Marked as Christ’s Own Forever

Texts: 1 Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31

Rev. David Tiessen, St. George’s Anglican Church, London

18th Sunday after Pentecost (26 September 2010)

Baby X is brought to the baptismal font this morning to be baptized into Christ. In the Gospel of John, Christ is the light that lightens everyone that comes into the world. That is a bold and sweeping confession that Christ is not just a form of how to access the divine, not just a way to be a spiritual person; to say that Christ is the light of the world is actually to speak of the whole world, for the scriptures teach that the God of Israel is the One who creates and sustains the cosmos itself, and yet is also the very One who creates a people and makes a covenant (an agreement) with these people that marks them out as distinct in the world, who are called to image God in the world by worshiping and living in ways that point toward this God as a God who is the judge of all humankind, but yet whose judgements are merciful and aim for our own good and for God’s good purposes in the world.

To say that Christ is the light of the world is first and foremost to speak not of ourselves or of the world but of Christ. The Bible teaches that God reveals himself fully and finally in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus places himself at the disposal of the powers of this world, is killed, and yet is raised to life again by the God of all life, this God who is Love itself, Love enacted, Love incarnate … and who has acted for the sake of the peace and reconciliation of the whole world. That is the work of the God whom we have gathered to worship together this morning. And we gather to worship this God in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life.

And so we gather this morning to witness the entrance and to welcome Baby X into this grand and beautiful and joyful work of God in Christ. It is a work that precedes every one of us. It is a work that none of us fully understands – no matter how old we are or how fully we have studied the Bible and theology – it is a work that calls us to exercise faith and to live in the faith, hope, and love that God grants us in our daily lives, and to do so by trust in the promises of God; promises that culminate (as the Letter of Paul to Timothy reminds us this morning) in the “manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ” which God will bring about in God’s own time – i.e., “at the right time” (v.15).

Those promises of God go before us, surround us, and support us in our lives – and indeed they call us and encourage each of us to live faithful lives; to live lives that join with God in resisting what is wrong in this world, and to live lives that join with God in fostering what is good and right and true and beautiful and full of joy and peace. We will hear this in a few minutes in the baptismal rite: Do you renounce that which rebels against God and destroys the creatures of God and pulls you away from the love of God? And in place of all those destructive things do you rather turn to Jesus Christ as your Saviour, trust his grace and love and obey him as Lord?

In baptism, X is enlisted in this struggle – the struggle to renounce what is destructive and to embrace what is constructive – what God in fact, is constructing. To live faithfully in the way, the truth, and the life that is given to us in Jesus Christ. To wait upon the ‘right time’ of the promises of God.

The baptismal life is a life of faithful waiting, of struggle. We all need to be reminded of this regularly, for we join together in reaffirming our own baptismal vows this morning (and if you are here this morning never having been baptised and wondering what it it’s all about, you will hear in this baptismal rite the good news of Christ’s love for you and the call to join Christ’s way as beginning in the rite of baptism). As we reaffirm our vows, take note that the liturgy of baptism aims not just at baby X but at all of us, reminding us of who we are as individuals in Christ, and of who we are together as the Body of Christ, and that the baptismal life is not a matter of passivity but one of challenge – for every single day presents us with opportunities to renounce once again what is destructive and to turn toward what is constructive.

X will exhibit this struggle soon enough – every parent knows this struggle even in the most basic tasks of teaching children the way they should go, in teaching children what is right and what is wrong, what leads to good choices and decisions which are life-giving and what leads toward actions that are destructive of themselves and others; every child in turn struggles with knowing what it means to honour their parents – for which of us would not rather do our own thing? The law of entropy – that things tend toward chaos – applies also to the spiritual life: it is just plain easier to drift and to do our own thing, to pursue self-interest, than it is to be disciplined in a life of renunciation of the primacy of our selves in order to turn to the way of God in Christ.

And yet in baptism the self does not disappear; in baptism we are given new selves. Baby X this morning, new as she is, is today baptized into that newness that belongs to God. She is baptized into Christ, who is making all things new as the Holy Spirit brings the reconciliation of the cross to bear in this world. That life of reconciliation is given to us as we are formed, week by week, into a people who live lives that are reconciled to one another. Practically, this means an everyday life (as St. Paul says to Timothy) of pursuing righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness . . . of “storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they make take hold of the life that really is life” (v.19) – these are the things that characterize those who “fight the good fight of faith”. To fight that good fight we will need to see each other differently – we will need to see each other, each one of us, as children of God, loved by God, gathered together in this place of worship and prayer as in a common struggle. It means we will need to be gentle with one another. It means we will need to seek to understand each other, to hear one another. It means that we will need to recognize when we have wronged or offended each other, and to be willing to apologize and seek to be reconciled with each other. It means that we will need to be willing to forgive each other. It means that we will need to laugh with one another and to cry with one another. In other words, to fight the good fight of faith is a matter of treasuring one another in light of the treasure of life that God gives us. It means that we will learn to live with one another fully, with open hands and open hearts, with generosity and joy – and to do so in the recognition that our very identity is a gift to us. It is not of ourselves but from God, from Jesus Christ who is the way, the truth, and the life, and who gifts us with one another for our mutual benefit.

Baby X is this morning baptized into Christ and into the whole of Christ’s Church – one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. She is brought to the font this morning surrounded by parents, godparents, and by all of us who belong to Christ, who are ourselves, as she will shortly be, ‘marked as Christ’s own forever’. And so baptism is not just about X, but about all of us who are set apart in this world as those who follow Jesus the Messiah as he travels the road into death on the cross, and then who is raised to life again by the God who is life itself, and whose life is overflowing love – a love which exists as a fountain which drowns all that is wrong in this world, which washes it away, and which replaces it with the refreshing waters that belong to the purity of this very God.

The Apostle Paul reminds us that “we brought nothing into the world” and that “we can take nothing out of it.” In being reminded of this we are reminded of our truest identity before and beyond all that distracts us from our true selves: we are reminded that it is not money or power that brings us life, but that our lives belong to God, and that we are identified first and foremost as children of God. Christ’s way into death and from the cross to life again defines the very meaning of baptism – it is an induction into who we are: creatures that are treasured by God, and who will find their true selves only by living into their baptisms, which is a sign of the joyful promise of the life that really is life. To live toward that life – in light of the promise of that life – is a life-long challenge, and yet it is a challenge that is met first in Christ himself and so is shared with us as a gift. That gift frees us to treasure life, a life that is full with promise, with joy, and which is hopeful, anticipating the God who brings all things to completion, to wholeness – and who loves and embraces us before and beyond any understanding that we have in ourselves. That is God’s covenant love, and it gives us a life that really is life. And so for X we give thanks and rejoice as she is joined into this great and beautiful work of God, and we pray that she, along with each of us, will learn to trust the God who is the source of all life. Amen.