Sunday, April 7, 2013

Sermon for the 10.30 service, April 7th 2013 (by the Rev. David Greenwood)

2nd Easter, Year C.  BAPTISM

Baptism is predicated on several ideas:
1.)   That we are not alone.  In fact, we were created.
2.)   That the Thing that Created Us wants to have a relationship with us
3.)   That we can indeed have a relationship with this Creating Thing, indeed, for all of eternity – far beyond the world we now see and know.
4.)   That is is good to do so.
Why do we believe such crazy things?  Why do we know such crazy things?  Our scriptures today tell us why.
Let's start with the middle of the Gospel reading for today.  Jesus has visited His disciples (except for Thomas, who was out shopping perhaps), stopped by for a bite to eat, a bit of a chat, and left – sounds pretty mundane, until you realize that at the time, Jesus was technically, well... dead.  So, the disciples got, understandably, pretty excited!  And when Thomas came back, they couldn't wait to tell him:
“Jesus was here!”
“What have you been drinking?”
“Jesus was here!”
“I don't believe you.”
“Jesus was here!”
“Listen!  Unless I actually touch the wounds in His body, I DON'T BELIEVE YOU!  He's DEAD!”

We doubt.  Oh, do we doubt!  Where is the proof?  Where is the evidence!  There is no God!  There is no Salvation!  All we have is what we see, eat, hear, breathe – all we have is this life, lived as full as we can.  Oh, do we doubt .. until...

You know, I'm tired of the arguments “is there a God” -- either there is, or there isn't – and one of us will be surprised.  Richard Dawkins and other celebrities may think this is new and exciting, but frankly, its old and rather boring.  If you want to argue this, go argue with Tertullian in the late 100's; or Athanasius in the early 300's, or Gregory of Nanzianzus; or Augustine in the early 400's; or Thomas Aquinas in the late 1200's; or C.S. Lewis in the 1900's, or any interminable number of people from time immemorial to now – they've all left records of their arguments if you want to join in.  It's an old debate, and I'm bored with it.  For the truth is we don't know by proof, but by revelation and belief.  We're like doughnuts trying to prove there is a baker, or ants trying to prove there is a human – and quite frankly, doughnuts are closer to bakers and ants to humans in terms of intelligence and sense than we are to God.  Either you and I shall be surprised, and our walking with God will have been an illusion and though it hopefully made the world better, NOT lead to eternal life, OR the other side will be surprised, and find out that they've been mistaken all along – and God is waiting for them to explain why they wouldn't listen.  Until then, let's stop debating and get on with living.  From my experience, I believe God is real – and I intend to live my life according to that belief.

God comes to us and reveals Himself in revelation – just as Jesus did to His disciples, including eventually Thomas:
“Here I am Thomas – please – put your hand here, and feel my wounds.  Believe!  I am alive!”  And then I like to imagine He might have asked: “By the way, do you have any tea?”
And as we know, Thomas replied: “My Lord and My God!”  i.e.: “I believe!”
We doubt until we too encounter Christ – encounter the miraculous Son of the eternal Father, through the Holy Spirit.  Until we too encounter the One who created Us – then, all doubts finally disappear.

God Himself realizes this.  This is why at the end of his Gospel, John wrote: “Now Jesus performed many other miraculous signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name...”  The entire Bible is written for one purpose: that you may believe.  It is not written to explain the universe in technical detail, it is not written to be a psychological handbook, or a how-to manual, or anything like that – though parts of it are very perceptive on many things – the purpose of this entire book is so that you may believe.    -- so believe!  Benita (my wife) and I dropped in on a Youth Group at our home church once, and I was asked “what made the difference for my faith” (or something like that) – and I answered:  deciding to take God seriously.   I decided, in my head, that God was real, and to pursue all that means.  In other words, I decided to believe.  If you decide that God is real, all of a sudden the world is a far, far different place – for God created it, and has relationship with it – including us, for we are part of God's creation.

