-like—flavour of this story—by holding the child to make his point so clearly.. Jesus story is resisting a world concerned with power, conquest and domination.

Baptism is saying something similar too. When we baptise these children in a few moments they begin a new life and participate in this different story; one which embraces vulnerability and compassion; forgiveness and new beginnings every day.

It’s a story which stands with the anawim, the little ones.
It’s a story that says that life is a precious gift to be treasured and shared.
It’s a story, which cares about community, the environment, justice,
It’s a story of imagination and creativity;

This is a story of hope. The story of the church. This is God’s story.

Which means we all face a choice…

* The church calls Baptism a ‘Sacrament’, which means it’s like ‘a window on God’. It is a way of showing that this kingdom is already with us, in our midst, yet seemingly ‘not yet’. Jesus invites us all to ‘wake up’ and to participate in its coming.

Through these distinctive symbols; passing through waters of new birth, receiving a light, being anointed, it is like we are saying God has changed their story, the signs tell us that the change has already taken place. These children just need time, (we all need time), to face the full reality and responsibility of that, (Maybe that’s why we do church – to practise these stories of hope?)
The sacrament says that they are more than simply invited into the story of God’s hope and endless love; they’re already participating!

So baptism isn’t just about this family; it’s for the whole church. It reminds us of our own baptism, and that in this moment the love of G-d calls us all to live with open arms; to repent and turn away from the story of fear and death; to turn instead to delight and wonder—to savour and give thanks for this amazing gift of life, like these children’s lives.

And as we delight in this baptism life, this different story, we make room for others, the anawim, ‘the little ones’ to share that life too, to break down the walls that divide us, to live the story of welcome, love and compassion. It’s God’s revolutionary story; and it begins today!

 

GS Collins