So we decide God is real – and I think that either we choose that now, based on His revelation and our willingness, or we choose it after we die, when we are shocked with the stark reality of God in all God's glory – either way, we will be confronted sooner or later with the real-ness of God.  And then we have an immediate follow-up question:

Since God is real – who do we want to follow?  God, or our own self?  After the High Priests had ordered the Apostles to stop telling people about Jesus, the Apostle Peter replied:
“We must obey God rather than people.”
What is this?  Why must a choice be made?  Does God, the Creator-Of-All, desire we live a different way, walk a different path so to speak, than you or I or others would choose by default?  Well, the short answer is 'yes'.   As Peter continued to the Priests:
God exalted Him to His right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.  We are witnesses of these events, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” 
Fascinating.  -- repentance and forgiveness of sins is central.  Who is the “Him” that Peter is talking about?  What are “sins”?  How much time do I have to talk here this morning? 
Peter is talking about Jesus.  Jesus was, as we know, crucified and rose again, much to the astonishment of Thomas and the other Disciples.  Jesus is exalted by God as our Leader and Saviour.  What to be lead to?  Repentance.  What to be saved from?  Our sins.  Repentance is an old word which means 'to turn away from'.  And sin is an old word which means 'to miss the mark'.  We are to turn away from missing the mark, and receive forgiveness.  Why is this important?  What is behind this?
Well, it tells us in the book of Revelation:
Jesus Christ – the faithful witness, the firstborn from among the dead, the ruler over the kings of the earth. To the one who loves us and has set us free from our sins at the cost of his own blood and has appointed us as a kingdom, as priests serving his God and Father.  

Jesus is the firstborn from the dead.  That means that EVERYONE ELSE is 'the dead'. -- However, it does not say “the only born” -- it says the FIRST born.  The fact that we sin, that we miss the mark, is so serious that it means we are dead as far as the Creator-of-All, God Almighty is concerned.  Dead, dead, dead.  Deader than a doorknob dead.  However, in order to serve God, which is what the text says we are now appointed to do, we must have become alive to Him.  And how did this happen?  He loved us so much that, at the cost of His own human life, He set us free from all we do wrong, and free from death and annihilation. And what are the things we do wrong? What did the people in the bible do?  Well in the readings today, we get: “whom you seized and killed.” we get “afraid” we get “unbelief” and we get “death”.  People are selfish.  We are self-centred, self-defeating, self-destructive.  We are destructive of others.  We seek to dominate, to take over, destroy.  Look at the nightly news.  Look at your own emotions of the past week.  We sow fear, jealousy, death, despair – unbelief.  And THESE are the things that God does not like.  God in effect says “when you live like that, though you live, you are dead in my sight.”  So what are we to do?  Well, God Almighty says:  Change.  Turn around.  Stop following yourself and follow Me.  I repeat what Peter said:
“We must obey God rather than people.”   But then, Peter added a crucial point: “We are witnesses ... and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”  God gives us a helper: Himself.  The Spirit of the Creator-of-All joins with us in witness to following His way.  In other words,  God is with us as we walk with God.  We are not alone.
And what does this feel like?  Well, the writer of the Psalm we heard today gave us their reaction:
“The Lord gives me strength and protects me; he has become my salvation.   I will not die, but live.   I will enter through the gates of righteousness and give thanks to the Lord! You have answered me!”
--It is very joyful to live with God.  It is very joyful to know your salvation.  It is very joyful to know you have met the Creator-of-All, and shall live.  And the Psalmist adds something else:
“The stone which the builders discarded has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord's doing; it is marvellous in our eyes; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” -- this is all through Jesus, who was discarded: rejected, despised, killed.  However, He is now everything that we build ourselves upon – He is the cornerstone of our lives – let us be happy! Why?  Well, Jesus Himself tells us, just as He told His original Disciples:

'Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”  And after he said this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained.”' 

We are sent like Christ. We receive the Holy Spirit and can walk with God.  We are given the power to forgive!  As the Pharisees would say “Who can forgive but God alone?”  We are given Peace.  We are given God.

Which brings us back to Baptism.   As we pour the water upon the people being baptised, we ask God to, and in our belief God does, remove the death of sin from those being baptised.  We ask God to, and in our belief God does, fill them with the Holy Spirit.  We ask God to, and in our belief God does, walk with them for the rest of their lives.  We ask God to, and in our belief God does, become the cornerstone upon which they can build their lives for eternity.  We ask God to, and in our belief God does, give them His peace, His ability to forgive, most of all, give them HIMSELF.

This does not mean that the people may choose at some point that God is not real, and walk away – it would be sad, but it is not unheard of.  THAT is why, we, the families, friends, and fellow-baptised-in-Christ, are asked to help them out.  Support and love them.  Give them good guidance.  Encourage them in their walk with God.  Let them know that they can be kind, and loving, and caring, and nurturing.  Let them know that they are connected to something far greater than anything we can see or understand with our “logical minds.”  Let them know that they are loved beyond measure.  Let them know, that they are given God.  For that is what this is all about: in baptism, we are given God.

To God's glory, and their – and OUR – joy.  Amen.

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